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Beckham in US: He came, he sold, he conquered

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Beckham in US: He came, he sold, he conquered

David Beckham came, he sold, he conquered.

For the first two years after he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, he was more of a brand than a player, his impact at America's cash registers far greater than any transformation on the field.

By the time the 37-year-old English midfielder played his final game in Major League Soccer on Saturday, he had achieved his goals athletically in addition to financially, winning two more titles and expanding the U.S. audience for his sport. He gained attention for his play, not just for his ever-changing hairstyles, Spice Girl wife and celebrity friends.

``When I decided to come here, I think I raised a little bit of interest, and I hope that's what I've done,'' Beckham said. ``If that's the single thing that I've done, then great. But I think the foundations are there now in this league. It's a 17-year-old league and the foundations are great. It will continue to grow.''

The league expanded by about 50 percent, with new teams announced during the Beckham era that started play in San Jose (2008), Seattle (2009), Philadelphia (2010), Vancouver and Portland (2011), and Montreal (2012). That raised the total to 19.

Ground was broken for soccer-specific stadiums in Houston, Kansas City and Philadelphia, the long-delayed venue in New Jersey was completed, and extensive renovations took place in Montreal, Portland and Vancouver.

MLS' regular-season attendance averaged 15,504 in 2006, the last season before Beckham left Real Madrid to sign with the Galaxy. It was up to a record 18,807 this year, still well short of the record 44,293 set by the Bundesliga in 2011-12 and the 35,356 for England's Premier League.

Beckham said his goals were to win and increase awareness of the league both domestically and abroad.

``I don't think anybody would doubt that he has over-delivered on every one of those measures,'' MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. ``There's arguably not a soccer fan on this planet that doesn't know the L.A. Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and David played a significant role in helping us make that happen. He was an unbelievable ambassador for the league, for the Galaxy.''

Beckham made his debut for Manchester United's first team in 1992, the year when he turned 17 and played alongside Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville for the Red Devils' winning team in the FA Youth Cup. By 21 he made his debut for England's national team.

He helped United win six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the 1999 Champions League. Sold to Real for 35 million euros (then $41 million), he won Spain's La Liga in his fourth and final season.

By then, he already had announced he was moving to Los Angeles. While his handlers and the Galaxy hyped the deal as being worth ``in excess $250 million,'' it turned out to be a $32.5 million, five-year contract. Still, he earned 50 times the league's average of $129,395 in 2008 and twice as much as any other player.

Following his first Galaxy appearance, in an exhibition against Chelsea, he was given a welcoming party hosted by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. A crowd of 46,686 showed up for his MLS debut on Aug. 9, 2007, at D.C. United.

While injuries limited his playing time, the five games he played averaged 37,659 fans - in a league where the overall average that year was 16,770. MLS jersey sales rose 780 percent.

``I don't think there's any doubt that David has increased the visibility of MLS and the sport more generally,'' U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. ``That very positive impact will be felt for many years.''

When Beckham arrived, his mind seemed to be on England as much as it was on California. He commuted back to play for England's national team, hoping to make its 2010 World Cup roster, and played on loan for AC Milan in early 2009 and 2010. While in Italy, he tore his left Achilles tendon, ending his England career after 17 goals and 115 appearances - second only to goalkeeper Peter Shilton's 125.

Only after the injury did he seem to focus on MLS. His relationship with Galaxy co-star Landon Donovan improved - Donovan took back the captain's armband - and Beckham helped Los Angeles to three straight league finals - beating Houston in the title game in 2011 and this year. He scored 20 goals in 116 competitive appearances over 6 1/2 years.

Only in television ratings did MLS fail to achieve a long-term boost. The league's regular-season telecasts on ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 311,000 viewers this year, up less than 5 percent over 2007.

Rafa Marquez, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane followed him to MLS. Frank Lampard and Kaka may become the next big stars to join the league.

The very best players, Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real's Cristiano Ronaldo, are far too good and far too expensive to leave Europe for MLS right now, a league still in its developmental stage.

