The 2010 Major League Soccer season is grinding to a halt and David Beckham’s LA Galaxy are poised to claim their first top flight crown since 2005. “I believe we can win the league this year,” Beckham, former England captain and three-time FIFA World Cup™ veteran, told FIFA.com in a recent interview. “When we play with passion and intensity, and when we keep focused, we are a very difficult team to beat,” added the midfielder, who returned to action last month after recovering from an Achilles tendon tear that kept him out of the world finals in South Africa.
Beckham’s lucrative move to the United States and MLS three years ago has had its ups and downs, despite being hailed as the biggest signing in the league’s history by commissioner Don Garber. Nursing an ankle injury even before making his debut in the summer of 2007, Beckham made little impact in his first season as the Galaxy failed to reach the play-offs. Their poor form continued in 2008, with coach Ruud Gullit and general manager Alexi Lalas sacked after a calamitous campaign dominated in large part by a much-publicised spat between Beckham and team-mate Landon Donovan.
In 2009, Beckham missed a chunk of the season on one of two loan spells in Italy with AC Milan. And although the Southern California side looked runaway favourites to take the crown under new coach Bruce Arena, they were stymied on penalties in the one-off decider against minnows Real Salt Lake. Now the Galaxy have once again found their stride and the 35-year-old Beckham, back to full fitness, is eager to add to the titles he has won in England with Manchester United and Spain with Real Madrid’s Galacticos. With the Galaxy leading the league for the lion’s share of the season, a third championship for the club looks to be beckoning.
“I really think that our team has what it takes to go all the way,” said Beckham, days before the Galaxy look to clinch first place in the ‘regular season’ against FC Dallas on Sunday and learn the identity of their first-play-off opponents. Having played five games since his return from injury, Beckham has been delivering the kind of service from the flank that brought him to fame in his early days, with Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni saying: “He doesn't just cross the ball, he puts it off people's heads.”
Having described the tendon tear he picked up in March playing on loan for AC Milan as “one of the most difficult tests” of his career, Beckham’s return to action, and effectiveness, is all the more impressive. Often accused of coming to America only for the money and as a bit of a down-shift into semi-retirement, the Englishman has proved as keen as ever to fight and work not only for his team, but for the sake of the fledgling league. “I think MLS has the potential to be one of the elite leagues in the world,” he added. “You have new clubs popping up every year and the quality of the play is getting better all the time.”
When Beckham came to LA in 2007, his move was compared to Pele’s arrival at the New York Cosmos 30 years before, and it was hoped he would have a similar impact. Whether or not his legacy will produce the same waves as O Rei’s remains to be seen, but the former England captain believes the only way for the league to improve is for big names to come over and play. “The new players that are coming over are making a big difference. Just this year you have Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry, and these are big names in the game,” he said about the big signings made by New York Red Bulls, the team expected to challenge LA for the 2010 MLS Cup crown. “If teams continue to bridge that gap and keep bringing top quality players from Europe in, it [MLS] can definitely get up there with some of the biggest leagues in the world.”
A title for the Galaxy would go a long way to silencing sceptics who claim Beckham’s move to MLS was more about marketing and off-field celebrity than football. “There has been an improvement since I’ve come over, for sure,” he insisted. “Above all, the interest has gone through the roof. New stadiums are being built and fans are coming out all the time. These are signs of big improvement and there’s only more to come.”