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Thursday, January 19, 2012
Beckham's decision helps validate MLS

By Jeff Carlisle
ESPN.com

Days don't get much better for MLS and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

On Thursday, David Beckham will again be introduced as a Galaxy player, having signed a two-year contract to extend his stay in Los Angeles. It counts as a badly needed doese of good news for the club, which during this offseason has seen key cog Juninho return to his native Brazil, while reigning MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez was felled earlier this month by a torn ACL. With Beckham in the fold, the Galaxy's chances of repeating as MLS Cup champions have increased significantly.

But as is always the case with Beckham, his impact isn't just measured in terms of wins and losses. It's also quantified in ticket sales, sponsorships, broadcast rights fees and merchandise. MLS commissioner Don Garber will no doubt be grateful the cash machine that is Brand Beckham will be churning out revenue for another two years, and perhaps beyond, all while donning Galaxy colors.

There is another, more subtle benefit as well. Beckham re-signing with the league marks a validation of sorts. The Englishman hasn't always treated MLS with the respect it deserved considering it forked out $32.5 million over five years for his services in 2007. Beckham's Ahab-like pursuit of England caps oftentimes wasn't in the best interests of his employer, and it nearly ended his career when a loan move to AC Milan, done for the express purpose of preparing Beckham for one last shot at World Cup glory, ended with him tearing his Achilles tendon.

So when his contract expired late last year, Beckham was free to play anywhere, and it was presumed that his future wouldn't include MLS. Paris St. Germain batted its eyes at the midfielder to the tune of $12 million per year. Yet Beckham declined, and instead returned to the league and club that stood by him during some difficult moments. Now he has the chance to help the league grow further, while also burnishing his MLS reputation, one largely restored by his leading the Galaxy to last year's MLS Cup.

Whether this translates into other foreign stars coming to MLS remains to be seen. But the fact that Beckham ultimately decided to stay, when his actions at times have practically screamed that he wanted to be elsewhere, is a valuable endorsement, one that observers around the world are bound to notice. Without question, MLS doesn't need to be saved by Beckham. It never did. But his return is another milepost in the league's evolution.

Granted, nothing has ever been clear cut with Beckham, and that hasn't changed with his latest contract. While MLS will be overjoyed at retaining his services, just how much Beckham it's getting remains unclear. One reported condition of Beckham's signature was allowing him to participate in this summer's Olympics, not only as a member of Great Britain's soccer team, but also as an ambassador of sorts. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Beckham could miss upwards of two months of the 2012 season. MLS will make similar allowances for other players if the U.S. manages to qualify, but none of those players has near the cachet and marketing pull of Beckham.

Such a development would be nothing new, of course, and perhaps explains better than any other why Beckham has returned. It's likely that no other league in the world would accede to Beckham's wishes like MLS. As relationships go, it's not perfect, but for both parties it has its advantages. As long as that is the case, it's one that is definitely worth continuing.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.