"I've had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career," Beckham said. "I don't see this as the end of my relationship with the league as my ambition is to be part of the ownership structure in the future."
Can't you just hear that working-class, malodorous patois of his as he chirps out that statement, one that's undoubtedly been stuck in his throat lo these many months? What "one last challenge" represents is anybody's guess, but the tensile-strength of that suspense is just so... Beckham. This will-he-won't-he saga where Beckham is concerned isn't new, of course, though we have a more defined shape of his course of action now. And the idea that he'll be imbedded within the architecture of the league's ownership is not something to take lightly. But exhibit A on this Beckham yoyo effect is this bit I wrote about him following last year's final against Houston (deja vu ladies and gents).
David Beckham's veiled hints that he's bolting back to Europe have been a topic of conversation, and I found it funny that in the post-game interview with Donovan, Rob Stone posed a question that asserted concretely that Beckham was already out the door. But the temptation to write him out of the story completely, what with his casual approach to the league these last five years, effectively went down the tubes when Donovan revealed in his answer that Beckham pulled a muscle earlier in the week and was essentially playing the final with one good leg. He was a gamer, and my hat's off to that. My notes for this game included a hastily scrawled three words: Beckham is forcing. A well-placed stat box in the second half flashed Beckham's turnover tally was at nine, but he did spray well-timed passes and booted dangerous free kicks with typical frankness. If this was the last we see of Beckham in MLS, fists stabbing skyward toward the orange slice of stadium after time and tearing up on the podium flanked by teammates that finally seemed like his teammates, it ain't a bad way to go.
The difference now is that he's leaving, whatever that means for his future prospect as a pro. It is important to note that David Beckham's impact on MLS is immeasurable. It is easy enough for me to set up in a comfy, heated deer blind and snipe away at Becks' ankles as he clumsily stalks through challenges. I could call out his dedication to the league, his cold, relatively robotic attitude toward its promotion and the consistency of his play throughout his tenure on these shores. But that would be to miss the point entirely, not to mention an overly harsh critique of a player that, to be fair, rarely did more than he absolutely had to. Beckham was (and is) an eyebrow-raiser, the first player whose singular brand eclipsed that of MLS. Whether Beckham ends his career in the A-League or wherever is immaterial. Whether he skipped an early-season game in 2011 to play in Gary Neville's testimonial is beside the point. Beckham and his gravity-defying free kicks, Beckham and his attendance-drawing hair, Beckham and his cache-building gravitas — these things mattered heavily for a league that, like it or not, is rocketing up the world's respect-o-meter thanks to the influx of players like him. Thanks to his decision, really. Would it have happened eventually that a player of his Richter-Scale magnitude would have shook the league down to its filaments and made everybody else take notice? Possibly. But nobody in our age in the feasible discussion (an important distinction to make here) could've done it quite like Beckham.
Even for me, somebody who's long thought Beckham gave only a portion of what he could've donated to MLS from his vast stores of talent, it is impossible not to understand and appreciate the effect Beckham (and his namesake rule) had on the league's early teens formation. As far as I'm concerned, MLS will forever be considered in terms of BB and AB — Before Beckham and After Beckham.
Oh there will be more talented stars regaled with high-level contracts in this league's increasingly potent future. Kaka may in fact be one of them. There are already a handful of MLS players I'd consider more talented than Becks, and that's been the case for some time now. And I'd argue that, at least for the level of play on the field, Thierry Henry's MLS inclusion meant at least as much — and possibly more — than Beckham's. But the credibility, the style, the global cache... nobody's brought as much to the table in those categories as has Beckham. And it may be some time before somebody does again. So I can see through my relative dislike of Beckham's at times foolish demeanor and brusqueness where the league is concerned and understand that at least in terms of impact, few could've done what Becks did. And for that I have to be grateful.
And of course there's one more matter to consider. NOW WHO WILL BE OUR LOVABLE BLUE STEEL-FLASHING DIRTY PIRATE????
In other news, MLS released its waiver list Monday, and there weren't many surprises. That is, of course, assuming you set your watch by the Red Bulls' November firebombing, which ticks through with the regularity of Big Ben's clock. And as we've learned, it's a smart thing to do.
New York trimmed more fat after its front office overhaul late in the season (!), parting ways with a league-high nine (!) players. I need not mention most of these gentlemen, but the three the MLS layman will recognize with little trouble are Jan Gunnar Solli, Teemu Tainio and Bill Gaudette, all of whom played roles of various strength during the season. Tainio was made surplus to requirements by Dax McCarty's emergence as the league's second-best holding mid behind Alonso. Solli was old and pulling down big bucks, and Gaudette was always a stop-gap measure during Meara's stints on the shelf with injury.
So no, these moves will not open any festering wounds among the bridge and tunnel crowd — they each make sense in one form or fashion. But what it highlights is the vast amount of uncertainty surrounding the Red Bulls operation, one that never seems settled enough to make any kind of dent in the league. It has always been thus. There are exceptions to this rule, but teams with experienced crews that've played together for some time are nearly always favorites. LA, of course, is the easiest team to point out here. But teams like SKC, Seattle, RSL, Houston, San Jose... the best have a core nucleus and then rotate an orbit of contributing signees around that experienced embryo. Not only does that limit discordant play on the field, but it also facilitates a harmonious locker room. The Red Bulls showed the former in spurts and have not had the latter in some time. *cough*MARQUEZISACANCER*cough*
It remains to be seen what the new command structure does with the forever transitional Red Bulls. Culling the chaff is a good sign (will we see Kaka?), and there are the seedlings now of a new harvest. Dax McCarty, Ryan Meara, Heath Pearce, Joel Lindpere, Tim Cahill and of course Henry... the bodies in these deck chairs are all encouraging pieces. The key now is to keep from shuffling them beyond recognition, thereby sending New York back into its familiar station of ignominy.
Whatever hope has existed for Red Bulls' fans in the past, at least there's that.
- Will Parchman