Beckham set to shine in MLS all-star spotlight
TORONTO, July 24 (Reuters) - Almost a year after his aborted Major League Soccer (MLS) debut in Toronto, David Beckham returns to BMO Field on Thursday still the undisputed number one attraction as the league prepares for its annual All-Star clash against West Ham United.
While Beckham's return to Toronto failed to generate the same heat as his last visit to MLS's northern outpost, the former England captain proved he can still draw a crowd with Thursday's match attracting a sell-out audience and media attention from around the world.
Sharing the podium with Beckham at the pre-game media conference on Wednesday were Chicago Fires Mexican international signing Cuauhtemoc Blanco and All-Star coach Steve Nicol but it was left to the England midfielder to field 95 percent of the questions which ranged from his interest in acting to a first-year review of the MLS.
'It (MLS) is a lot better than everyone thinks,' said Beckham, who rocked the sporting world when he left Spanish giants Real Madrid to join soccer minnows Los Angeles Galaxy on a five-year deal worth $250 million. 'Especially this year the level has gone up.
'It's been an eye-opener, some places that we go. The travelling has been tough to get used to after Europe but the whole experience, I'm enjoying it.
'I'm enjoying playing against different players and different teams in the league.
'Every league in the world is different, the Premiership is fast and furious and La Liga is very technical. Every league is different and this is a very entertaining league.
'Overall it's been a good, positive experience.'
Beckham was supposed to have launched his MLS career in Toronto last August but a badly sprained ankle limited him to a news conference and a spot on the bench. In the year since, much has changed for the world's most famous soccer player.
The move to Los Angeles did not mark the end of his international career as Beckham recently returned to the England line-up and earned his 100th cap.
He has firmly established himself as the league's marketing linchpin and ambassador, constantly trumpeting the MLS as a quality league.
'There's some new stadiums gone up, attendance is up and the level of play is up from what I've seen,' said Beckham. 'Obviously it was frustrating for myself last year because I wasn't able to play but this year I have been able to train and play every game.'
Beckham and Nicol made it clear they viewed Thursday's match with West Ham as something more than a friendly, as the MLS continues to try to establish its credentials.
'This is a serious game, we want to do well and we want to show what MLS players are made of and we want to put on a good show,' added Nicol.