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Queens Chronicle

Sportsbeat—MLS Bends To Beckham

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Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2007 12:00 am

One of my biggest complaints about Major League Soccer, America’s professional “football” league, is that it has been major league in name only. In a world of globalization and outsourcing, American sports fans are still accustomed to the best players in any sport coming here to compete. That, of course, has not been the case with soccer as the best have chosen to stay in Europe. Even worse, MLS has enforced a very stingy salary cap on all of its teams to ensure that talent seeks greener pastures elsewhere.

Apparently MLS Commissioner Don Garber has gotten the message that having a league of no names in a sport that has long had trouble getting a foothold in this country is not the way to endear oneself to television networks and the casual fan. MLS recently enacted a rule allowing each team one exemption to the salary cap. Los Angeles is a city that worships stars like none other, and its MLS franchise just signed the most famous soccer player in the world, Great Britain’s David Beckham.

Beckham is arguably the most famous soccer player in history. After all, Pele never had an Academy Award winning movie named after him. With his matinee idol looks and marriage to a member of the ’90s girl group, Spice Girls, Beckham is as much a staple of celebrity magazines including as he is in sporting publications.

Beckham has signed a five year, $250 million deal to come to L.A. As comedian Jimmy Kimmel said in his monolog on his late night ABC talk show, “The Galaxy will have to sell every ticket in their stadium for $10,000 a game just to come close to breaking even!”

Kimmel is right. It seems likely that the Beckham deal is a loss leader with a capital L. Nonetheless it was an imperative one for Major League Soccer, an organization that has been around for a decade but still has trouble getting ink in the sports pages and discussion on sports radio stations. If Beckham can’t make Americans pay attention to soccer, then it is time for MLS to fold.

The Mark McGwire controversy overshadowed not only the election of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken to baseball’s Hall of Fame, but it also obscured discussion of other players who are worthy of induction but continue to be overlooked. Former Yankees relief ace Rich “Goose” Gossage fell 4 percentage points short of being elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America and therefore would seem a lock to make it in 2008.

On the other hand, Andre Dawson, a spectacular centerfielder who unfortunately toiled for most of his career with the media lacking Montreal Expos, Bert Blyleven, a starting pitcher who won 287 games playing mostly for second tier teams, and Dave Concepcion, the fine hitting slick fielding shortstop on those great 1970s Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” teams, would appear to face an uphill climb to make it to Cooperstown based on the 2007 voting tabulations.

The Giants did the right thing in bringing back head coach Tom Coughlin for the 2008 season. The Giants played hard but came up short to the Eagles in their lone playoff game. New General Manager Jerry Reese will have enough problems finding a replacement for retiring running back Tiki Barber and worrying about whether QB Eli Manning will live up to his potential. He did not need the distraction of seeking out a new head coach.

Welcome to the discussion.