David Beckham came, he sold, he conquered.
For the first two years after he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, he was more of a brand than a player, his impact at America’s cash registers far greater than any transformation on the field.
By the time the 37-year-old English midfielder played his final game in Major League Soccer on Saturday, he had achieved his soccering and his financial goals, winning two more titles and expanding the U.S. audience for his sport. He gained attention for his ability, and not just for his ever-changing hairstyles, Spice Girl wife and celebrity friends.
“When I decided to come here, I think I raised a little bit of interest, and I hope that’s what I’ve done,” Beckham said. “If that’s the single thing that I’ve done, then great. But I think the foundations are there now in this league. It’s a 17-year-old league, and the foundations are great. It will continue to grow.”
The league expanded by about 50 percent, with new teams announced during the Beckham era that started play in San Jose (2008), Seattle (2009), Philadelphia (2010), Vancouver and Portland (2011), and Montreal (2012). That raised the total to 19.
Ground was broken for soccer-specific stadiums in Houston, Kansas City and Philadelphia, the long-delayed venue in New Jersey was completed, and extensive renovations took place in Montreal, Portland and Vancouver.
MLS’ regular-season attendance averaged 15,504 in 2006, the last season before Beckham left Real Madrid to sign with the Galaxy. It was up to a record 18,807 this year, still well short of the record 44,293 set by the Bundesliga in 2011-12 and the 35,356 for England’s Premier League.
Beckham said his goals were to win and increase awareness of the league both domestically and abroad.