CARSON, Calif. – The show would've gone on with or without David Beckham, and let's be honest: Saturday's festivities at the Home Depot Center were nothing but a made-for-TV production for Major League Soccer, the Los Angeles Galaxy and their $32.5 million man.
The fact that one of the world's top soccer clubs – English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea – was the opponent for this friendly was a mere footnote for many watching the nationally televised broadcast replete with a one-hour pregame special ("David Beckham: The American Dream") and Super Bowl-like camera coverage.
Yes, Beckham would've been better off watching from the bench and resting his sore left ankle, especially with games of significance looming in the newly formed SuperLiga (North America's attempt at a Champions League-type tournament). But this soccer-only stadium about 20 miles south of Los Angeles had been transformed into the Ivy, what with his wife and aspiring reality TV show queen Victoria (aka Posh Spice), Katie Holmes, Eva Longoria and even the Governator in the building.
So there was no way this new headline act was going to disappoint in his American stage debut. Even if he limped around on one good ankle the whole time.
"I'm really pleased because I wanted to be out there," Beckham said. "A lot of attention was on this game."
Said Galaxy coach Frank Yallop: "He didn't want to let anybody down."
Seeing Beckham in the flesh and in the Galaxy's new shirt ($100 adult size, $80 for the kids') was what the fans came for. Forget the fact that, in his 12 minutes on the field, all but one of Beckham's dozen or so touches of the ball (a just-before-the-final-whistle corner kick) could've led to a goal. Forget the fact that the Galaxy, an unsightly 3-5-4 in MLS play, lost again, albeit this time with a fight, in a respectable 1-0 defeat to Chelsea.
The 27,000 on hand wanted to see what this one-man British invasion was all about, a media-feeding hype that began six months ago with Beckham's shocking announcement that he would be leaving one of the world's biggest clubs in Real Madrid to come to America.
On Saturday, from the time he got off the bench to his 78th-minute substitution, the flashbulbs didn't stop flashing. Every shot of him on the video scoreboard and virtually every move were cheered.
"This last week has been truly one of the more remarkable weeks probably in my life," Beckham said. "The attention has been immense, not just on the Galaxy … but (also) on me and my family. It has really been incredible. I have to say thank you to everybody because everything has been 99.9 percent positive."
"I hope it continues," he added. "After this game, we've got a long season left. This is where the hard work starts. It's not just obviously about this exhibition game and getting fans here for this game, but it's (also) about getting fans here for every game and every game we take part in."
But if it wasn't about this one game, then Beckham would've remained on the bench and had never exposed his injured ankle to an aggressive slide tackle like the one Steve Sidwell, Chelsea's eager-to-impress new signee, laid on him unexpectedly.
Yallop smiled for the cameras during the postgame press conference, agreeing with Beckham on how important it was for his new central midfielder to play with the national spotlight on the Galaxy, but afterward, the coach admitted he didn't make the final decision.
"Well," Yallop said, "he wanted to play."
Beckham felt compelled to get out there because the big sports network with its major production and his celebrity wife and her Hollywood friends in attendance wanted him out there. Home Depot Center was the place to be in L.A. on a Saturday night, and that fact alone was enough reason for this soccer icon to think risking further injury was worth it.
He won't know if it was worth the trouble until he wakes up Sunday and sees just how swollen his left ankle really is. But at the very least, we know David Beckham has learned the most important lesson in assimilating himself to the American sports scene.
The big stars always have the final say.
"I think tonight," said Yallop, "he sort of felt he had to be on the field."
- David Beckham
- Major League Soccer