Maybe David Beckham will bid farewell the way another famous number 23 should have wrapped up his iconic career 14 years ago.
The difference, of course, is that Michael Jordan gave no indication that 1998 would be his last with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan went out in classic style, hitting the winning jump shot in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to beat the Utah Jazz, only to a return a few years later as a slower, heavier version of himself with the Washington Wizards.
Beckham ended the suspense by announcing on Monday that the MLS Cup final on Dec. 1 will be his last competitive game with the LA Galaxy. It’s not a retirement, mind you, just a one-game farewell tour. Thanks to the global reach of the sport via television and the internet we have not seen the last of Beckham. Only MLS has.
The league should be thrilled that its marquee name just provided them with a must-see TV moment for even casual soccer fans. I still remember being at Giants Stadium for Pele’s last match with the New York Cosmos and can still hear the crowd of 78,000 strong chanting his name. And that was just an exhibition match against Pele’s old Brazilian club, Santos.
Beckham is giving himself the grand stage from which to exit: a championship match against a very dangerous Houston Dynamos squad. MLS could use a ratings boost.
The speculation has already started as to where Beckham will turn up. Just about every soccer mad country believes it has a chance, including China, where ESPN is reporting that Beckham could earn more than $1 million per month. Yes, per month.
He could land in Brazil, which is set to host the 2014 World Cup or he may finally join PSG in France. Even the New York Red Bulls have been mentioned as Beckham’s next stop, but why trade one coast for another when he’s already conquered MLS. (And let’s be honest here, why risk your legacy for a club that can’t seem to get out of its own way?)
"I've had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career,” Beckham said in a statement.
My guess is Europe. Paris makes sense on many levels, plus it suits the football and fashion needs of both Mr. and Mrs. Beckham.
MLS and Beckham were good for each other. The league flourished in terms of both popularity and quality. There are soccer-specific stadiums in most of the MLS towns. Beckham had the opportunity to build his brand, enhance his legacy and win one and perhaps two championships. Thierry Henry should be so lucky.
Plus, Beckham is leaving MLS on his own terms. He’s still playing at a high level, his team is back in the title game and one day he hopes to return as an MLS owner.
But that’s a discussion for another day. And there is plenty of time to talk about the past and what Beckham meant it to soccer in the United States. The present, however, is what all the great ones live for: a chance to go out on top.
Here’s hoping Becks wins it with a patented free kick in the closing minutes. A Jordan moment would be nice. This No. 23 deserves it.
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