- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

In January, someone connected with MLS just might call David Beckham. That’s when the international transfer window opens and teams will be able to talk to the English midfielder, whose four-year contract with Spanish giant Real Madrid runs out in June.

But does that mean Beckham actually would accept an offer from an MLS team?

“There’s a chance,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said last week on a stop in the District. “As you know, there has been on and off interest on his part to come to the United States and we are hopeful we can find a way to reach an agreement with him.”

Beckham’s phone is likely to be busy. Italian team Inter Milan is trying to sign Beckham and has reportedly offered him $214,000 a week. British teams Bolton, Tottenham, Celtic and Arsenal may attempt to lure the Londoner back to his homeland. Japan’s Urawa Reds, based just outside Tokyo, are also in the running, and Beckham earns a quarter of his annual salary from the Asian market.

And then comes the Los Angeles Galaxy. Under the new Designated Player Rule, sometimes called the Beckham Rule, each MLS team will be able to sign one high-profile player, whose salary will account for only $400,000 against the team’s salary cap of $2.1 million for the 2007 season.

“It’s a complicated decision on everybody’s part not least [because of] the package [Beckham] would be looking for to come and play in the United States, but those are the kind of players we are looking for to be designated players,” Garber said.

Coming to America is appealing to Beckham. In 2005, when he opened a soccer academy in Los Angeles, he spoke about his desire to play in the United States. In the last few weeks his wife Victoria (aka Posh Spice) had been house-hunting in the Los Angeles area according to the British press. She looked at one mansion just five doors down from the Beckhams’ friends Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

“We need to get the right player for the right market for the right team,” Garber said. “Cautious optimism is better than running around trying to do things too fast.”

The league has not always had success with foreign stars. Germany’s Lothar Matthaeus and Brazil’s Branco rank among a few foreign players that did not succeed in the United States.

But Beckham, who still has plenty of soccer left, may decide to stay in Spain. He currently is in talks with Real Madrid about a new two-year contract. However, he has found himself coming off the bench this season since the arrival of Jose Antonio Reyes.

The 31-year-old Beckham’s contract with Real Madrid pays him about $8 million after taxes, but he earns another $30 million from major sponsorship deals with Gillette, Pepsi and Motorola and is listed as the highest paid soccer player in the world.

Garber say MLS will be cautious about the kind of big-name stars it will sign under the designated player rule.

“Our view is we have to get one or two players in and they have to have a good experience, and it’s got to work,” Garber said. “We need to happen to evolve the perception of Major League Soccer, and that’s not going to happen with one player, and not overnight.”

D.C. United is unlikely to use the Designated Player Rule next year.

“We’ve talked about it, but we’ve only scratched the surface,” United technical director Dave Kasper said. “It’s a big decision. We feel other teams need it more than we do, some for marketing. Our brand as a team is very strong. If we find a designated player who fits our need we will pursue it.”

Lilly snubbed — Brazilian star Marta shouldn’t have been named FIFA World Player of the Year on Monday over American veteran Kristine Lilly.

The 20-year-old Marta, who plays club soccer in Sweden, hasn’t competed for the Brazilian team since the 2004 Olympic gold medal loss to the U.S. team. Lilly, meanwhile, has been named MVP of three major tournaments this year with the American team. She also has captained the U.S. team on a 32-game unbeaten streak.

National team coaches and team captains around the world voted for the award.

Roundup — Germany will be England’s first opponent in the new Wembley Stadium on Aug. 22, 2007. The last game at the old Wembley was England’s 1-0 loss to Germany in 2000.

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