By Nico Curl, 16, Culver City HS
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Nico says that although Beckham might be injured for the season, he will still root for the Galaxy.

I have always been a sports fan, but I never paid much attention to soccer. Ever since international soccer star David Beckham came to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy this summer though, I’ve discovered soccer can be exciting.

Growing up, I played lots of sports and soccer was the one I played the longest. As I got older I drifted away from playing sports and became more of a fan. I mostly followed baseball and football because they were the easiest sports to watch on TV. Before this year, soccer was not even on my radar. It was so hard to care about professional soccer because it was not on the front page of anything, or on any major TV network. It wasn’t that I was ignoring Major League Soccer; it was that I didn’t even know it was there.

Then last year, my dad got a job at the Home Depot Center (a sports complex in Carson where the Galaxy play). He kept asking me if I wanted to see a soccer game and one day I finally said yes. I was lucky to be in a box suite, but that meant I was more focused on the constant free food and drinks being brought in than the game. Even though I subscribe to Sports Illustrated and frequently read the sports page in the Los Angeles Times, I recognized only two players.

One day in January I came home from school and turned on ESPN to see that Beckham had signed a five-year deal with the Galaxy that could be worth up to $250 million. I had heard about Beckham, and how great he was, but I had never seen him play live. Immediately, I realized that my dad working at the Home Depot Center could help me see him play.

The signing was groundbreaking. It was compared to when Wayne Gretzky, who is considered hands-down the greatest hockey player of all time, was traded from a team in Canada in 1988 and boosted the popularity of hockey in Los Angeles. Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber was thrilled to have Beckham. He stated, “David Beckham is a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America.” As soon as I realized that Beckham would be playing for the Galaxy, going to Galaxy games seemed more attractive.

Counting down to his debut

The Sports Illustrated and Los Angeles Times articles Nico saved show that Beckham mania spread from Los Angeles to the rest of the country.

Beckham signed a contract in January, but wasn’t going to play until July. Before the MLS season began, ESPN signed a contract with the league to show at least one game a week. This made it easier to watch MLS matches on TV (now I watch a game when I can). Soccer was hitting the mainstream and I had already jumped on the bandwagon.

As Beckham’s arrival got closer, the hype built more and more. His wife, Victoria (or Posh Spice), had plans for a reality show surrounding her arrival in the United States. Beckham was on the cover of Sports Illustrated the same day he was introduced at a press conference as a member of the Galaxy. I made sure I didn’t miss Beckham’s introduction, so I set my alarm clock to wake me up just in time to see it on TV.

Ten days before Beckham arrived I went to the Home Depot Center to see a Galaxy game. The crowd that showed up for the Saturday night game between the Galaxy and the Kansas City Wizards was given a great show. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. I was left thinking, “How could a game end in a tie? There must be more.”  In an American sports world where we want to see everything go into extra innings or overtime, this sport was different. After I got over that, I realized that it’s OK to end in a tie. It still was a great game.

I was getting more excited to see Beckham. His picture and commercials were everywhere. TV stations counted down to game day. Then finally the day came when me and 26,999 other people sat inside a sold-out Home Depot Center. On Saturday, July 21, Beckham finally took the field in a Galaxy uniform. The Galaxy was playing an exhibition game against European powerhouse Chelsea FC.

As soon as Beckham exited the tunnel the “BECKHAM! BECKHAM!” chants started. As he reached the bench, what seemed like a million photographers surrounded him. Beckham was on the bench for the first half because of an ankle injury, but that did not stop countless shots of Beckham on the bench and his wife Victoria in the stands from appearing on the big screen. The second half of the game wasn’t as much a game as it was a countdown.

At halftime I stretched my legs, used the bathroom and got some food to make sure I would not miss any part of Beckham’s first appearance. Chelsea scored quickly to quiet most of the crowd. And then the moment everyone came to see. Beckham began to warm up with about 25 minutes left in the game. He jogged and stretched up and down the side of the field. The roar in the stadium was contagious as the fans closest to the bench started to cheer and eventually the stadium was electric. It spread to me and I clapped along with everyone else. While he was stretching it seemed like there was no game going on at all. The real event was Beckham stretching on the sidelines. At one point, the ball rolled out of bounds and ended up next to Beckham. When he kicked the ball back to his teammate the stadium erupted.

