No Becks, no buzz

Soccer superstar David Beckham practices in the rain at BMO field with the MLS All-Star team on...

Soccer superstar David Beckham practices in the rain at BMO field with the MLS All-Star team on Wednesday. SUN MEDIA/Craig Robertson

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

Sporting a license plate with the letters CLBRTY on the front, the lanky milky-white stretch limo comes to a stop in front of Gate 4 at BMO Field, causing a gaggle of gawkers to gather around.

It is about 9:45 a.m. and David Beckham's MLS all-stars are less than an hour away from stepping on the pitch for their late-morning practice, a fact that the handful of autograph hounds are all too aware of.

Is this finally the arrival of Becks, the glamour boy of tonight's tilt between his MLS squad and English club team West Ham United?

Will wife Victoria, she of Spice Girl fame, be accompanying him?

Maybe Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Hollywood's Ken-and-Barbie couple who have become close friends of the Beckham's, are inside too.

The door opens. Three kids step out. The fans groan in disappointment.

They need their Becks fix.

Such is the impact that David Beckham has had on these MLS all-star festivities, not to mention the league itself.

Almost a year to the day that Beckham stunned the European-based soccer establishment by making his debut for MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy, Becks-Mania has gripped the Toronto soccer community, a fever league officials hope will continue to spread throughout the league.

No offence to the rabid red-clad supporters of Toronto FC, but let's be honest here: Without Beckham, much of the sizzle of tonight's event would be lacking.

This is one of the biggest sporting weeks the GTA has seen in years. In tennis, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are competing at the Rogers Cup, their first tournament since they turned in that classic Wimbledon final earlier this month. At Glen Abbey, Mike Weir will attempt to become the first home brew to capture the Canadian Open title in half a century.

With Beckham as the face of its all-star game, MLS officials have the star power needed to compete with those events. Without him, well, Landon Donovan hardly carries the celebrity status of a Federer or Weir in these parts.

After finishing working out with his teammates yesterday in rainy conditions that one British reporter quipped "must have reminded him of his days back in England," Beckham entered the interview room clogged with reporters, cameras and microphones.

"Morning. How you doing?" Beckham asked a couple of scribes as he waited the press conference to officially kick off.

Sporting such an engaging personality, Beckham gets it. He knows he is carrying the weight of a league on his shoulders, and he is ready to embrace the challenge.

"It would have been nice to go up and see Federer (play) but we have a big game to prepare for," Beckham said, obviously attempting to stoke up the MLS PR machine.

Because of injuries and other commitments, this will be Beckham's first MLS appearance in Toronto.

"The fans are a big part of MLS, especially in Toronto," he said. "The fans in Toronto give their team great support. They are special."

According to MLS commissioner Don Gerber, attendance is up 1%, ESPN viewership 20% and Univision ratings 10% from this point a year ago -- just about the time Beckham came into the league.

"Since I've been here, a couple of new stadiums have gone up, attendance has gone up and the level of play has gone up," Beckham said. "It's a higher level than many thought."

Of course, there is more to Beckham than his bending free kicks. He has his own clothing line. There is a David Beckham cologne. He reportedly has even started fencing with Cruise and fellow actor Will Smith.

Does this mean a film career is in the works?

"I've been asked that quite a few times," he said. "I love watching movies but I'll leave it to those who do it better."

There are those who would argue that Beckham's life is, in itself, a movie.

One that will continue to unfold at BMO Field tonight.


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