Vet coach Yallop had first-hand look at Beckham's influence on MLS
CARSON, Calif. -- Frank Yallop's presence at the Home Depot Center in the build-up to MLS Cup just feels appropriate.
Sure, Yallop, the San Jose Earthquakes' newly-crowned MLS Coach of the Year, was on hand Thursday as part of the festivities in honoring his striker and MLS Most Valuable Player Chris Wondolowski. There is a deeper, perhaps unintended connection as well, though. Yallop was at the helm of the Galaxy at the start of the David Beckham Era in MLS, and with it set to expire Saturday afternoon -- when Los Angeles faces Houston in the final -- there is poetic symmetry in the man tasked with guiding the Galaxy at the start of the league's seminal period being there as it comes to a close. As Beckham bids adieu to MLS, Yallop's presence represents a stark reminder of just how far the player and league have come in their joined evolution.
Yallop's brief tenure during the Beckham Era was not memorable for the right reasons. The Galaxy failed to make the playoffs in the one season he tried to guide the new-found, worldwide media magnet of a team. Instead, the club was more or less a sideshow, with the integration and transition period taking the path similar to one of Beckham's trademark free kicks: Heading toward a wall before eventually finding a way around or over it and landing at its desired destination with pristine accuracy.
"The first year, when I was here, was kind of crazy, to be honest," Yallop said Thursday. "Nobody knew how big he was globally. I had no idea. I had seen him on TV and met him once before signed, then all of a sudden he's here. I think it took everybody by surprise how popular he is.
"I think Alexi [Lalas, the Galaxy's general manager at the start of the Beckham Era] said it was a circus. It wasn't that far off."
The mild-mannered Yallop had to deal with something no other MLS coach ever had to before him: Try to manage the off-field distractions and zoo of the Beckham magnitude while maintaining some semblance of focus on the actual games. With no precedent before Beckham's arrival from Real Madrid in 2007 to look back upon and Yallop himself perhaps (and later admittedly) not being the right kind of manager for the job, the instant gratification the Galaxy was looking for failed to materialize.
"[The beginning] was wild," Yallop said. "I've never seen so many photographers the first game [against Chelsea]. There were 300 or something standing, we couldn't even get to the bench. They weren't taking photographs of us. I don't think we understood what it was all about, and when you're in it, it was like, 'Whoa.' Everyone's head was spinning. It was difficult to concentrate on soccer to be honest."
Even though the Beckham Era will be looked back on as a rousing success as a whole, with the player helping take the league's exposure, marketability and quality to new heights in his six years, it would be shortsighted to look back on the entire six years with rose-eyed goggles. Yallop's time in charge was followed by an even more tenuous regime with Ruud Gullit running the show, and while Beckham was on loan at AC Milan, he expressed his desire to stay with the Rossoneri permanently.
Yallop moved onto a better fit, returning to San Jose, where he had coached the original incarnation of the Earthquakes franchise to two MLS Cup titles between 2001-2003, to find success again. Bruce Arena, meanwhile, was eventually brought in to stabilize the Beckham-Era Galaxy and put it on course for glory, which he managed to do last year and is on the cusp of doing again, should the club defeat the under-the-radar Dynamo in MLS Cup. Both Beckham and Yallop are clear on when the turning point in Beckham's tenure in the United States occurred.
"[Arena] was the manager that came in and changed this," Beckham said. "When I first moved here, we were kind of jumping from manager to manager and coach to coach. The team was not settled in any way. We didn't have any stability. The first year, year and a half was kind of very unsettling, and it wasn't a great place to be. Bruce came in, settled everything down, and that's the reason we've had the success that we have in the last four years."
Added Yallop: "Once Bruce got here to settle everything down and get back to playing soccer, which is what we're all here to do, and get a nice settled side...and Landon's playing well and the addition of Robbie Keane was fantastic. They've done a great job here. They're a good side, and for me, David now settling in and going through his last game in MLS, it's been a great story."
The story is reaching its final page, and unlike last year's MLS Cup final, after which there was rampant speculation of whether the American public had seen the last of Beckham on the playing field, there is a sense of finality around the Home Depot Center that is reverberating throughout the U.S. soccer community, with no unexpected epilogue in sight. And with the Beckham Farewell Tour being met with reflection, hindsight and an attempt to quantify the player's impact, Yallop's presence representing one of the opening scenes in Beckham's MLS character arc is part of the fitting send-off.
"If you look at before David came, I don't think the [MLS] coverage was as big," Yallop said. "I don't think the interest from non-soccer people was as high. As soon as he joined, it was a massive spike in everything, from people being interested in knowing the Galaxy brand to filling stadiums to getting people aware of the game. Talk about a fantastic move by [AEG president] Tim Leiweke and the group here. But a brave move from David. It was a big move. He was at the top of his game when he came here, and I think that was a brave move. It's worked out well for everybody, and you have to commend him for doing it.
"I'll never regret coming and being part of that for sure. You live and learn, and maybe that type of thing is not for me, but I really enjoyed my time with the Galaxy and especially with David."