We’ve spent much of the summer complaining about the media coverage of the Beckham Farcical Roadshow 2007 and similarly, about the British media’s frequently abymsal coverage of “the MLS”. So let’s take a moment to point out when there’s good coverage, too: the Observer Sports Monthly, a colour supplement from the Observer newspaper that regularly features some of the best sports journalism in the U.K., has an excellent interview with Beckham that gives a good shake to MLS, without either sugarcoating or patronising the league.
In recent weeks, many English football pundits have written off the MLS, claiming it is not of a serious standard. Yet the evidence of the game before us suggests that Steve McClaren was probably nearer the mark when, after taking in a game in Washington DC recently, he pitched the MLS standard at ‘bottom half of the Premiership, top half of the Championship’. Watching this spirited performance by the Galaxy, it’s not surprising that Beckham is frustrated by the cynicism of the media – here and in England – about his new team’s prospects and, beyond that, about the credibility of the league they play in. He was somewhat more impressed when he met his new employers, Tim Leiweke, AEG’s chief executive, Alexi Lalas, the club’s general manager, and Frank Yallop, the Galaxy coach. ‘I could feel straight away how much they wanted to do well as a team; how much they want to make the MLS bigger, make it a league that’s known around the world. In a different way, you could feel it these past few days as well: how much it hurt them when people who don’t know anything about it were turning round and calling the Galaxy a pub team and calling the MLS a Mickey Mouse league. I don’t know whether it’s ignorance or snobbery or whether it’s that the people saying these things have never played the game or watched it being played here, but they should be sitting here now, watching us beat a team that’s won the Mexican league two years running. The standard is nowhere near as low as people have been saying it is. For a start, you have to be incredibly fit and physically strong to play here: America’s a country, after all, that produces some of the best athletes in the world.’
What the US has yet to produce, though, is players with the technical quality and flair to match the very best of their European and South American counterparts. Yallop, who played for Ipswich and Canada in the 1980s and early Nineties, makes the point. ‘Look at the players who’ve gone to Europe: Tim Howard, Damarcus Beasley, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, Landon Donovan. They’ve all been good enough to fit in at the top level, but they’ve been what I call “role” players for their clubs,’ he says. ‘There’s not yet been an American player who has gone abroad and been the best player for a team. That’s reflected here. The American players are already good enough to have a strong, competitive domestic league. But look around the world: there’s not a league anywhere that doesn’t import star players.