British Invasion won't help MLS



Major League Soccer has a problem.

It has enjoyed steady success since its 1996 inaugural season. It has expanded to 13 teams, and its newest -- the Houston Dynamo -- recently won the league's championship in its second year of existence. The MLS is heading north in 2007 by establishing a new franchise in Toronto, the league's first claim in Canada.

But that's not the league's problem.

Recently, Freddy Adu -- the poster boy of Major League Soccer -- was reunited with his former coach on the U-17 U.S. National Team. Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger is ecstatic to receive Adu via trade with D.C. United and he is confident Adu will flourish in football under his regime.

But that's not the MLS's problem, either.

A week ago, David Beckham agreed to a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The soccer Caesar from England lands on the sunny shores of L.A. in August. He has conquered Europe and marches into Major League Soccer as a media and marketing wet dream. He's got game, good looks and a celebrity wife to boot.

Then again, that's not the MLS's problem. The American people are.

The American people don't like soccer, no matter how sexy you sell it. They have their own sports traditions. Those consist of football, baseball, basketball and a hint of hockey. It does not include David Beckham and soccer. This is a public who thinks that a "free kick" is the extra snap a placekicker takes during warm-ups and that a "penalty shot" is a hastily thrown haymaker that results in a yellow flag. So will this British Invasion give heed to a revolution, and for how long?

How long? Not long. As the MLS prepares to be center stage in the sporting world, it is clear this league needs Beckham more than Beckham needs the league Beckham will enter an unfamiliar world -- the black abyss of America, where soccer is a subculture. As he fades from the national spotlight, so will our interest.

This has happened before in America. In 1967, the New York Cosmos signed the greatest soccer star in history. His name was Pele, and even the Brazilian could not save the North American Soccer League. As such, Beckham's MLS mortality will be like the ocean wave he rides on atop those sunny shores in L.A. His hype will be fierce at first only to crash and simmer on the sand.

Major League Soccer has a problem.

But, the Briton is coming.

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