CARSON, Calif. -- The mission had been accomplished long before the teams even took the field Tuesday night.
The final score was irrelevant to the larger goals for the Los Angeles Galaxy, which, if you must know, played to a 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League in front of a near sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center.
As nice as it was to see an undermanned Galaxy team (playing without David Beckham and Landon Donovan) hold their own against a Tottenham side, which finished fourth in the English Premier League last season, the Galaxy’s goal have always been larger than one game, one player and one country.
The vision of Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG, has always been to make the Galaxy a global brand that would be easily recognizable around the world. He wanted fans to be familiar with the Galaxy and be able to rattle off two or three players on the team no matter what continent they were on.
It was a lofty goal, especially considering Major League Soccer’s place in the global soccer landscape and soccer’s place in the United States’ sporting pecking order.
Yet, five years after Beckham arrived in Los Angeles, Leiweke’s dream for the Galaxy has come true.
When Tottenham arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday to play the first of three exhibition matches in the U.S., they didn’t come for a sun-kissed vacation on the beach and to walk over an unknown side filled with unfamiliar players.
Everyone on Tottenham was quite familiar with the Galaxy and their surging status in the soccer world. It began when the Galaxy signed Beckham in 2007 but for many who play at White Hart Lane it grew when Los Angeles signed their old friend and teammate Robbie Keane last year.
Keane played at Tottenham from 2002 to 2011 with a brief stint at Liverpool in 2008 and still captains the Ireland national team.
“A lot more players overseas know about the MLS now,” said Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, who scored a first half goal on Tuesday.
Not only has the influx of stars helped the sport but so has the way it has been distributed overseas.
“They’re on TV a lot now that Beckham and Robbie Keane are playing over here,” Bale said. “The standard has gone up massively in the last couple of years.”
When the Galaxy played the New York Red Bulls, which feature Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, in May, the game was televised in over 120 countries. A figure near triple digits isn’t uncommon for other Galaxy games. This month’s game against the Portland Timbers was seen in over 80 countries.
It didn’t hurt that the game against Portland featured one of Beckham’s more mesmerizing goals in a 5-3 win which saw Beckham and Keane score twice and Donovan add another.
The Galaxy’s rise into global consciousness didn’t happen overnight and wasn’t simply the result of a couple of big-name signing. The team has been proactive in their efforts to raise their profile outside of the U.S., participating in games in Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico in the past two years. They have open invitations to South America and Germany for future trips they are exploring.
They have also become global players in the never-ending transfer market rumor mill. They were linked to Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard when he showed up to a Galaxy game this month and sat in AEG’s suite. Dutch international Clarence Seedorf trained with the Galaxy last month and the team has been strongly or loosely linked to Didier Drogba, Ronaldinho and Alessandro Del Piero over the past year. Whether or not the players actually came or not doesn’t take away from the exposure the Galaxy got from being linked to those players.
“When I grew up, you always heard about the legendary Cosmos and the impact they made on soccer,” Leiweke said earlier this year. “Even today there are people that argue the Cosmos are the greatest brand in soccer, ever. I want the Galaxy to be the greatest brand in soccer, ever. That's the legacy we're trying to create right now with David, Landon, Robbie, Bruce [Arena] and our team, that's our goal. We're not just trying to win the [MLS] Cup. We're driven to set a new a tone, a new level and a new platform for this brand and this team worldwide and internationally.”
It was that kind of sales pitch that sold Keane on coming to the Galaxy last year when he spoke to Leiweke and Beckham. A year later, after playing against his former team, he can already see how much the league has grown and how popular the Galaxy has become when he talked to his old teammates.
“Obviously in Europe and in England and Ireland with me and David, people are very interested,” Keane said. “Speaking to a lot of players over there, they are looking to come over here in a few years because you can see this league growing and growing.”
No one has been more vigilant of the growth of the sport abroad than Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who went to UCLA, was in the MLS when the league launched in 1996 and has spent the past 15 years in the English Premier League.
“The profile of the league has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger, especially in the last five or six years,” Friedel said. “The influx of all the new teams, especially the Northwest pocket, people see the fan support that Portland, Vancouver and Seattle get and it really looks good when you see the highlights on television. The new stadiums are really top notch and then when you bring in the likes of David Beckham and Robbie Keane and when Landon came over and did really well at Everton the last two years … the profile and the aura of the league is really coming on.”
Friedel, who turned 41 in May, said he may be too old to finish his career back in the U.S. now, but smiled as he recalled how many times he has been asked by teammates and friends about playing in MLS.
“There’s a lot of people, day in and day out, that ask me, ‘Can you get me a club in MLS?’ ” Friedel said. “It’s getting better and better but we’re only 17 years in. We have a ways to go, but they’re doing a great job so far.”