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Dec 26, 2006

All signs point to the impending arrival of Beckham

The mystery of whether David Beckham will come to the U.S. to play for Major League Soccer has been beset by a lot of tangential arguments.

People get sidetracked into discussions as to whether such a move would torpedo the slim chance the famous midfielder might have to regain his spot on the English national team, whether such an arrival would do for MLS what Pele's once did for the North American Soccer League and whether Beckham would use such a transfer as an opportunity to launch a film career.

Left behind in the speculation is the central question: Is this going to happen?

Obviously, anything is possible, and Beckham himself has long stated he is open to the option of MLS. Of course, canny sportsman that he is, Beckham has made it a habit not to refuse any future work. To be among the leagues Beckham has said he might one day play for doesn't exactly put MLS in exclusive company.

Yet too many signs point in the direction of Beckham coming to MLS to be ignored.

It's not just that Beckham has lost his regular place with his club team, Real Madrid, and no doubt longs to be wanted, or perhaps even badly needed, as a player again. With the Beckhams having developed recent friendships with Hollywood power players, there's also the telling sign that his wife, Victoria, has also been spotted house hunting in Los Angeles.

Follow the money. The money required to sign Beckham has been made possible by the new MLS Designated Player Rule. Not coincidentally, it's known as the David Beckham rule.

"Because of the new rules, we are no longer dealing with strictly league money," said Los Angeles Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas. "We are dealing specifically with, when you talk about designated players, with AEG [Anschutz Entertainment Group], and ultimately, Phil Anschutz's money."

Anschutz is the owner of the Galaxy, the MLS team considered to have the greatest appeal for Beckham.

Although Lalas is the team's GM, he is still a relatively inexperienced executive. In the past, major deals for the team, including the one that brought American star Landon Donovan to the squad, have been set up by Tim Leiweke, considered Anschutz's point man in all sports matters.

It's likely that Leiweke will again take the lead in any deal involving Beckham.

"I am smart enough to know that if I need to get a job done, and I need help to get it done, I will gladly let people help me," Lalas said. "Ultimately, the most important thing is that we get a quality team on the field."

Leiweke has dealt with Beckham before, helping the star establish his namesake soccer academy in Los Angeles. Leiweke was also instrumental in getting Beckham's Real Madrid club to play the Galaxy in 2005.

The groundwork has thus been laid for brokering a blockbuster agreement, one that would further AEG's dream to penetrate the mainstream of the American sporting landscape.

"The involvement of AEG is justifiably greater," Lalas said. "This has always been a wonderful job for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I have incredible resources and incredible people, from Tim Leiweke on down, to help me do my job better."

The money trail doesn't just lead to AEG's deep pockets and upper-level executives.

Anyone trying to buy Galaxy season tickets should be suspicious. The club at present is taking only partial deposits for tickets -- leaving the final payment unknown.

"We haven't finalized our pricing for 2007," Lalas said.

Los Angeles missed the MLS playoffs for the first time in 2006. Yet instead of enticing fans to return by reducing ticket costs, the Galaxy seems poised to raise them.

"We want to make sure that we have prices that are reflective of the quality and the entertainment that our fans are going to get in 2007," Lalas said. "We recognize that this hasn't been done in the past, but we also like to think that 2007 is going to be not only better, but unlike seasons past. There is something exciting in 2007, and we want to reflect that."

It only makes sense that the organization with the means to lure Beckham is ready to milk their investment from the start of his arrival.

The hints of finance may not be enough for some to believe in Beckham's arrival. Others put faith more in the old-school connection of relationships and trusted insiders.

To those, it should be significant that a couple of weeks ago, Craig Forrest, a former Canadian national team player and Ipswich Town teammate of current Galaxy coach Frank Yallop, declared on radio and television that he is convinced Beckham's signing is imminent and will be announced during the January transfer window.

Yallop and Forrest are friends who remain in regular contact, and it's unlikely that Yallop would mislead his longtime comrade.

In all probability, the Galaxy will get their galactico. Too many pieces are falling into place to believe otherwise.

Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com, lasoccernews.com and soccer365.com. She can be contacted at soccercanales@yahoo.com.