Can fading Beckham spark interest in U.S.?

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David Beckham is overpaid for his level of talent, but the potential he brings to grow a legion of soccer fans in the United States may make him worth the money.

Local soccer fans reacted favorably Thursday to the news that Beckham, one of the best-known soccer players in history, will play for the next five years with Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy for a reported $250 million.

“Anything to help promote our sport is a good thing,” Edward Little soccer coach Dave Morin said. “Whether he’ll be a tremendous player, I don’t know, but he’s going to generate a buzz about the sport.”

Beckham has been an International soccer star for years, coming to prominence with Manchester United of the English Premier League and with England in world competition through the late 1990s and into the current decade.

Beckham has twice been the runner up in the FIFA World Player Of The Year Award – in 1999 and 2001 – and in addition to being the only Englishman to score in three different World Cups, is also only the fifth player in World Cup history to score twice from direct free kicks.

He was captain of the English national team from 15 November 2000 to July 2, 2006.

“His better days are probably behind him,” local soccer enthusiast Jim Martel said. “But he has name recognition world-wide right now.”

“Hopefully, this has a ripple effect on the rest of the soccer community in the United States,” Leavitt High School coach Isaiah Davis said. “Kids around here now care a lot about soccer, there are a lot of them who play, and hopefully having a name like this in the U.S., they’ll want to follow it even more.”

Martel’s daughter Laura was a four-year starter – and a four-year All-State player – for Lewiston High School. She now plays at the University of Maine, and she, too was excited about Beckham’s signing.

“I’ve been to a Revs game,” Martel said referring to New England’s entry in Major League Soccer. “Now, to be able to go again, and pay a few bucks to watch Beckham play, that’s going to be awesome. You’re going to see that wherever he goes to play, and that’s going to help the sport.”

Though the fans are excited, they agree that the contract Beckham reportedly signed – with endorsements it could reach $50 million per year – is excessive.

“No one is worth that much, but all athletes are overpaid anyway,” Jim Martel said.

Morin took it a step further.

“Look at what the money did to A-Rod,” Morin said, referring to New York Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez. “Granted, it will be a little easier in L.A. than in New York. The fans in New York are a lot less forgiving.”

The biggest hope, say soccer enthusiasts, is that the sport will grow because of Beckham’s arrival.

“It’s worth it if it helps out the sport in the long run,” Laura Martel said.

“It’s kind of like the Red Sox signing Daisuke Matsuzaka,” Davis said. “His merchandise is flying off the shelves all over the world now. Soon, you’ll see L.A. Galaxy jerseys all over the world because of him, which can only help soccer in the U.S.”

Locally, Morin hopes the draw to watch Beckham, who has also gained celebrity status beyond the soccer pitch, will be enough to coax younger players into watching more of the sport.

“There’s so much to be learned by watching the game,” Morin said. “Even if you can’t do everything the players are doing, you learn how the game is played by watching great players, like Beckham. Hopefully, this helps everyone out.”

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