If you’re a sportswriter who’s penned a Beckham article in the past week and your name isn’t Grant Wahl, you may not have noticed that MLS and American soccer aren’t gasping for their last breaths. But such is the dominant theme in the soccer-related media these days: Beckham as long-shot deus ex machina to save a league competing for ratings with curling. As Dan Loney points out in a classic rant, the coming reality of Becks’ inaugural MLS season is going to shock more than a few people:
I can imagine how much fun it’s going to be for fans on Beckham’s road trip. Are these new fans aware that there will be people cheering against Beckham in, say, Washington, DC? Don’t the fans in Section 8 have enough problems right now, without hearing the Galaxy cheered in their own stadium? I’m not condoning hooliganism by any means, but going to a Crew game and saying “I’m just cheering for Beckham’s team, which one are they?” can be punishable by unprovoked murder under Ohio law, right? I mean, these aren’t like the other teams in “Rollerball.” They have fans who care about them deeply.
Make no mistake: the hate fest is coming. In tailgates and bleachers and message boards, widly offensive chants are being tuned and the more-than-suggestive banners being painted. Beckham’s newfound fan club may tune in to find adoring, thankful crowds, but they’re also sure to see the vocal minority, fueled by team pride and outrage at the ignorance of the newcomers, raining down abuse on their alleged savior and willing their team to stomp him into the ground. And this may be a key moment in MLS’ development: will the fervor of the Barra Bravas and El Batallons turn off would-be fans, or will they see the passion and be drawn to it? Either way, people will be watching and the supporters will be cheering as never before.