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Coming soon to Rio Tinto the LA Galaxy Circus and the failed David Beckham show

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Is that headline a bit too much?  Did I go over the top? Probably, but I think I represent a number of Major League Soccer fans who have grown weary of the LA Galaxy Circus act.  Don't get me wrong they are a solid team, and they are built this year to win and win it all.  But since the advent of the Designated Player rule, designed for LA to sign David Beckham but not be held to the league salary cap, some people feel the league has gone over the top in their attempts to promote the Galaxy and Beckham.

So I thought today's news that Landon Donovan won't be coming to Rio Tinto for the March 26th RSL home opener was a bit of a downer, it seems RSL fans have really gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to the big name stars of LA coming to town.  It has been since May of 2008 since the Galaxy came to town with both of their stars (Beckham and Donovan), how long ago was that?  Well David Beckham has never played at Rio Tinto Stadium, and Landon Donovan has played their as often for the USMNT as he has for the LA Galaxy (once for each).  In fact the reason for Landon not coming to the RSL home opener is a USMNT call up announced today by Bob Bradley, which had to be expected. 

So this means that best player ever in MLS (is that a stretch) won't be here but we will get the Beckham show, which will probably make a lot of fans happy.  The bad part of this is that the two top teams from last year separated by just 3 points after 30 matches will both be without a number of their players due to injuries and international call-ups, so once again fans will probably be a bit dissapointed.  

The situation does cause me to think a bit about the whole "Beckham" thing, more on that after the jump:

So you have hear various pundits talk about David Beckham and his impact on Major League Soccer, and soccer in general in the United States.  I have mixed feelings on this as a fan and as someone who is passionate about the business of MLS and soccer in the US, so when I read David's recent comments on espn.go.com:

"It's not difficult at all. I had the weight of the league on my shoulders when I arrived here. I had to carry the flag for the sport in this part of the world. But this game is something I've always enjoyed. It's been a great challenge. This is something I'm totally passionate about. "

It left me with some huge questions, one has to wonder if perhaps was as passionate about the league as he claims, he would have avoided his loans that cost him huge amounts of time since joining the league in 3 ½ years so far he has logged just 3,855 minutes in regular season play, yes that is less than ½ of the available minutes. 

Perhaps the pressure being put on him by Oprah, and other TV appearances caused him to miss the point of carrying the flag for the sport and MLS, I think dropping the flag is more the result. Oh yes David got the league mainstream attention, he brought us a failed reality show, tabloid coverage, but in the end he has simply failed to make an impact on or off the pitch.  I know that is a bit harsh, but let's look at the numbers:

Attendance league wide was 3.27 million in 2007 when he played in 5 matches and last year league attendance was 4.00 million.  Of course you have to remember that 542K of that came from the Sounders and 288K of that came from Philly, neither of which were in the league in 2007, so the reality is that he has had little impact in actual attendance outside of LA. Now you can point to the rough economic times the last couple years but the numbers are the numbers and any claim that David added huge numbers to the leagues attendance are simply not verifiable 

Same can be said of the TV ratings which are still so small the league should be embarrassed, oh wait they are embarrassed by them.

Then you of course have to look at his performance as a member of the LA Galaxy, now of course some of this data could be looked at as being very subjective as measuring a players impact on a match or season is a tough thing to really do by only looking at the numbers, but it is all that we have.

So let's start with David's most complete season 2008, he played and started in 25 matches with a total of 2,248 minutes, he had 5 goals and 10 assists.  The LA Galaxy ended the season with a 8-13-9 record with a total of 33 points, which was tied for the worst in Major League Soccer.  Now you can't lay all of that on the feet of one player, and I get that but that team did have Landon Donovan who had 20 goals and 9 assists, they had Edson Buddle who provided 15 goals and 3 assists, but they also had the worst defense in MLS which allowed 62 goals to be scored against them.  The Galaxy missed the playoffs in 2008, and fired their head coach.

In 2009 Bruce Arena took over and the LA Galaxy were a much improved team that ended the season with a 12-6-12 record and 48 points, they topped the Western Conference and were just a point behind in the race for the Supporters Shield.  The team went from allowing 62 goals down to half as many with just 31 allowed, that team still had Landon Donovan who had 12 goals and 6 assists, they still had Edson Buddle who provided 5 goals.  David Beckham played and started in 11 matches for the team and ended the regular season with 889 minutes, he scored 2 goals and had 3 assists. With David in the line up the Galaxy were 6-2-3.  The Galaxy made the playoff and eliminated Chivas USA 3-2 agg, defeated Houston 2-0, and then lost to Real Salt Lake in MLS Cup in PK's.

2010 saw LA get even better and posted a league best 18-7-5 record ending with 59 points, enough to claim the Supporters' Shield.  A good year from Landon Donovan who had 7 goals and 16 assists, a super year from Edson Buddle who had 17 goals and 2 assists.  David Beckham started 5 matches and played in 7 total with 466 minutes of playing time, he scored 2 goals and had 1 assist.  LA was 3-2-0 in matches that he started, 5-2-0 in matches in which he played.  LA once again made the playoffs and they beat the Seattle Sounders 3-1 agg, before losing 3-0 to FC Dallas.

So on the pitch, the years that David plays less the LA Galaxy the team has had better results.  Of course as I have said there are other factors but when you consider the move of the league (changing the rules to allow DP's beyond the salary cap), the investment of the team ($6.5 million a year) you have to consider the experiment a bit of a failure. Now it has opened the door for other teams to bring in DP's, none of which have won MLS Cup, but two have won the Supporters' Shield.  

It may have raised the "name recognition" of people in the US, but they clearly don't watch MLS live or on TV and are more likely fans of Cultural figures (yes David is that big and yes he is married to a Spice Girl).  Yes it has opened the doors for other fringe ideas to be tried, like the upcoming trial of Chad Ochocinco with Sporting KC.  It is amazing how polarizing this idea has been, but for me we are talking about a person who loves soccer and despite having a huge bank account and being one of the biggest names (sometimes for the wrong reasons) in the NFL is willing to put himself at risk to try a 4 day trial with the team.  

Oh before it went public there were calls to the teams owner, coaches, and others to ensure this wasn't just a gimmick, there is also the fact that Chad played soccer as a youth player until high school.  He clearly loves the game, just look at his recent visit to Barcelona and I think he will come out and do his best.   It probably won't be enough to see him ever play in a MLS match, but it will be interesting to see how a world class athlete from another sport can perform in our game, and it will be maybe even more interesting to see how much publicity the league will get from this.  Could Ochocinco do in 4 days what David Beckham couldn't do in 4 years, get NFL fans to take a serious look at Major League Soccer?

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