Latino fans meet Beckham news with mixed feelings

Times Staff Writer

The Home Depot Center message board off the 91 Freeway near Avalon Boulevard has displayed a continuous loop since Thursday.

This summer ...

David Beckham

Comes to America!

The Galaxy, the Major League Soccer team the English midfielder will join this season, already has reported a significant spike in season-ticket sales and the league is expected to receive unprecedented attention throughout the year.

But what might Beckham's pending arrival mean to Los Angeles' sizable Latino community? Will fans come out in droves to see one of the world's most famous athletes? Or will it be mostly a ho-hum approach, as they wonder when the next great Latino player will come to town?

In an unscientific sampling outside the Home Depot Center on Saturday before the InterLiga doubleheader involving four teams from the Mexican league, the answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle.

"I think it's exciting because that kind of player you cannot see every day," Club America fan Daniel Reyes of San Juan Capistrano said about 31-year-old Beckham. "So even if he's 34 or 36 or 40, he's still David Beckham and I think that's good for this league, and for Latino people it's really good."

Cristina Rivera of Van Nuys said she and her husband were excited about Beckham's deal and that it didn't matter to them where he was from.

"Most of us don't care about that," Rivera said. "It's the talent that makes the player."

But that's not what former Galaxy midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos seems to think. He played eight seasons with the Galaxy and made 67 appearances for the Salvadoran national team.

"I think the people from Mexico to Argentina are faithful to their own players," Cienfuegos said Friday. "I don't think they will come to watch David Beckham."

Rafael Ramos Villagrana, a sports columnist for Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, said the immediate reaction he perceived in the Latino community to the Beckham news was one of envy, no doubt because of the $250-million figure connected to Beckham's compensation package.

"I think there are a lot of fans wondering whether Chivas USA or MLS is capable of bringing in a Latin player of that level," Villagrana said. "But I think that any Latino fan that enjoys soccer, it shouldn't matter that it's the Galaxy. You have to come see Beckham the soccer player and the Beckham who possesses great quality. It shouldn't matter where he's from."

Ernesto Camacho, a fan of all soccer but especially Cruz Azul in Mexico, said Beckham would have an impact on the way soccer is looked upon in the U.S.

The Santa Ana resident said he has not attended Galaxy games in the past but did go to a few Chivas USA games because of the presence of Mexican players such as Ramon Ramirez, Francisco "Paco" Palencia and Juan Pablo Garcia. He said Beckham would have the same effect for the Galaxy.

"He's a very, very good player and now more people will come just to see him play," Camacho said. "I will come to see the Galaxy now. I never came just to watch them, but now I'm really thinking about it."

Paul Torres of Altadena said it shouldn't matter to Latinos, or soccer fans of any background, where Beckham is from.

"Soccer is a sport where no one cares about nationalities; we care about seeing good soccer, and whether he's English or Mexican makes no difference to me," Torres said. "I can root for Beckham just as passionately as I can root for Raul," a Spanish player who plays for Real Madrid.

"Just like baseball, I root for the white players, the black players, the Dominican players," Torres continued. "I just want to see good hard soccer."

Although it may seem otherwise, Beckham's sphere of influence hasn't quite permeated every nook in Los Angeles.

One female fan, at the stadium Saturday to see her cousin play for Jaguares, overheard a conversation about Beckham and had a question for her companion as they walked by:

"Who's David Beckham?"


Times staff writer Grahame L. Jones contributed to this report.

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