Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham announced Monday that Saturday's MLS Cup final against the Houston Dynamo will be his final game for the three-time Major League Soccer champions.
The former England captain has played six seasons in Southern California, raising the profile of the league around the world, and leading the team to the championship – his first in North America – last year. Beckham had recently been linked with a move to the Australian A-League, although his representatives shot that notion down last Friday, saying their client had "absolutely no plans" of playing Down Under.
"I've had an incredibly special time playing for the L.A. Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career," Beckham said in a team-issued statement. "I don't see this as the end of my relationship with the league as my ambition is to be part of the ownership structure in the future."
Beckham moved to MLS from Real Madrid in 2007, taking advantage of the newly created designated player rule – dubbed "the Beckham rule" for its ability to pay marquee players outside of the league's rigid salary-cap structure. The Galaxy were woeful for the former Manchester United man's first two years, failing to even make the playoffs, before a restructuring in the front-office and coaching departments transformed them into one of the league's flagship franchises. The arrival of Beckham in MLS has coincided with a period of unparalleled growth for both the Galaxy and the league, which is approaching the end of its 17th season. Seven expansion teams – the Montreal Impact, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders, San Jose Earthquakes and Toronto FC – have debuted since 2007, while 15 of the league's 19 teams now play in soccer-specific stadiums, up from five prior to 2007. Attendance at those stadiums is at unprecedented highs with an average of 18,807 fans attending games during the 2012 MLS regular season and nearly 22,000 fans turning out for postseason contests. On top of that, exposure and recognition of the Galaxy and MLS are at new highs, with the league maintaining U.S. television broadcast deals with ESPN, NBC Sports and Univision while the Galaxy reached a 10-year broadcast deal with Time Warner Cable Sports in November 2011 that is the most lucrative in MLS history. The league is in the second year of a six-year deal with TSN in Canada.
"In my time here I have seen the popularity of the game grow every year," said the 37-year-old Englishman. "I've been fortunate to win trophies, but more important to me has been the fantastic reception I've had from fans in L.A. and across the States. Soccer's potential has no limits in this wonderful country and I want to always be part of growing it."
In his six seasons with the Galaxy, Beckham appeared in 98 regular-season games, tallying 18 goals and adding 40 assists, good for the fourth most in club history. He signed a two-year contract extension with the Galaxy last January after his original five-year, $32.5-million (U.S.) contract with the team expired.
"Seldom does an athlete redefine a sport and David not only took our franchise to another level but he took our sport to another level," said Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of the Galaxy-owning Anschutz Entertainment Group. "It has been an honour and privilege to be a part of his world, and more importantly, to have him be a part of ours."
Of course, Beckham was a sporting icon long before moving to North America in 2007, partly for his play for both Manchester United and England, for whom he played 115 times, and partly for his marriage to former Spice Girl Victoria Adams, aka Posh Spice.
Still, he leaves with the knowledge that the sport on this side of the pond is vastly different to the one he first became familiar with in 2007.
"When David Beckham signed with the L.A. Galaxy in 2007, he set out to help grow MLS and the sport of soccer in North America," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "There is no doubt that MLS is far more popular and important here and abroad than it was when he arrived. David has achieved great things on and off the field during his time with the Galaxy, and he will always be an important part of our history. We look forward to his continued involvement with the L.A. Galaxy and the league."
As part of his contract with the Galaxy and MLS, Beckham has the option of buying an MLS expansion franchise at a fixed price – an allowance that the league's owners had never previously given to a player.