Frank Isola: David Beckham was the greatest thing to happen to Major League Soccer

The aging superstar midfielder may be wrapping up his final Major League Soccer season, but at least he's showing fans that he still cares after changing soccer in North America.
HARRISON, N.J. -- David Beckham still draws a crowd, even on a cool autumn night in Harrison, N.J., and with the New York Yankees playing a do-or-die playoff game in Detroit.

They announced a sellout of 25,186 at Red Bulls Arena, which in fairness was a generous estimate for Tuesday's match between the Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy. The host team got creative with the numbers but under the circumstances – a match postponed due to Hurricane Irene and rescheduled on a school night - it was still an impressive turnout for what may have been Beckham’s final appearance in Major League Soccer’s biggest market.

The future of the one-time Manchester United prodigy remains a mystery. Beckham is in the final year of his lucrative contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy that will pay him $6.5 million this season. Several European clubs, including Queens Park Rangers and Paris Saint-Germain, are already knocking on his door.

It doesn’t mean Beckham won’t return to the Galaxy and live out the twilight of his career in Hollywood with his celebrity wife and ever expanding family. But as always, Beckham is a wanted man with options.

"I'm flattered," Beckham said. "But I live in Los Angeles and I'm a Galaxy player."

He is 36 now and doesn’t move like he once did thanks to an Achilles injury suffered two years ago while on loan at AC Milan. It cost him a roster spot on England’s 2010 World Cup squad and forced him to come to grips with his own football immortality.

“I still have pain,” Beckham says.

And yet, Beckham is still a productive player. He is the league’s leader in assists with 15 in just 25 games. And if you think Beckham has lost his passion just YouTube his heated exchange with Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis following a match last week. Yes, it was unnecessary, but it’s nice to see a player of Beckham’s status show that he cares.

He showed up in New Jersey without his two top teammates. Landon Donovan is injured and Robbie Keane is on international duty with Ireland. Beckham and the Galaxy were dominated by Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls, who are fighting for a playoff spot. The home side won 2-0 while the first-place Galaxy prepare for what they hope will be a long postseason run and will culminate with Beckham winning his first MLS Cup.


A championship would be a fitting way for Beckham to complete his five-year run in MLS. But it won’t define his legacy in the States. His decision to leave Real Madrid and join the fledgling league was the best thing that’s happened to MLS.

Beckham’s celebrated arrival gave the league instant credibility and paved the way for other international stars, including Henry, to leave Europe for the United States. Since Beckham arrived in L.A. the league built more soccer specific stadiums and expanded into Canada. Slowly but surely MLS has found a niche in North America.

Some of the credit goes to Beckham, a cross-over star who appeals to men, women and children. He’s represented the league well and always conducted himself as a professional on the field. He’s a likeable superstar.

It’s just too bad New York only gets him once a year.

Frank Isola may be the Knicks' beat writer for the New York Daily News, but he certainly knows a thing or two about soccer. You can read his thoughts on the game each Wednesday on USA.