LA Galaxy and the MLS both have to deal with the loss of the most famous player in the world: David Beckham.
Major League Soccer will launch its 18th season on Saturday, the first campaign since 2007 without David Beckham as its star attraction and major engine for the growth of football in America.
The 37-year-old English midfielder, now playing for Paris Saint-Germain, helped the Los Angeles Galaxy capture its second MLS crown in a row last December in the final game of his six-season stay in South California.
MLS stretched from 12 to 19 clubs during Beckham’s US stint and many existing teams were given a boost with the construction of new stadiums that brought more revenue and stability.
Attendance hit a record average of 18,807 spectators last season, up 3,300 a game since Beckham signed his $32.5 million five-year deal in early 2007 and replicas of Beckham’s Galaxy jersey were runaway best-sellers.
Now MLS commissioner Don Garber hopes his league can take major steps without Beckham’s star power.
“We’re going to take it higher and not look back,” Garber said. “Consistency will be the theme for us in 2013, something we have strived to achieve over the last couple of years.”
As Garber put it last December, “We needed David Beckham in 2007 to help drive our credibility. We don’t need anything today.”
The Galaxy will open at home on Sunday against Chicago in quest of an unprecedented third consecutive title without Beckham and Landon Donovan, the star US striker on a break that Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says will end in late March.
“This young guy has been holding the responsibility as the leader of the sport on the field since he was 15,” Garber said. “None of us have had to do what Landon has had to do.”
Ireland’s Robbie Keane, who scored 23 goals last season in all competitions, has taken the captain’s armband for the Galaxy.
“He’s a quality player. He’s a quality leader,” Arena said. “Robbie is prepared to lead this team.”
But Beckham’s crossing passes and ever-bending set-piece kicks will be missed.
“There’s no David Beckhams out there replacing the last David Beckham,” said Arena. “Not having David, we lose one of the best passers in the history of the game. We’re not going to change that.
“We won’t pass as well. We won’t be as dangerous in some ways when the ball turns over in our favor, but maybe collectively we can be better. That’s all we can hope to do.”
Frenchman Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls takes over as the biggest global name in MLS, although Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard of England had been named last month in reports linking him to a possible MLS move.
San Jose could pose the top threat in the Western Conference to the Galaxy’s reign behind Chris Wondolowski, who matched a one-season MLS record with 27 goals for the Earthquakes last year. He has netted 61 goals over three seasons.
Real Salt Lake offer Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley on attack while former Liverpool defender Djimi Traore joins Seattle Sounders, ex-Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre arrives in Portland and English midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker joins the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Houston, which lost the MLS final to the Galaxy, offers Honduran standout Oscar Garcia at midfield and Brad Davis as a set-up man.
Guatemalan all-time goals leader Carlos Ruiz adds spark to DC United while former New Zealand national teamer Ryan Nelson takes over as coach of Toronto FC hoping to push the Canadian club into the playoffs.