CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy know a bit about bringing in big-name players, integrating them into their team and building a group around them that can find success.
They did so first with David Beckham, whose 2007 arrival from Real Madrid kicked off Major League Soccer's modern era, even if it took two years before the Galaxy found their form.
Then it was Robbie Keane, LA's current captain, who showed up in August 2011 to prod the Galaxy to an MLS Cup championship, another the following year and a third last season.
The Galaxy hope and expect Steven Gerrard can make a similar splash.
There's a marketing dimension, to be sure, but whereas that was pivotal during Beckham's tenure – his presence gave MLS and the Galaxy an identity overseas and opened a door that an increasing number of world-class stars have since walked through – Gerrard's arrival is about something else.
“We learned a lot through David,” Galaxy club president Chris Klein said following Tuesday afternoon's StubHub Center news conference introducing Gerrard. “David changed our league. The signing of David Beckham has forever changed our league. But we now know that the results on the field have to take first priority.
“I mean, look at David's last couple years here and the success that we had as a club, and that's what makes a signing like that successful.”
When Beckham arrived in 2007, Klein was still an MLS midfielder, moving from Real Salt Lake to the Galaxy, and current Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena was in his first full season in charge of the New York Red Bulls.
The Galaxy did not find real success with Beckham, on the field, until Arena arrived in August 2008 and rebuilt the team almost from scratch while starting to develop a foundation that has become the envy of the league. Since then, LA have been to four MLS Cup finals, winning three championships.
“I don't believe our organization was ready for David Beckham when he arrived,” Arena said. “If it was today, we'd be much better prepared. So it makes these kind of moves, like Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, much easier.
“We've matured a lot as an organization. We have facilities in place now. Our organization is in place. We're a much more mature club now, and we're better positioned to deal with a player of this magnitude coming in here.”
Forward Alan Gordon remembers when Beckham joined the club and says he sees “a lot of similarities” with Gerrard's arrival.
“They kind of have the same personality, I would say,” Gordon said. “I mean, I don't know Steven that well, but I guess just quiet and certainly a presence about him, a star quality. And more than that, it's more than being a star and being a good player. They're both good people, and they want to be part of the group. They don't want to be above everybody else, and so they're on a mission.”
Gerrard said following in Beckham's footsteps is an honor.
“David's a hero of mine,” he said. “Someone I was lucky to play with, a fantastic guy and a wonderful footballer. He's certainly someone I leaned on for advice, asked a few questions before I decided to come here.”
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“I think it's grown; I think it's improved,” Gerrard said. “I think the teams and individuals are getting stronger as the years go by. I've been very impressed in training so far from my own teammates, and I look forward to seeing what the level is like from the opposing teams I come up against. I'm certainly looking forward to the challenge.”
His presence lifts the Galaxy's level.
“I think we're going to be a better team,” Gordon said. “Actually, I know we're going to be a better team. He brings a lot of qualities that we didn't have, that you only get with a guy like that. So we're inheriting a legend, one of the top people in the game in a lot of aspects.”
Could Gerrard have the same type of impact as Beckham did? Off the field, perhaps not – Beckham brought significant new attention to MLS that would be hard to replicate – but on the field, why not?
“I'm not going to change football over here,” Gerrard said, “but if I could just contribute and add a little bit to it, I will be very proud.”