SALT LAKE CITY — David Beckham never has or never will be mistaken for the best soccer player in the world, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the most celebrated athletes on the planet.
Blessed with good looks and the ability to bend a soccer ball like no other, Beckham has surpassed virtually every other athlete in the global hierarchy because of his charisma.
Having just spent 17 hours on a charter flight from Madrid to Salt Lake City on Monday, Beckham stopped and signed autographs for nearly five minutes before boarding the team bus, and did so with a seemingly genuine smile on his face. Clearly not just going through the motions, the legendary Beckham outdid even himself by wiping the tear from the cheek of a 4-year-old girl who was crying because of the chaos surrounding her.
If stardom is taking a toll on Beckham, one would never know. He markets himself as well as anyone in the world, and he's in the United States this week with his Real Madrid teammates to help further the legend of himself and the club.
Beckham and his Real Madrid teammates will travel to Seattle today to play Major League Soccer's D.C. United at 8 p.m. at Qwest Field. After the game, Real Madrid will return to Salt Lake City, where they will play another exhibition Saturday, against Real Salt Lake of the MLS.
Even though the match today is classified as an international friendly, don't think that the Real Madrid players aren't taking things seriously.
"We take every game very seriously," said Spanish striker Raul. "For us, there really is no friendly game. We want to play every game to win.
"We represent a very important institution, and as such we try and represent ourselves well."
Madrid's journey to the United States represents the European club's fourth week of training camp leading up to its La Liga season opener on Aug. 27.
"Every one of these matches is important to us, not only for us as players to establish our fitness, but also for our coach to figure out which players want to play in what position," said Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos. "Our goal is to win titles, and that's what we're going to continue to work toward."
Of its two games against MLS sides, Real Madrid figures to get its stiffest test from D.C. United tonight. While Real Salt Lake is floundering in the MLS cellar with a 5-10-5 record, D.C. United sits high atop the league table with a 13-2-6 record, though D.C. lost to Real Salt Lake 2-1 on July 29, the final match before the All-Star break.
The result of that MLS All-Star Game is why fans should expect the unexpected tonight. Even though Real players and coaches insist they want to win, they simply aren't match fit, and probably won't be for several more weeks. D.C. United, meanwhile, is in midseason form and many of the players are coming off the euphoria of that All-Star Game triumph.
Last weekend, a collection of MLS All-Stars that included several D.C. players, including Freddy Adu, upset English Premiere League club Chelsea 1-0 in Chicago. Are similar results in store for Real Madrid this week against MLS teams?
There appears to be a different attitude surrounding Real Madrid after a largely disappointing 2005-06 campaign that ended without a trophy. A change in personnel and atop the coaching ranks no doubt has played a role.
Former Juventus coach Fabio Capello is returning to Real Madrid for his second stint with "Los Galacticos," and he's being joined by an array of world-class players. In addition to Beckham, Ronaldo, Robinho, Raul, Carlos and many more, Real Madrid forked out plenty of cash this summer to acquire Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro, Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy as well as Brazilian midfielder Emerson.
All of those players will be in uniform tonight at Qwest Field, excluding Ronaldo, who is back in Spain continuing his "recovery and shape-up program," according to the team's Web site.