At least half of LA Galaxy's supporters wear shirts with "Beckham" on the back.
The former England captain put the Californian team – and maybe even Major League Soccer – on the global football map. The locals clearly recognise that the world's most famous footballer is playing in their town. There are a smattering of shirts bearing Landon Donovan's name. But by full-time in Saturday's match against San Jose Earthquakes, all merchandise bearing the name of Robbie Keane had sold out.
Just 48 hours after arriving on the west coast, Keane put in a classic Keane performance: he created chances for himself with his awareness and he scored before launching into his trademark gymnastic celebration.
But he could have scored more and he faded after 45 minutes, being substituted with 20 minutes to go. Perhaps we should be kind and say that it was a good effort for a man who must be jet-lagged and this is the start of his season rather than the middle of it. But in recent years Keane has spent long periods as a substitute with Spurs and Liverpool, looking at his best in short bursts.
No matter, his movement was too smart for the Earthquakes and may well prove to be too good for most MLS defences. A late sending off (for an unnecessary challenge on a former Earthquakes player, Donovan) and a second goal scored by Keane's replacement, Mike Magee, settled the issue.
As well as Robbie replica kit and T-shirt sales, the match was also declared a sell-out. There was certainly a big-match atmosphere (aided by an unusually large away following) and the crowd was bigger than local baseball team the LA Dodgers have been getting recently (although they are struggling and play every night in a much bigger stadium). We bought our tickets at the box office half an hour before the game and were sat on a far-from-packed grass verge behind one goal.
With two thirds of the season gone, Galaxy are clear at the top of the Western Conference and looking good for the play-offs. But they have not won the league since 2005 and there is a feeling that they really have to do it now. This could well be Beckham's last season and the club (and the league?) would like to justify the expense and hoopla of the Beckham circus with a title. Keane's relatively big-money signing is intended to give a late-season edge to Galaxy's ambitions.
As Grant Wahl says in Sports Illustrated: "Anything other than raising that trophy at home on 20 November will be considered a failure by LA's owner, AEG, which is shelling out $9m in salary and transfer fees for Keane."
Beckham has been able to justify his contract with his promotional power. The number of tourists calling in to see the former England captain and buy the shirts is not quite on a Disneyland scale, but it is enormous by MLS standards. The latest Premier League recruit is known by football fans and there were more than a few Irish flags and shirts at the Home Depot Center, but he is not in Beckham's celebrity league. Keane needs to score goals and win the title to make the necessary splash.
Goldenballs, meanwhile, still offers plenty on the playing side: recent stats showed that he puts more balls into the penalty area than any other player in the league. And it was his pass that set up Keane's goal.
Aside from the replica shirts, the most obvious piece of marketing in the ground was for the Smurfs. But not movie adverts. Instead, Galaxy fans taunted their rivals with Smurf flags.
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