- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

David Beckham is the transcendent figure who is expected to push America in the direction of soccer, the one-time sport of the ‘70s.

Of course, we have heard this sentiment in the past, dating to the arrival of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer in the defunct North American Soccer League in the ‘70s.

There was a genuine belief at the time that soccer finally had arrived in America, only interest in the game ceased the moment the exports were done playing, and soon enough, the NASL was relegated to the dustbin of history.

We heard this talk again in 1994, when the World Cup was staged in America. And we heard it again after Brandi Chastain stripped down to her sports bra in elation. And we heard it anew with Freddy Adu.

We have heard how we Americans merely need to be introduced to the sport to learn the beauty and power of it.

We have heard how the world is right about soccer and that America is somehow wrong.

It seemingly has become almost the national duty of America to embrace soccer, at least according to many of the thinkers who run the major newspapers in our urban centers.

But we have seen soccer, and we are mostly indifferent to it, except on rare occasions.

The 13-team Major League Soccer has been hemorrhaging money since its inception in 1996, and its attendance was down by more than 10 percent last season from its inaugural campaign.

That is the reality before professional soccer in America. It is an endeavor that stays afloat only because of the deep pockets of a few.

It has failed to find its niche in the sports landscape and not because of America’s so-called lack of sophistication.

Soccer is hugely popular among youths. That popularity does not transfer into box-office power at the college or professional level. Youths play the game but grow up to be viewers of America’s more popular games.

Soccer’s would-be leaders in America never have been able to solve this counterproductive element.

It already has cost the women their professional league, the eight-team Women’s United Soccer Association that folded after three seasons in 2003.

Not even Mia Hamm and her celebrated teammates who won the World Cup in 1999 could captivate America’s interest.

Beckham undoubt

edly will give the league a box-office boost. He is an international star who will be playing with the Galaxy in star-obsessed Los Angeles. He is married to an ex-Spice Girl and counts Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes as good friends.

But soccer already received that kind of jolt with Pele in the ‘70s. His appearances with the New York Cosmos were events that attracted as many as 70,000 spectators.

The turnout, though, was about the appeal of Pele. It was not about the game.

None of this is intended to be a knock on soccer. It is what it is.

The game has come to the attention of America long after football, basketball and baseball became fixtures on the sports menu.

Soccer, not unlike hockey, functions amid the hard truth that there are only so many viewing hours in a day, only so many entertainment dollars.

So please spare us this talk of soccer’s impending revitalization in America because of the signing of Beckham.

We have been hearing this spiel for 30 years, and it has become tiresome.

And, seriously, Americans do not need to be introduced to the game.

Perhaps our international friends have not heard of the political bloc dubbed the soccer moms. Perhaps they do not know that upward of 18 million play the game in this country, according to several surveys.

Unfortunately for MLS, those impressive participation numbers end up mocking the entity that rewrote its salary-cap rules to land Beckham.

The bookkeeping change points to a sense of despondency.

The league lavishes buckets of money on an aging star in order to buck up its wobbly enterprise.

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