CARSON, Calif. (AP) - Major League Soccer’s past, present and future all converged at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday night.
One of the highlights of the opening day of the league’s 24th season was the LA Galaxy unveiling a statue of David Beckham before their 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire. Beckham played six seasons with the Galaxy (2007-12) and led them to two championships.
Beckham saw one of the league’s top players and possible future star make an impact in the Galaxy’s 2-1 victory. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored on a header in the 80th minute for the go-ahead goal. Chicago’s C.J. Sapong opened the scoring in the 49th minute and Daniel Steres tied it in the 68th on a header off an assist by 16-year old midfielder Efrain Alvarez, who came on in the 60th minute in his MLS debut.
Ibrahimovic’s goal came after Chris Pontius hit the crossbar and he was in perfect position to head it past Chicago goalkeeper David Oustead.
“Chris did a fantastic action. I knew he would hit the post and it would head it straight to me and I would head it. That’s feeling,” Ibrahimovic said while smiling.
Beckham’s signing gave higher prominence to the league internationally as more top players arrived and fan interest increased.
“No doubt our league wouldn’t be what it is today if David didn’t make that decision,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said during a pregame ceremony. “At that time we were a fledgling business and trying to figure out if soccer would make it in America. His signing told the world that Major League Soccer could be the league of choice.”
Beckham said that he felt a little sheepish to be the franchise’s first statue in their legends plaza, which is located outside the stadium’s main entrance. Former coach Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones have had success both in MLS and with the U.S. national team. In sketches of the plaza, AEG, which owns the Galaxy, has plans for more statues.
Arena spoke during the ceremony and Jones was among the former players who were in the crowd.
“In this era of analytics I am sure David’s numbers would not stand out,” Arena said. “But when he scored goals, he scored decisive goals. He was simply a great leader and winner.”
Alvarez, who is from East Los Angeles, grew up watching Beckham and could not have hoped for a better debut. He also had a nice pass to Pontius on the shot where he hit the crossbar.
“Honestly I tried to take my man one-on-one,” Alvarez said. “It’s an honor to step on the field at this age. I tried to contribute as much as I could and I did.”
Ibrahimovic said he noticed Alvarez was full of confidence and hopes that his development continues.
“He came in good. When you have fans cheering him in his case it gives you lots of motivation,” Ibrahimovic said.
Chicago had a 17-13 edge in shots. Coach Veljko Paunovic thought his team had plenty of chances but could not convert.
“We have to be sharper and understand this is a game you have to win,” he said. “We should have won before the 60th minute and didn’t have the killer instinct. This team has to learn that.”
Beckham was also placed in the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime. He will have a chance to his statue often during future seasons as he is one of the owners of Inter Miami CF, which will begin play in MLS next year.
“My commitment to his league and country was always a lot more than on the field,” Beckham said. “I wanted to grow the game and play a small part in growing this league and making it bigger. I think we have been successful but there still is a long way to go but I think we are very happy with the growth over the past 10 years.”
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