PHILADELPHIA – It all begins and ends with David Beckham.
That much is evident when you listen to Chelsea FC players talk about Major League Soccer and the sport in the United States ahead of the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday night (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“I think Beckham has done a lot for the game," midfielder John Obi Mikel said at a press conference on Tuesday, "and now even here in America, trying to promote the game and making it bigger here in America.”
Chelsea captain Frank Lampard was a bit more eloquent in his analysis, detailing exactly how Beckham has left his mark.
"David Beckham has been a huge influence on the game in terms of taking it worldwide and bringing a lot of attention, which has then lifted the level of players which have been brought here to MLS," said Lampard, who was recently spotted taking in an MLS game at the Home Depot Center with Beckham.
Lampard says he's familiar with the trajectory of soccer's growth in the United States because he's had an uncle who served as a coach here.
“You’ve been able to bring in the stars from abroad particularly David Beckham and Thierry Henry," the England international said. "Huge names that have come here to play their football relatively young with a lot to give and I think that pushed the league and brought the standard up.
"Back home, we can watch an MLS game or two when a couple of years back, we couldn’t do that. … Gradually, bit by bit, the league is growing and there are a lot more people that are taking notice."