CARSON, Calif. (AP) — After six seasons as the worldwide face of Major League Soccer, David Beckham believes nobody should doubt it’s a major league.
It’s the third word in MLS that still bugs the English midfielder.
“Even after six years, I’m still personally getting used to calling it soccer,” Beckham said with a grin Thursday. “I still have my moments of saying football. To me, it will always be football, but I have adapted myself over the years. I think I’ve done pretty well, maybe, in the last year.”
Although Beckham is leaving the Los Angeles Galaxy after Saturday’s MLS Cup, he plans to play a major role in the league’s growth indefinitely. He began his last few competitive days in a Galaxy uniform with a training session for the defending champions’ final match against the Houston Dynamo.
Beckham still won’t say where he plans to play next, coyly deflecting the latest rumors of interest everywhere from Sydney to Monaco. But he reiterated his commitment to MLS, both as a future team owner and a cheerleader for North American soccer.
And while Beckham is the biggest name to wear an MLS jersey, he believes the wave of international stars heading stateside will only grow. He informed Robbie Keane of MLS’ virtues before the Irish national team captain joined the Galaxy last year, and he didn’t deny he’ll help Los Angeles to recruit his own replacement as a designated player next season, whoever it might be.
“When I came over here, I committed to this team and I committed to growing this league,” Beckham said. “Just because I’m not playing here after the weekend, my commitment stays the same. I will do anything to keep these players coming over like Robbie Keane, like Thierry Henry. Anything I can do on that side of things, I want to do.”
Beckham’s legacy is the subject of even more discussion than the MLS Cup this week, and that’s fine with the league’s top brass. After a rocky start to his MLS tenure when he struggled with injuries, pursued European loans and got booed by his own fans in Los Angeles, Beckham has emerged as the on-the-field force and off-the-field beacon that MLS expected to get when he arrived in 2007.
“Oh, I would love David to stick around forever,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “It’s been a great experience for everyone. But it’s up to him to decide what his personal and family goals are. … When David came here, people overseas described us as a retirement league. We’ve proven over the last six years that it’s a very competitive league, and David has been a big part of that. Hopefully more players will be coming over here at a younger age.”
Garber can rattle off a list of ways his league has improved in the past six seasons, from arena deals to television contracts. He also realizes Beckham could have a loud voice in MLS affairs after his playing days.
“I think he would be a great member of the MLS ownership,” Garber said. “He’s a serious guy. I don’t think people understand what a business mind he has. He’s always thinking about marketing, about branding, about everything that makes a successful business. I think he’d be a great addition to MLS.”
Beckham again confirmed he isn’t leaving the Galaxy because of any problems with the management or coaching staff, saying only that he loves a challenge. He nearly wrapped up his Galaxy career last year after raising the trophy, but decided he still had unfinished business.
By reaching his third MLS Cup final in four years while playing at an elite level deep into his 30s, he believes he addressed it.
“I think I’ve matured,” Beckham said. “As you get older and you play more years in this game, your mind gets a bit quicker, to be honest. The legs might be a little bit slower than they were when I was 21 years old, but I’ve always said it, I’ve never been a quick player. Speed and pace have never been an issue for me in my game. You become more clever with your mind over the years.”
While deflecting widespread speculation he could become a significant investor in the Galaxy soon, he acknowledged he’s proud of the effect he had on the franchise’s growth and the league’s maturity.
“It was challenging the first couple of years, but a challenge I knew I was going to be up against, and I knew I would succeed,” Beckham said. “Off the field, we’ve done a lot of hard work — not just myself, but the people around the league. They’re the kind of foundations that this league needs. That’s what happens in Europe, in the best leagues in the world. And the future is going to be bright.”