Fri, Jul 13, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Beckham prepares to take center stage in US

MASSIVE BUILD-UP The soccer star's first game for the LA Galaxy will be against Chelsea, who are preparing for the forthcoming Premiership season with a US tour

AFP , LOS ANGELES

This photo released by Adidas America shows David Beckham, left, wearing the New Orleans Saints football uniform of Reggie Bush, right, as Bush wears Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy uniform in Madrid, Spain, in this photo taken in May.

PHOTO: AP

David Beckham's bid to redefine soccer's place in the US sports landscape begins in earnest today, when the Los Angeles Galaxy introduce their sleek European import.

The former England captain and his pop-star wife Victoria arrive amid a swirl of publicity befitting their new Hollywood home.

But it will likely be Beckham's abilities on the pitch that determine whether his tenure in the US will ultimately be judged an experiment or an era in Major League Soccer's development.

In the US Beckham will face a twin challenge -- infusing oft-overlooked soccer with enough glamor to attract new fans, while playing at a level high enough to satisfy serious sports spectators.

Some 14.5 million Americans play soccer, but its popularity pales in comparison to the top three sports: American football, basketball and baseball.

He isn't the first charismatic star to try to bring soccer to a mainstream US audience.

Despite the excitement of landing all-time great Pele in the 1970s, the North American Soccer League went bankrupt.

Even so, Galaxy president and former US international Alexi Lalas believes Beckham can succeed.

"Beckham, unlike any other player, transcends all boundaries," Lalas said. "I would argue that whether you are a housewife from Orange County or a person of Mexican heritage living in Los Angeles, you know who Beckham is."

Beckham, 32, is to be introduced by the Galaxy at the club's Home Depot Center facility in the south Los Angeles suburbs today.

The midfielder's first game for Los Angeles will be an exhibition match against Chelsea, who are preparing for the upcoming Premiership season with a tour of the US.

When Beckham inked a five-year contract with the Galaxy in January it was widely seen as a money-making move by a player whose best days were behind him.

While he will earn a salary of US$5.5 million, Beckham's deal could eventually be worth up to US$250 million in profit-sharing and sponsorship deals.

Since January, however, Beckham has been recalled by England, and helped Real Madrid to claim the Spanish League title last month.

Beckham himself has said he believes he could have continued to thrive in Europe.

"I felt capable of staying for longer at Real," Beckham said. "I could have still played for three more seasons at the highest level. But after the club told me in January that they did not want to renew my contract, I took this decision."

Certainly Beckham is switching to a lesser competition -- and to a team that is the second worst in the league with just three victories in 12 games.

Beckham knows there is a danger that the massive build-up may make for an inevitable let-down.

"People probably do think they're going to see me turn out, and we'll win our first game 10-0," Beckham told the Sun newspaper. "That's one thing I'm worried about. I'm not a player who will run past 10 players and score three or four goals. My game is about working hard and being a team player."

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