David Beckham will play his last game for the Galaxy in the MLS title match. (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)
When David Beckham stunned the soccer world by leaving Europe for Major League Soccer six years ago, he characterized the move not as an end to an unparalleled playing career but as the start of a new chapter.
Monday, he decided it's time to close the book on that chapter, saying that next month's MLS Cup final at the Home Depot Center will be his last competitive game with the Galaxy. Beckham, who avoided using the word "retirement," has recently received feelers from teams in Australia, but he almost certainly will not play in MLS again. He is expected to stay with the league in a front-office capacity, perhaps with the Galaxy.
"I've had an incredibly special time playing for the L.A. Galaxy," Beckham said in a statement. "However, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career. 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's arrival in Los Angeles sparked unprecedented growth and international recognition for MLS, which has added seven teams and has seen average attendance pass that of the NBA and NHL since 2007. MLS games are now televised globally, and Galaxy jerseys are now among the best-selling worldwide.
"There is no doubt that MLS is far more popular and important here and abroad than it was when he arrived," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "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."
Beckham changed the league in other ways too. To offer contracts large enough to attract the likes of Beckham, MLS created a designated player rule — which quickly became called the Beckham Rule — that allowed teams to sign as many as three players whose contracts would count only partially against the league's meager salary cap.
Beckham's original five-year, $32.5-million deal made him worth more than the entire roster of any other MLS team. But by the time he signed a contract extension in January, his $4-million guaranteed salary was less than the New York Red Bulls were paying former Mexican national team captain Raffa Marquez and French World Cup star Thierry Henry, two of the 31 designated players to play in MLS last season.
Beckham seemed ready to retire after the Galaxy's MLS Cup title last fall, a win that gave the former English national team captain domestic championships in three leagues. But he came back, in part, in an unsuccessful bid to win a spot on Britain's team for last summer's Olympic Games. And though the 37-year-old played well for the Galaxy, making the All-Star team and scoring a career-high seven goals, he also missed seven games to injury or suspension.
That brittleness led to renewed speculation this season would his last. And although Beckham repeatedly denied those rumors, his denials became less convincing as the season wore on.
Beckham's decision to step down after the Dec. 1 league championship may prove good timing for the Galaxy. Last year the team signed a league-record $55-million agreement with Time Warner Cable for the television rights to games in English and Spanish, and in response to that deal the team has said it would like to sign a player whose presence would resonate among Latinos.
It needs an open DP spot to do that, though, and by stepping down now, Beckham gives the Galaxy the opening it needs to go after someone such as Brazilian international Kaka, who recently expressed interest in coming to MLS.
"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 chief executive of AEG, the Galaxy's parent company. "It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of his world, and more importantly, to have him be a part of ours."