David Beckham launches his last bid to add a Major League Soccer championship to titles won in England and Spain when the Los Angeles Galaxy kick off the 2011 season on Tuesday at Seattle.
Beckham, who won six English Premier League titles with Manchester United and a Spanish championship with Real Madrid, insists he is more interested in helping the club than seeking private glory. "It's not about validating my time here with the Galaxy. It's not all about myself being a success," Beckham said. "Of course I want to win trophies and championships, but the most important thing is the club."
The Galaxy's hopes last season ended with a Western Conference finals loss to Dallas, who went on to fall to Colorado in the title match. But once again Los Angeles appear to have the pieces they need to let Beckham leave America a winner.
The Galaxy have arguably the league's best player in Landon Donovan and one of its top coaches in Bruce Arena. The departure of Edson Buddle to Europe has been offset with the acquisition of Juan Pablo Angel from the New York Red Bulls, and while the aging Angel is no doubt slowing down, he remains a lethal finisher.
Red Bulls primed to charge
As Beckham enters his final season with the Galaxy, former French international Thierry Henry begins his first full campaign with a Red Bulls team that are title contenders in the East. The Red Bulls made one of the most dramatic turnarounds in MLS history last season, going from last in the league in 2009 to first in the Eastern Conference in 2010.
Manager Hans Backe, going into his second season with the club, said he and the players are now a comfortable unit. "I think overall with the team, everyone is more aware of the foundation," he said, adding that it will be up to Henry and Rafael Marquez to lead the way now that they have had a full pre-season to tune their partnership.
"They have been a different class in the pre-season compared to when they arrived last year," Backe said. "Those guys have tons of experience and they have to make a difference every game."
MLS commissioner Don Garber said signing Beckham has been a great success for the league and he wants to see more marquee names head Stateside to boost the league's profile. But Garber said there are plenty of other players to be excited about, including USA FIFA World Cup™ defender Jay DeMerit (Vancouver), USA forward Charlie Davies (DC United), Mexican national team regular Omar Bravo (Kansas City) and 18-year-old Colombian Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas).
But the biggest buzz as the season approaches was not about a player but a place: the Pacific north-west where the addition of two new teams promises a three-way regional rivalry with the hugely successful Seattle Sounders. The Sounders averaged more than 30,000 fans per match last season, and the expansion Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps are hoping to emulate that success. Both of the new teams have sold out their season-ticket allotments.
The Whitecaps, with NBA star Steve Nash as one of their owners, have sold 16,500 season tickets, and before playing their first game are the league's leader in sponsorships. The Timbers have sold all of their 12,500 season tickets with fans anticipating a rivalry with Seattle.
"Rivalries are a big part of the sport overseas," Garber said. "We hope we can learn some lessons from what is driving the interest of fans these three clubs have. We should be able to replicate some of that."