Friday, January 12, 2007

Everything old is new again

What does this man...

...have to do with this one..?We interrupt our domestic political crises to bring you this rambling memory of the heroes of my youth and how their story is evergreen, coming to the MLS franchise near you.

If you follow the Beautiful Game - or are a Kiera Knightly fan - at all you probably recognize the first lad. That's David "Becks" Beckham, former Real Madrid and England midfielder, fashion diva, husband of "Posh" Spice and overall tabloid personality.

But you might not recall the other fellow.

His name is Giorgio Chinaglia, and he was once one of the golden boys of that gilded age of the North American Soccer League that was the New York Cosmos.

Why are these two, players from thirty years apart, pictured in the same post in some crappy little weblog that nobody reads?

Well, it all started with a PBS television show called "Soccer Made In Germany". In the early Seventies this wonderful little artifact showed edited highlights of Bundesliga matches during the glory days of that league, when giants like Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller strode the turf, siezing the Weltmeisterschaft - the World Cup - and generally making all things soccer pretty damned exciting.

In my parent's living room in Chicago I used to watch and dream of the grey, grey grass of Bayern Munich (this was black-and-white, remember). SMIG made soccer magic for me.

Well, we had our own, new league right here - not that Chicago had a team, or anything. But we all had the New York Cosmos. International stars: Pele, Pete Best, Giorgio...playing in our own U.S.A.!!!!

Wow! Now that was magic, too...

I HAD to have a Giorgio Chinaglia soccer ball to emulate my hero. Thirty years later, it's still somewhere around the house. And, like me and my magical soccer heroes, it hasn't aged terrifically well. It's cheap leather and heavy as a bag of bricks. It actually hurts to kick it, especially when it's wet, and what at-the-time seemed like cool red-white-and-green Italian colors now look tawdry and foolish.

Likewise those great internationals, once the stars of the NASL, can be seen as the has-beens they were, playing out the string for crazy money in an upstart league. Pale shades of their once brilliant playing selves. A little sad, a little sleazy. Ah, well.

And now...Becks. The guy's washed up, or all but. He was never a particularly gifted midfielder, never a shifty dribbler or playmaker. He can't play with his back to the goal, and he can't run or pass well enough to play on a team with any speed. He had a wicked curling set kick, and could poach goals when he got the service (though never a true English-style "target man"). For the past four years or so he has been known exclusively as a set-piece specialist, scoring almost exclusively off of frees and penalties, and always with less playing time at Real.

And he's the newest, and most over-hyped, member of the L.A. Galaxy.

The thing is, the whole Pele-Chinaglia-Best era came at the end of the NASL's glory years. The overpaid foreign players never produced the soccer they were touted for, their cost helped bankrupt teams and the league died.

MLS has done well to avoid this shopping-for-washed-up-foreign-players obsession. Until now.

I wish Becks and Posh all the best in their new L.A. digs. I really do. But, as an American soccer fan, I hope that Beckham is a freak, an aberration, a one-and-only.

Our game needs to be about the promise of Freddy Adu and Alex Nimo, not the memory of David Beckham.

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