All eyes were on Beckham

After Beckham finished warming up, he took off his jacket, tightened up his laces, and headed toward the sideline. When Beckham placed his feet onto the Home Depot Center grass, I wasn’t able to hear myself think the crowd was so loud. The game literally stopped as all the players on the field stood motionless waiting for Beckham to enter.

I couldn’t help but stand and bask in what could be the turning point of soccer in America. Usually a player does not get a crowd at a sold-out stadium on its feet for a simple substitution. The crowd stood cheering their soccer-loving hearts out for several minutes and continued to roar every time Beckham touched the ball. However, in the 88th minute, the air seemed to have been sucked out of the stadium. Beckham, still nursing an injured ankle, was taken down hard and grimaced in pain on the ground. He was down only seconds, but everyone in the stadium, including me, gasped. All I could think of when he hit the ground was that he had pushed himself too hard to please the crowd and the media, and he probably should have sat out the game.

The final hurrah of the night was when the Galaxy got a shot at a corner kick that was their last chance to tie the game. Beckham jogged toward his first corner kick for the Galaxy. Beckham is known for his kicks, and the movie Bend It Like Beckham was named after them. The kick did bend, but ended up bouncing off the head of a Chelsea player away from the goal, and the game soon ended. Beckham gave a curtain call and clapped in appreciation toward the four sections of the stadium.

Nico kept his ticket from Beckham’s first game with the Galaxy in July.

I think that Beckham could make a serious impact on the soccer culture in the United States. In August, Beckham was named team captain in his first start. I was at the game and saw him score his first MLS goal with a beautifully bended free kick. He also had an assist to former team captain Landon Donovan in a 2-0 Galaxy win. Three days later, the Galaxy played against the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium in New York. The stadium sold an MLS record 66,237 tickets. I watched the game on TV and it was the most exciting soccer game I had ever seen because there was so much back and forth scoring and so many exciting plays. It’s too bad the Galaxy ended up losing 5-4.

It’s not just L.A. getting excited about Beckham, it’s the rest of the country, too. Beckham had three assists in that game and the New York crowd seemed to enjoy watching him set up his teammates’ goals. I believe that more people will not just start to watch and attend MLS games, but they’ll actually care about them. Beckham makes the game more intriguing because he’s on another level and is one of the league’s best players. However, in just his fourth game with the Galaxy, Beckham hurt his right knee last month and it’s likely he’ll miss the rest of the season. But he’ll be back, playing with the Galaxy for at least the next four years. As Galaxy General Manager Alexi Lalas puts it, “I think in the next 10 years [the MLS] will pass hockey and continue to develop side by side with basketball.” Even if Beckham’s arrival could not change everyone’s perspective of soccer across the U.S., it sure changed one. Me.

Five reasons to watch soccer in L.A.

1. BECKHAM. He recently hurt his knee, so you may not see him play this season, but he’ll be here for the next four years. If you get a chance to watch him play live, you’ll see how good he is. Other players raise their own games when they play against him.

2. The Galaxy has cool new jerseys. The team ditched its old green and yellow duds for newer, better looking white, blue and gold ones.

3. The Galaxy stadium, the Home Depot Center, is only four years old and was built specifically for soccer. It seats 27,000 (compared to the Coliseum which has 92,000 seats) so there are no bad seats. Tickets are as cheap as $10.

4. The players don’t have big egos. They exit through a tunnel that is really close to the fans. You might occasionally get a high-five, autograph or even a jersey from a player.

5. Chivas USA. If you just can’t get excited about the Galaxy, there is another MLS team in town that plays at Home Depot Center, Chivas USA. And they’re actually considered the better team.

If you liked this story you should also check out …

Leonardo Moran’s story about his love for the Argentian soccer team Boca. (November 2003)