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David Beckham: What did he do, really, for American soccer? (+video)

David Beckham has announced his retirement. In the US, the David Beckham experiment coincided with a flourishing of soccer, and he was the perfect face for the sport's new swagger.

David Beckham announces retirement from soccer
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When soccer star David Beckham played his last game with the Los Angeles Galaxy here last December, winning the Major League Soccer championship, many hoped he would come back as a coach, owner, or in some other front-office role.

That comeback could now be closer to reality with his announcement Thursday that he is retiring from soccer. Currently at Paris St. Germain – which has already clinched the 2013 French league title – Beckham will play his final game May 26.

Beckham, 38, has not said what he will do next. But the contract that brought him to Los Angeles in 2007 contained a clause allowing him to become an MLS owner at a below-market rate – a clause he has reportedly long promised to exercise.

If he does, either now or in the future, it would be to take part in a product that he helped build.

Beckham's impact on soccer in America can be debated endlessly.

On one hand, he did almost nothing to increase television viewership of MLS, and league attendance – which now exceeds that of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, by some measures – was already on an upward swing.

Yet what other athlete could have brought Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes to Galaxy games, as he did? And would other European soccer stars not yet ready to be put out to pasture – from Thierry Henry to Robbie Keane – have come to MLS if Beckham hadn't first?

In short: What other soccer player in the world could have made MLS cool and given it instant credibility, both here and abroad?

In the end, Beckham's five years in the US coincided with a flourishing of the sport. The league expanded into new and wildly successful markets from Toronto to Seattle. It went from paying for its games to be on TV to signing a national TV deal with NBC Sports. And it found a viable business model with the construction of soccer-only stadiums across the US and Canada.

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