Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

Beckham's impact on U.S. soccer? Not much

tom jones' two cents

Soccer legend David Beckham has announced his retirement at age 38. It was a spectacular career that included stops with England's national team, Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan and the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer from 2007 to 2012. Did Beckham's move to the United States have a meaningful impact?

It did for Beckham. Already a celebrity in Europe and everywhere soccer is king, Beckham added the United States to his brand. His popularity, endorsement opportunities and bank account — according to Forbes he made more than $255 million over the past six years — certainly grew during his time in Los Angeles. Even those who don't follow soccer in this country learned Beckham's name because of the movie Bend It Like Beckham. Those same people followed Beckham and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Adams, in the gossip and fashion pages, probably more so than followed him on the pitch.

Although it's nearly impossible to judge Beckham's impact on the MLS and soccer in the United States, it appears to have been minimal. Perhaps the popularity of the sport grew in Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, in the other MLS cities. But that popularity hasn't seeped into non-MLS markets and to the United States in general.

This all goes back to the same old story. If you're a soccer fan, you're a soccer fan. If you're not, you're not. Adding Beckham to an American team wasn't going to change that, particularly because it has been years since Beckham was at the top of his game. Maybe adding 20 David Beckhams in their primes could've done something, but I'm not even sure of that.

Anyway, cable television has changed how we view soccer. American soccer fans, for the most part, don't follow the MLS for their soccer fix. They watch the English Premier League or the Spanish league. Why not throw your passion behind the best leagues and the best players in the world when they are just as accessible as the second-tier MLS?

In the end, Beckham was a bigger celebrity than a soccer player in the United States.

Worst comparison

Never again should the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (below) be compared the Penguins' Sidney Crosby (above). There is no comparison.

Crosby has won a Stanley Cup. He has been in the final another time. He has won an Olympic gold medal.

Ovechkin? He has proved once again that he simply is not a winner, and certainly not in the same class as Crosby, after another first-round playoff exit. While Ovechkin doesn't play the games by himself, and while the Caps always seem to have goaltending issues, Ovechkin is the leader. He is the one who is most responsible for a team that is now 2-5 in Game 7s since his arrival. Four of those losses have come at home.

In this year's seven-game series loss to the Rangers, Ovechkin had just one goal and one assist and was held scoreless over the final five games. It has been reported that he played the final two games with a fractured bone in his foot. But that didn't stop him from going on to play for Russia in the world championship.

There's no way to tell how the injury affected his play, but nothing in his past suggests he would have played well in Game 7, even if he was 100 percent. Ovechkin then made things worse when he supposedly hinted in a Russian newspaper that the series against the Rangers might have been rigged because the NHL wanted a Game 7.

I might be willing to give Ovechkin a pass on that because the accuracy of hockey quotes that appear in Russian newspapers often are lost in translation. What's not lost in translation: another postseason failure.

Old school likes new school

Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. passed through the area last week, just about the time Rays manager Joe Maddon was bringing in a merengue band to play salsa music in the clubhouse.

Ripken (left) played for the fiery Earl Weaver, as well as his dad, lifelong baseball man Cal Ripken Sr. Could Junior have imagined those guys doing what the Rays do when it comes to bringing in bands, DJs, birds and magicians?

"I don't know whether I've softened up because I'm outside the locker room, but I think it's cool," Ripken said. "There are a lot of pressures associated with playing professional baseball, and especially in baseball when you're not hitting or not performing too well. The pressure seems to build all the time, and the key to that is to reduce the pressure. And it seems like Joe has a knack for reducing the pressure. … From where I sit, I enjoy it, and I like it for what it is."

Three things that popped into my head

1. Unless you're a Bruins fan, how can you not feel sick for the poor Maple Leafs fans who were punched in the gut when their team blew a three-goal, third-period lead and lost in overtime in Game 7 of the first round of the NHL playoffs. That was just heartbreaking to watch.

2. This is not normally the case, but this year, the NBA playoffs have been way more interesting and fun than the NHL playoffs.

3. I still think the Bulls' Derrick Rose, who ended up missing the entire season with a knee injury, should have tried to come back at some point in the playoffs, especially because he was practicing and consistently saying it was possible he could return.

     
 
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