Latin Americans follow
Beckham to MLS but hoopla quiets
LOS ANGELES (AFP)
- David Beckham begins his first full Major League Soccer campaign Saturday when the US league kicks off its 13th season with some talented Latin American newcomers but without Beckham-mania.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star earned his 100th cap for England on Wednesday in a 1-0 loss to France at Paris and is expected to start for the Los Angeles Galaxy when it visits Colorado.
Beckham signed a five-year deal worth 250 million dollars last year with the Galaxy but injuries kept him to only five games in an abbreviated MLS debut. This year, after a pre-season Asian tour, Beckham is fit and ready to play.
"The most important thing for me was to prove my fitness and I felt I did that," Beckham said after England's match. "I felt very fresh. I felt better than I thought I would.
"As much as you work hard in pre-season there's nothing like playing games."
MLS has signed 24 new players for 2008, 19 of them from Latin America, and boasts such Latino stars as Colombians Juan Pablo Angel of New York and Juan Toja of New England, Brazilian forward and 2007 MLS Most Valuable Player Luciano Emilio of DC United and Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco of Chicago.
"We have to focus on the international player pool to continue to develop our product," MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said.
"This short-term investment in the international market is being accompanied by the medium to long term investment in player development. I think the US player will benefit substantially by having a higher quality league at home."
Beckham, 32, became the face of MLS last season but in many ways the hype and hoopla led to disappointment when the midfielder with the magical right foot missed most late-season games.
Still, the attention and interest he generated gave MLS a boost. A Seattle expansion team will begin play next year with another in Philadelphia starting in 2010.
The Galaxy missed the playoffs for a second year in a row but new manager Ruud Gullit will try to make the team's fortunes match the fortune it paid Beckham, with forwards Carlos Ruiz and Landon Donovan and a solid defense giving the Dutch mentor confidence.
"I'm happy with the group," Gullit said. "We've got a lot of young players and a lot of new players come into the team and it's about bonding. We know what everybody can do. We're looking forward to the start."
Donovan cannot wait for rivals to contend with Beckham, Ruiz and himself.
"I don't know how teams are going to deal with it, but it's going to be hard," he said.
Gullit is wary of his top trio trying to load too much on their shoulders.
"You can't have 10 Ronaldinhos," Gullit said. "If the rest isn't organized, they can't do their thing. You're going to have stars but they can only star when others do their job. You need to have players that are going to work for the team."
The San Jose Earthquakes rejoin the 14-team league as an expansion club, the originals having moved to Houston where as the Dynamo they have won the past two MLS playoff crowns.
The new Earthquakes, guided by former Galaxy coach Frank Yallop, open April 3 at the Galaxy.
MLS teams will lose key players at times during the season for World Cup duty and the Beijing Olympics.