MLS banks on Beckham
Major League Soccer released its 2007 season schedule Tuesday, and it apparently is counting on a midsummer arrival of David Beckham because 11 of the Galaxy’s 15 road games are slated for after the All-Star break.
“The schedule is this living, breathing animal that at times can be incredibly beautiful and at times incredibly ugly,” said Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy’s president and general manager. “Balancing the competitive side with the business side is always a challenge, but especially this year.”
Exactly when Beckham joins the Galaxy remains a matter of conjecture.
To judge by the 195-game schedule, Beckham could be in time for the Galaxy’s home game against the Chicago Fire on July 4 or -- and this is more likely -- he could be in time to play in the MLS All-Star game July 19 in Denver.
Beckham’s contract with Real Madrid expires June 30.
Lalas, who along with Galaxy Coach Frank Yallop will travel to Spain next week to meet with Beckham at his Madrid home, remains as much in the dark as anyone regarding the player’s plans.
“I don’t know the exact date when he’s planning to arrive,” Lalas said.
One August swing in particular looks to be the 2007 Beckham Tour, with the Galaxy visiting, in order, Toronto, Boston, Washington and New York, coming home to play one of its four Super Clasico games against Chivas USA and then heading for Denver -- all in a three-week span.
“The good part is we know what we’re up against,” Lalas said. “Frank and the players recognize there will be some long trips and some challenges. If we steel ourselves ahead of time, we can hopefully come through it unscathed or with the least amount of damage.”
The league’s 13 teams -- Toronto FC makes its debut as the first Canadian MLS team when it plays Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in the April 7 opener -- each will play 30 games between April 7 and Oct. 21.
The playoffs are set for Oct. 25-Nov. 11, with MLS Cup 2007, the championship game, scheduled for Nov. 21 in Washington.
For the first time in league history, all games will be televised, the majority of them nationally, and Beckham will feature prominently in the telecasts. Lalas said he was well aware that MLS had to make the most of its highest-priced investment ever.
“All the teams in the league want to maximize it. I respect what the league is trying to do, but it doesn’t make it any easier for us,” Lalas said.
The schedule has been arranged so that every MLS team with the exception of FC Dallas will play host to the Galaxy after Beckham’s arrival. Dallas will not be left out in the cold, however, because it is slated to play host to the Galaxy in the SuperLiga, a new tournament pitting four top Mexican league teams against four leading MLS clubs.
“Beckham has been a significant factor in the schedule,” said Ivan Gazidis, the league’s deputy commissioner. “It’s probably the most difficult one we’ve ever had to do. We had to start with the L.A. teams and build the schedule out from there.”
Complicating matters is the U.S. national team’s participation in the Gold Cup and the Copa America in June and July, which will strip MLS clubs of their best American players, as well as the SuperLiga tournament and a couple of other international games.
Still, Whit Haskel, vice president and general manager of Chivas USA, said he was pleased with the outcome, whether the schedule had been bent toward Beckham or not.
“If the league is going to make this type of investment, it only makes sense,” Haskel said. “We’re excited. Some of the high points are that we get to play the Galaxy four times. We’re the only team in the league that does that.”