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Soccer spectacle

Sat., July 14, 2007, midnight

CARSON, Calif. – Before David Beckham can make America love soccer, he has to get used to soccer in America.

Like what to call it.

It’s football to the rest of the world, and the superstar from England kept getting “soccer” stuck in his throat when he was introduced Friday amid confetti and screaming fans as the Los Angeles Galaxy’s new $32 million man.

“I’ve called it football my whole life,” Beckham said. “Calling it soccer is not a problem for me. Well, at the moment it is because I keep getting it mixed up, but at some point I’ll get it after a couple of weeks.”

And no, Beckham said, he doesn’t expect Americans to change their ways. He said he wants to adapt to his new country’s lingo.

Six months of anticipation culminated with Beckham accepting his new No. 23 jersey on a stage set up on the Home Depot Center field with cannons shooting out blue, gold and white confetti.

“It’s nice to see so many fans, and I thank you for that,” he told the crowd of 5,000 sweating under a hot sun.

The Galaxy are paying Beckham $32.5 million over five years to turn the struggling team into a winner and promote soccer in the United States, where it badly trails football – the American variety – basketball and baseball in popularity. The Galaxy are next to last in the Western Conference with a 3-5-4 record.

“I think soccer in America has a lot of potential, just maybe something is missing to take it to another level, and I’m hoping I’m going to be part of that,” said Beckham, whose playing debut is set for July 21.

“There’s been expectations all the way through my career, and at the moment this is a big one. Hopefully, I can handle it in the right way.”

The 32-year-old midfielder joins the Major League Soccer team at a time when his career is on the upswing. In January, when he signed with the Galaxy, he had been benched by Real Madrid and was out of favor on the England national team.

In the ensuing months, Becks helped Real Madrid win the Spanish League title and was recalled to the national team, where he has made key contributions and is expected to continue to play between Galaxy games.

Beckham was resplendent in a gray Burberry suit, white shirt, pale gray tie and an accent pocket square. A glittering wide diamond wedding band flashed on his left ring finger. His blond hair was buzz cut and he sported a stubbly beard.

His wife, Victoria, strolled on the field in perilously high stilettos minutes ahead of her husband. Wearing a short blond ‘do, huge black sunglasses, a fuchsia cap-sleeved dress and a matching alligator handbag, Posh Spice posed for assembled photographers, jutting her left leg out and resting her left hand on her tiny waist.

Alyssa Bricker, a 15-year-old soccer player in the crowd, said, “I can’t wait to see him start playing.”

Asked if she thought Beckham was handsome, Bricker said, “Oh, yeah. He’s hot.”

And his wife?

“She’s pretty,” Bricker said. “And very lucky.”


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