Beckham on MLS: Play improved, but work to be done

July 18, 2008

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- While the quality of play in the MLS is better than people think, David Beckham said Friday that he believes the it will take time to catch up to some of the world's better leagues.

Beckham said that he is enjoying his first full season with the Los Angeles Galaxy, noting that he had a tough time adjusting last year after arriving in the middle of the season and having to battle an assortment of injuries.

The 33-year-old has been healthy this season. His seven assists are tied for second best in the league and his five goals are tied for 10th.

"I have enjoyed it," Beckham said at a news conference to promote Saturday's game at Giants Stadium against the New York Red Bulls.

"Soccer is definitely changing in this country, and it is getting bigger and growing," Beckham said. "But it is going to take time, and I said that at the start. It's not just going to happen in a year or two. It's a long-term plan to raise the profile for this game in this country. I think it has gone well so far."

Beckham has done his job attracting fans. The Galaxy have averaged about 26,000 for home games at the 27,000-seat Home Depot Center. They are doing even better on the road, averaging more than 27,000.

The advance sale for Beckham's second game in the New York metropolitan area was 45,000 on Thursday, which would be the largest single-game crowd for an MLS game this season. His appearance here last year drew about 67,000.

A doubleheader in Massachusetts that saw New England play Dallas followed by a friendly between Brazil and Mexico drew 54,045.

"It's one of the reasons I moved here, to be a part of growing the game," said Beckham, who signed with the Galaxy in January 2007 after a standout career with Manchester United and Real Madrid. "Hopefully, people are seeing the changes which we are putting in. The attendance is up 20 percent and shirt sales up 780 percent. So it is going well. That's what we need in this country."

Beckham laughed when asked whether fans were coming to see him because of his ability as a soccer player or his celebrity status.

"I don't really care as long as they are here and watching the game," the midfielder said.

As somewhat of the game's ambassador for the MLS, Beckham doesn't mind being in the spotlight and having demands on his time.

"The safest place and the best place I feel is when I am on the field," he added.

The Galaxy are tied for second place in the Western Conference with a 6-6-4 mark. Beckham said the team has played well at times and been inconsistent at others.

"Being here a year now, you see some of the talented players in the league and some of the talented teams," he said. "Every game is a tough game. Of course, we do want to get it to the level of other leagues in the world, but it will take time. But it's not that far away. There is a lot of talent in this league."

Beckham noted that Villarreal of Spain recently paid a $10 million transfer to acquire the rights to Red Bulls teenage striker Jozy Altidore. He also believes that MLS teams will attract more players from Europe soon.

Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio said that MLS will continue to advance as long as clubs build new stadiums and change rules to allow teams to pay more for quality players.

"If the teams are allowed to spend a little more money, the markets that we can look for players will be different markets," Osorio said. "At the moment, we have to accept that we can't look at the European markets, and if we do, we can only look at players who are over 31 and 32 years old. That limits the players we can target and concentrate on."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press