66,000 reasons why Beckham matters to MLS

Aug 19, 2007 - 3:52 PM By Ian Parker Special to PA SportsTicker

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) - What a difference a week makes.

Seven days ago, as David Beckham sat out the Los Angeles Galaxy's game at New England, fans were growing restless as they waited for him to deliver on the hype surrounding his move to Major League Soccer.

When his full league debut finally came with a start against New York on Saturday night, they got what they had been waiting for - well, all except a Galaxy win of course.

A Red Bulls record crowd of 66,237 watched as Beckham registered two assists inside the opening 10 minutes, both from trademark setpieces, but then suffered defeat as Juan Pablo Angel grabbed a late winner in a 5-4 thriller.

"You saw two teams that played the right way, which is good," said Galaxy coach Frank Yallop. "You don't set out to score four and them score five, but you saw some good players out there who were dangerous.

"When you have that combination, you are going to see some exciting games. If the fans tonight didn't enjoy the game, then they know nothing about soccer."

Beckham himself admitted he was taken aback by the nature of the game.

"I haven't been involved in a game like that since I was 9 or 10," he said.

Angel had put the Red Bulls ahead in the fourth minute before Beckham twice set up Carlos Pavon in the space of five minutes to turn the game around.

Clint Mathis tied the game for New York and Jozy Altidore scored twice to put it in the clear.

The Galaxy responded with goals from Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle, but when they thought they had earned a point, Angel snatched victory for New York.

"It was a great game and great for the people who turned up tonight," Beckham added.

"You see the stadium and you see the fans, it's pretty incredible and it's great for the league and great for both teams to play in an atmosphere like that."

The Red Bulls have averaged attendance of 11,573 this season. A 55,000 bump to see one player is exactly what the league and the Galaxy had in mind when they reached for the checkbook to sign Beckham.

"It makes me feel great and it makes me feel wanted to be able to do that," Beckham said of attracting the crowd.

"I'm hoping it continues because this is what this game needs."

Playing in such an atmosphere was nothing new for Beckham, but it was a real treat for several of his teammates as well as the Red Bulls players.

Jozy Altidore, New York's 17-year-old wonderkid, took his opportunity to shine with two goals to help the Red Bulls cause.

"I am never going to forget a game like this," he said. "It was an amazing feeling. Clint (Mathis) told me earlier in the week, 'Remember this.' He's right, the atmosphere, the crowd, the game itself, it was truly amazing. (Beckham) was as good as everyone has talked about."

"If you're at this level and you don't enjoy playing in front of that many people, then what are you playing the sport for?" added Mathis, who scored New York's second goal after excellent work from Altidore.

"You have to get pumped up for a game like this, but you hope every game is like this one. I don't care if we are playing David Beckham or the Kansas City Wizards, it should be like that every single game."

Mathis is in his second spell in New York, having played parts of four seasons with the Metrostars at the start of the decade.

He has seen how the franchise has struggled to make an impact in the marketplace, but is encouraged about the future and how Beckham can help grow the sport.

"We need to teach this sport a little bit better in America, so we can have more games like this, so we can draw in more fans and instead of them expecting a 1-0 or 0-0 game, they can understand the passion of the game and come out and see a 5-4 result," he said.

"David helps in bringing and attracting new fans to the league."

The Red Bulls will now wait and wonder how many of those 66,000 fans will return for the next home game against rivals D.C. United on September 1.

That will perhaps be the true measure of Beckham's impact - not how many people turn out to see him, but how many he can convert into fans of the game itself.

If a game like Saturday's did not do the job, it's hard to think anything will.

"It's our job when people show up to give them a reason to come back," said Red Bulls coach Bruce Arena. "Hopefully we converted a few people to grow this franchise because we have a long way to go."

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