Does U.S. soccer really need saving?

July 5, 2007

U.S. striker Freddy Adu (R) is congratulated by teammate Michael Bradley after scoring during their victory over Poland at the Under-20 World Cup. Shaun Best / ReutersWith less than a fortnight to go before David Beckham is due in the United States there is naturally a great deal of anticipation as to whether he will be able to help transform the game and push it closer to the mainstream of American sport.

Beckham’s face is popping up all the time advertising on the sports channels, particularly those that run soccer programming, and it will be fascinating to see whether the England international’s arrival in Major League Soccer in the colours of LA Galaxy succeeds in boosting the profile of the game.

At the website Soccer America Jeff L’Hote worries that Beckham is being seen as a ‘savior’. That is both dangerous and unnecessary, he argues, because the league is already moving in the right direction.

“By objective standards…MLS is clearly a success,” he writes. ”It has survived 11-plus years in a difficult market; already ranks 12th in attendance among worldwide professional soccer leagues; continues to build necessary infrastructure through facility development; employs dozens of international players; and has the backing of such partners as adidas, AEG, Anheuser Busch, ESPN, etc.”

L’Hote goes on to mention the growing numbers of people watching international soccer in the U.S whether it be the recent Gold Cup or when teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid come out to tour (Chelsea are over here later this month and take on the Galaxy possibly Beckham’s first outing).

Beckham’s new boss, Galaxy president Alexi Lalas, caused a stir with his recent comments taking on British critics of the MLS, and former music journalist Steven Wells has argued that there is fear and ignorance of the US game. Whatever happens with Beckham in the MLS it is certainly going to keep that discussion bubbling on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ll just inject one sentence into this debate about whether American soccer should be taken seriously: United States 6 Poland 1. That was the score in Tuesday’s game at the Under-20 World Cup in Canada.

Freddy Adu, the 18-year-old who was over-hyped four years ago but who is without doubt a major talent, scored a brilliant hat-trick for an impressive U.S team which utterly outclassed their European opponents. You can watch the goals (and the rest of the goals from the tournament) for free at fifa.com.

The U.S take on a typically exciting Brazilian side on Friday and while the South Americans start as favourites the result is by no means a foregone conclusion. Does that perhaps tell us something?

Simon Evans, Miami

Comments

What’s the average attendance for MSL games? And is there a real sense of rivalry between the teams? I think you need needle to have a really successful league. Beckham may help with that if people begin to resent him!

Posted by London | Report as abusive
 

Or MLS, even…

Posted by London | Report as abusive
 

Beckham is no savior, nor villain. He’s just another decent player that is getting older and sees opportunity to excel in MLS. The fact that he wants to help promote the league off the field is just a bonus.

I only wish we all paid as much attention to guys like Juan Pablo Angel than we do with Beckham. Given the business of soccer/football/futbol all over the world, there is no secret why Beckham is given more press than Angel, but it will be guys like Angel, and hopefully younger stars when MLS can afford to compete with the salaries in Europe, who will really improve the skill level of MLS. It doesn’t need saving, but it needs all the help it can get, Beckham or otherwise. (kind of like every team in the EPL that isn’t one of the top 4)

 

In terms of attendances, here are some figures from the 2005/06 season:

German Bundesliga 40,745
England Premiership 33,864
Spain La Liga 29,029
Italy Serie A 21,698
France Ligue 1 21,576
Dutch Eredivisie 16,805
Scotland Premier League 16,147
MLS – 15,108
Portugal Superliga 10,600
Sweden 9,760
Denmark 7,957
Poland 6,833
Greece Ethniki A 5,627
Ireland Premier 1,393

Posted by Simon Evans | Report as abusive
 

Beckham is obviously going there to make money, but that, of course, doesn’t make him a villain. He always seems to go in whole-heartedly to whatever he does and if he’s as successful as I suspect he will be he could inspire a lot of boys to take up the game. That’s got to be good in the long run.

Posted by Rafa | Report as abusive