JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- David Beckham filled seats, sold jerseys, landed on magazine covers, increased television ratings and brought Major League Soccer unprecedented attention.
Surprisingly, MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis insists Beckham's transfer to the Los Angeles Galaxy wasn't the biggest event in the league this year.
"What is the real story of 2007 for MLS?" Gazidis said Monday. "The actual story has been looking to South America and importing players from South America who are very significant performers in our league."
Luciano Emilio, a Brazilian forward on D.C. United, was selected the league's top player, capping a season in which he became MLS's first 20-goal scorer in five years. He finished ahead of Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel of the New York Red Bulls and Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire.
Gazidis said the league's immediate future as far as foreign imports lies as with South Americans, not with aging stars such as Beckham.
"South America -- that is a market that we are mining internationally in the short term,'' Gazidis said at the Soccerex international conference on soccer and business, a day after the qualifying draw for the 2010 World Cup.
Beckham, a former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder, played in only five regular-season games because of a knee injury. Those games, predictably, were among the best-attended in the MLS, averaging 37,659 fans.
The United States' first-round exit at last year's World Cup has put a new focus on youth soccer programs in the United States.
"Since our World Cup failure last year, we have really been going around the world and specifically to Argentina, Brazil and Mexico looking at player development in those countries," Gazidis said, stressing there still was lots to learn.
Also, American soccer has never produced an offensive player who could start regularly on a top European club.
"To me it represents a significant failure on our part that, outside of perhaps our goalkeepers, we really haven't produced a truly world class player," Gazidis said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press