Beckham, though, made it acceptable for stars just past their primes to trek across the Atlantic as salesmen and scorers. After the next stop in his playing career - likely the last - Beckham intends to return to MLS as an owner.

``I know it's the No. 1 sport in the world. There's other great sports here, of course, I believe it can compete with the basketball. I believe it can compete with American football and baseball,'' Beckham said. ``That's why I'm totally committed to that.''

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AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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4 prospects Baltimore Ravens fans should be keeping an eye on in 2019 NFL Draft

4 prospects Baltimore Ravens fans should be keeping an eye on in 2019 NFL Draft

The Baltimore Ravens will add to their historic franchise this weekend during the 2019 NFL Draft. All eyes will be set on who they take with their first pick, whether that's at No. 22 or beyond. 

With a handful of needs, which prospects should you be aware of? Here are four players projected to possibly land with the Ravens Thursday night.

WR D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi

Metcalf grabbed the attention of the football world during the NFL Combine, running a 4.33 40-yard dash and posting a 40.5 vertical jump. The jury is still out, however, on how he'll pan out in the NFL. Metcalf missed part of the 2018 season with a neck injury and a foot injury derailed his 2016 season after just two games. Metcalf admitted that his history of injuries was brought up often when meeting with NFL teams, and his apparent 1.9% body fat simply isn't healthy, according to a combine trainer. Nonetheless, draft experts have the receiver as a top option for the Ravens. 

DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson

The Ravens are going to need some help on defense after losing Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za'Darius Smith in free agency. Ferrell had 38 tackles for loss and 21 sacks over the last two seasons with the National Champions. Standing at 6'4", 264 pounds, the defensive end's combine profile describes him as having "prototypical size, length and strength to offer early help against both the run and pass."

C/G Erik McCoy, Texas A&M

The Ravens could be looking for their center of the future. McCoy earned a starting role with the Aggies during the 2016 season, starting all 16 games after redshirting his freshman season. In his sophomore season, McCoy helped Texas A&M average 406.8 yards per game. From 2016-19, the center helped his team rush for over 2,000 yards. A talent like that could be extremely helpful with Lamar Jackson under center. 

WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma

Another wide receiver in the mix, Brown averaged more than 18 yards per reception over two years at Oklahoma, racking up 1,300 yards with 10 touchdowns on 75 receptions in 2018 alone. Nicknamed "Hollywood," the 21-year-old's speed and ability to threaten deep "gives him a chance to become the most impactful wideout in this draft."

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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Report: Dwayne Haskins is the Redskins' 'target' for solving QB issue

Report: Dwayne Haskins is the Redskins' 'target' for solving QB issue

It'd be borderline shocking if the Redskins didn't add a quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft, and with the first round coming Thursday, one report suggests the team is interested in doing so with a top pick.

ESPN's Dianna Russini tweeted Wednesday that "sources have indicated Dwayne Haskins is [Washington's] target despite multiple holes at several positions on this roster." She then added that the 'Skins aren't talking to the Cardinals about Josh Rosen.

Now, the question for the Redskins becomes: If Haskins is their target, will they have to move up in the order to get him?

Insider JP Finlay wrote Wednesday the franchise could be willing to make a big leap up to pick No. 3 if Kyler Murray isn't taken first overall. So, you'd think they'd be willing to do the same for Haskins, whether that means swapping with the Jets to get the Ohio State passer third or with another organization if Haskins slips lower.

There's also a chance he lasts until the 15th pick, but that's far from certain. The front office may not feel comfortable enough to wait for him to fall.

A combination of Colt McCoy and Case Keenum could get the Redskins through the 2019 season, but neither sets the squad up for long-term success under center. Haskins could, although he started just one year for the Buckeyes and Jay Gruden has said this offseason how valuable experience is for signal callers entering the pros. 

There should be plenty of appealing prospects available for Washington when it's their turn on the clock. However, landing a QB on a rookie deal would be the most impactful acquisition if that guy pans out. So, if Haskins really is the "target" as reported, look for them to be aggressive in chasing him.

For an in-depth look at Haskins' development and life, check out NBC Sports Washington's "I am The Prospect: Dwayne Haskins."

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