Chelsea Accepts Supporting Role In Beckham's `Big Moment'

Wednesday, July 11th 2007, 7:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Chelsea is one of the world's glamour soccer teams, and it will play a strictly supporting role to David Beckham when the English star makes his U.S. debut for the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 21.

``It's a big moment for L.A. and also U.S. soccer,'' Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho said after the FA Cup champions practiced for the first time Tuesday.

``They couldn't choose a better player to achieve what they want to achieve. In Europe, we want U.S. soccer to go up (in popularity). We are Chelsea and we have a responsibility. We want to give the Los Angeles Galaxy a big game to promote their new team.''

Chelsea is making its fourth consecutive preseason visit to the United States. It will play Mexico's Club America on Saturday at Stanford before returning to Los Angeles for next week's World Series of Football, a doubleheader that culminates with Beckham's first game.

Beckham led Real Madrid of the Spanish League to a championship last month. He previously starred for Manchester United, one of Chelsea's rivals in the Premier League.

Some Chelsea players are curious to see Beckham's effect on Major League Soccer, whose quality is considered suspect compared to Europe's vaunted leagues.

``Is it MLS?'' Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole asked hesitantly. ``I didn't know too much about that league until, of course, Beckham's gone there. This is one person who's changed and I will start watching it now. Hopefully him going there will change people's minds to start watching it and enjoy American football.''

MLS' popularity lags far behind pro football, basketball and baseball in the United States, where most Americans think pigskin, not soccer, when they hear the word football.

``I'm not too sure how much Americans do enjoy football over here, but hopefully he could make it bigger,'' Cole said. ``It won't just help America, it'll help everyone else as well. Maybe we can see more football on TV in America.''

Cole has played with Beckham on England's national team and he remains impressed with the superstar's ability.

``He's still one of the best. If you ask any player who's marked him, he's still quick,'' Cole said. ``People say he ain't, but he's still got the skills.''

Chelsea wing Arjen Robben believes Beckham's combination of talent and charisma can single-handedly elevate soccer's profile in the United States.

``Hopefully, he can bring it to another level,'' Robben said. ``That's also one of his targets, to take his experience over here and give his experience to the American guys.''

Chelsea goalie Petr Cech added, ``He's great for American soccer because he can attract so many people.''

The west London club attracted about 80 journalists to its practice on the UCLA campus, along with Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce and Juan Dixon of the Toronto Raptors.

Pierce grabbed a soccer ball from Cech and dribbled it like a basketball between his legs, then encouraged the goalie to do the same. Cech complied, although more slowly than Pierce, who also spun the ball on his finger.

Although Pierce has never seen Beckham play, he said, ``I know the hoopla surrounding him. I know that he signed for $250 million.''

Dixon said he watched soccer's World Cup last year, but he didn't know MLS has a team in Toronto, where he plays in the NBA.

``See? I'm learning every day,'' he said. ``Soccer is huge in Europe, why can't it be huge here? It's very competitive and it's amazing what they do _ the footwork that those guys have out there, the speed and quickness.''

Beckham has been nursing a damaged ligament in his left ankle, sustained while playing for England on June 6. The injury flared again when he finished out his contract for Real Madrid, but he expects to recover in time for the game against Chelsea.

``It's always going to add a little bit of spice to it if he plays,'' Cole said. ``I don't think the lads will want to get beat.''