HERE’S THE STORY, OF A MAN NAMED BECKHAM
Manchester United scored six Premiership titles with Becks before he joined Real Madrid. These days, he’s a set player who can struggle to keep up with the fast international game, hence his ouster from England’s national team. But, boy, can this fit footballer still take a wicked, winding free kick.
Here’s where MLS differs from the orange- slices-and-Kool-Aid game you used to play as a kid: Red cards still equal ejections, but unlike the suspension-happy World Cup, it takes a whopping five yellow cards (for smaller offenses) to equal a red. Overtime and penalty kicks are strictly for the later rounds of the playoffs, which eight teams make. Those start with four home-and-home quarterfinals (aggregate goals win), followed by the one-and-done semis and the Super Bowl of soccer, the MLS Cup. Around midseason, a new monthlong tourney called the SuperLiga crowns a North American champ. Too much to follow? You’ll have to learn on the fly —there aren’t any commercial breaks in soccer.
BEFORE BECKHAM THERE WAS . . .
Last year’s league MVP, Christian Gomez (D.C.), high-scorer Jeff Cunningham (Salt Lake), and a slew of U.S. national team staples, like Eddie Johnson (K.C.), Landon Donovan (L.A.), and former captain Claudio Reyna (N.Y.). There’s also plenty of new talent from the South. Bad-boy midfielder Cuauhtémoc Blanco (Chicago) came from Mexico in July, and assists artist Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva (“Fred” in the U.S.) joined fellow Brazilian Luciano Emilio on D.C. United in April.
This MLS season could be a tale of two halves. Johnson has the Wizards off to a blazing start. And former U.S. coach Bruce Arena has turned around the New York Red Bulls with—finally—consistent play from Clint Mathis, the MLS’s version of Dennis Rodman. (At press time, New York was 23–0–2 in games when Mathis scored.) In the West, lowly Los Angeles’ season has really just started, now that Beckham’s Real Madrid contract has expired. If he can help them stay in the picture, defending champ Houston will have a tough road back to the finals on Nov. 18.
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