With Beckham done, what now for MLS?

When the erstwhile captain of the British national selection David Beckham signed a massive contract with the LA Galaxy five years ago, expectations abounded.
Although his game was evidently in decline, Beckham still possessed that enviable right foot, and folks expected he would dominate a league so far below the level of the Premier League and La Liga.

Five years later, Beckham finally won his first MLS Cup, in a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo Nov. 20. It’s a Hollywood ending, but there were more C-list actors on the screen during Sunday night’s contest than superstars playing at the peak of their game.

American soccer lacks skill and marketability; thus, bringing in a player of Beckham’s considerable (although very specific) skill set and brand recognition made sense for America’s black sheep sports league. The problem, however, lies not with Beckham, who played adequately during his injury-plagued run with the Galaxy, but with the lack of compelling talent surrounding the big names the league does have, most of whom play for LA. The game is slow, the players lack foot skills, speed, and finishing touch. In large part, the championship game looked like a high school soccer game in the New England–sloggy, slow, and slippery.

Signing Beckham wasn’t so much a bad idea as much as a short-term gain that won’t continue without a follow-up act. Lionel Messi certainly isn’t going to come to America, but bringing back other American stars such as netminder Tim Howard and striker Jozy Altidore shouldn’t be ruled out. It’s good for the national team to have players filling rosters in Europe, but it might be even better for American soccer in the long run to have the nation’s best playing in front of devoted fans in Seattle, Portland, Houston, and yes, LA, instead of in Britain or Turkey.

Beckham’s Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan made that return voyage from Europe. Perhaps the US captain’s vision, always a plus at midfield, is just as discerning off the pitch.