David Beckham signing to play with the locals is probably the thing needed to free Major League Soccer from its malaise. The league gets good but not great attendance and TV ratings, but has not matured to the point where it can sell to the fan the notion that American sports fans take as their birthright: that it is a top calibre league where the best players in the world congregate. Americans can accept the fact that the U.S. national team is not even close to being at the top in ice hockey, and that other countries have now surpassed us in baseball and basketball, since our domestic leagues in those sports are still the best.
But it's next to impossible to develop any sort of passionate interest in teams like D.C. United or the Galaxy as long as they remain content to dominate a very mediocre league. Fanatics of the sport in this country can easily dial into the Premier League or Serie A on the Fox Soccer Channel every weekend, while the casual fan has other, more palatable options during the season than watching the Houston Dynamo take on Chivas U.S.A. Giving Americans a reason to watch is one way the MSL can make itself more credible, and the best way to do so at this point is by signing top-flight players. Beckham, who has had so much attention paid to his demotion, at both the club and national level, that he can now be classified as one of the game's most underrated players, will do that, in much the same way Michael Jordan's return to the hapless Washington Wizards several years ago gave hoops fans an excuse to watch Eastern Conference basketball.