CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 06: David Beckham #23 of the Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates after being subbed out late in the game with Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference Championship at The Home Depot Center on November 6, 2011 in Carson, California. The Galaxy won 3-1 to advance to the MLS Cup. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
I can't be the first person to make this comparison. In fact I know I'm not. There's just no way. David Beckham coming to Los Angeles is almost a direct parallel to Wayne Gretzky coming to Los Angeles almost two decades ago. This Sunday, five calendar years since England's captain came to Los Angeles, David Beckham will attempt to do what Wayne Gretzky couldn't; bring a title to Los Angeles.
The one place the comparison breaks down is in team history. The Galaxy won an MLS Cup with Landon Donovan. They won an MLS Cup with Cobi Jones. Unlike the 1988 Los Angeles kings, the Galaxy already had a tradition of winning with American stars.
The other difference is David Beckham's stopover at Real Madrid. Both players enjoyed early success. In David's time at Manchester United, they won seven domestic titles in ten years. During his nine year time with the Edmonton Oilers, Wayne Gretzky won four Stanley Cups in a five year span. So for both players there was a need for a new challenge approaching a decade with their original team in their home country. Wayne Gretzky came directly to Los Angeles, while it took David Beckham four years in Spain (winning one domestic title) to make it out to LA.
With both players, the effect was frenzy. Season ticket sales skyrocketed. The Galaxy had lead MLS in attendance since the Home Depot Center opened, but the Kings had never been a sellout team until Wayne Gretzky came to town. In Beckham's first full year in 2008, the Galaxy averaged just a couple hundred below a sellout at 26,008. In both cases, the teams launched a new identity with new colors to celebrate the arrival of their new star.
In the NHL, the explosion Wayne Gretzky's move caused lead to an expansion boom, going from 21 teams to 30 in less than a decade. MLS has gone from 13 teams to 18, with a 19th team to launch next year since David Beckham joined the league. There are multiple groups bidding to be team number 20. MLS has gone from contracting two teams to adding a new team every year.
I don't think David Beckham leaving England was as stunning to his home country as Wayne Gretzky leaving Canada. Beckham is still beloved in England, who can forget the little kid running out onto the pitch during the testimonial match Beckham played with Manchester United this year just to hug his hero.
Still, what matters is championships, and the fact is despite all the hype with Wayne Gretzky he never won a title. He got LA it's first (and only) Division Championship, and it's first (and only) appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals (which they lost to a team from Canada).
Those who say Beckham hasn't brought anything to LA simply don't watch soccer, or they'd also have to argue Wayne Gretzky was also meaningless. David Beckham with the Galaxy have been the regular season Champs twice, best in the Western conference three times, and now have made the MLS Cup twice. Wayne Gretzky gets remembered fondly because he was a goalscorer, Beckham isn't. Too often, casual soccer fans figure the only good soccer players are those that score goals.
Anyone who watches Beckham play can see what he brings to this team. His assists are worthy of being broken down and taught in academies. He may not have a cool nickname like "The Great One", but in him American soccer got exactly what it needed, exactly when it needed it.