Stories of the Year, No. 1: Bye, bye Beckham
As the Best of 2012 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 12 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 19 until Dec. 30, when we unveil what our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2012.
Senior editor Nick Firchau completes our countdown with the Story of the Year, given to David Beckham's announcement in November that his days in MLS were done. Two weeks of international attention followed surrounding Beckham's last MLS game, and left many contemplating the state of the league after five years with one of the biggest stars in the world.
When I look back at 2012 and try to recount how I learned about what would become MLSsoccer.com’s Story of the Year, I first and foremost remember the silliness that made me believe David Beckham and Snoop Dogg were about to conquer Europe together.
Sometime in the late afternoon on the East Coast on November 19, Beckham’s handlers pressed the button that effectively ended the superstar’s five-year MLS career with one unceremonious and somewhat ominous email. What followed was a mad dash for some sort of explanation – wait, he’s not retiring? –and any semblance of insight into what exactly was happening out in Los Angeles and, more specifically, inside Beckham’s brain.
My favorite rumor in the hours that followed was the one that linked Beckham to a shift to famed Scottish side Celtic FC, the club that Snoop was reportedly interested in helping back financially because well, he just seemed to enjoy FIFA 13 so much. It was beyond silly, but in that moment when no one – including Beckham, it has to be said – knew where the LA Galaxy star was headed, it seemed like damn near anything was possible. I listened to Doggystyle the whole way home from the office.
WATCH: Beckham after MLS Cup
The next two weeks was an absolute blur of Beckham, with so much international attention thrown his way that another titanic story – Landon Donovan’s career in crisis, which finished at No. 3 on our list – was all but forgotten when the media descended on LA and stuffed every microphone they could in Beckham’s face. Everyone scrambled for tidbits on Beckham’s future in Australia, China, France or even his native England, wondering what challenge was enticing enough that Beckham would vacate the one-year option he had left on his MLS contract and leave Beverly Hills.
The race was on, meanwhile, to define exactly what Beckham had meant to MLS during his five years in the league, and that in turn became something much bigger. Suddenly we had the latest collective examination of the league’s identity and role in the sports world, an often sensitive topic that no other storyline touched as deeply this year.
The general consensus was the right one; Beckham’s 2007 arrival in LA ushered in something now unofficially coined “MLS 2.0,” a league completely different than the one that greeted him five years ago. Without Beckham there would be no Thierry Henry at Red Bull Arena, no Seattle Sounders fans on the message boards, no Merritt Paulson, no cycling out to Stade Saputo on a Saturday afternoon. Of course Beckham didn’t lay single brick in Montreal and he probably wouldn’t even be welcome in the Brougham End in Seattle, but don’t kid yourself. MLS is a different, much bigger place because of Becks, and there’s no going back now.
But there were just as many Beckham haters in stadiums around the league over the past five years as there were devoted followers (probably more, when you consider he was openly loathed by Galaxy fans after a loan stint with AC Milan in 2009), and many resented the era of booming contracts and busted Designated Players that Beckham’s signing introduced. And that sentiment is more than fair. It’s a league of haves and have-nots, and that’s Beckham’s influence too.
As for his final game, of course Beckham went out riding high. The Galaxy knocked off the Houston Dynamo 3-1 in front of a sold-out crowd at The Home Depot Center in a game when Beckham played particularly well and gave photographers plenty of chances to capture well-coiffed history even before he exited to a standing ovation in stoppage time. More than a few MLS executives strolled around the HDC or mingled in the hotel bar that night with a particular “today we had a good day” look on their faces because, as expected, Becks had delivered the goods.
Another trip to the winner’s podium, one last press conference, one more bottle of champagne, and it was over. Thankfully. Two crazy weeks in Beckham’s world had stolen just about every MLS headline and dwarfed some of the other historic accomplishments this year, leaving me at the close of 2012 with the same sentiment I had way back in 2007: With Beckham, it was never boring.