English soccer star David Beckham is coming to America.
Beckham, one of the world's most famous athletes, has decided not to re-sign with Spanish outfit Real Madrid, and instead will ink a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.
"This week, Real Madrid asked me to make a decision regarding my future and the offer to extend my contract by a further two seasons," Beckham said in a statement.
"After discussing several options with my family and advisers to either stay here at Madrid or join other major British and European clubs, I have decided to join the Los Angeles Galaxy and play in the MLS from August this year."
One of the teams Beckham and the Galaxy will face is Toronto FC, an expansion franchise that will play its inaugural season in MLS starting in April.
Though the MLS schedule has not been released, Toronto FC confirmed that the Galaxy will play in Toronto once Beckham officially joins the team in August.
"We sold over 200 season tickets in the first few hours of this announcement," Toronto FC said in a statement.
Beckham, 31, had been negotiating with the Spanish club for several months, but was reluctant to sign a new deal because he has only started seven of 25 games this season, the first under new coach Fabio Capello.
A regular starter during his first three seasons with Real Madrid, Beckham has been forced to sit on the bench this year while the younger and quicker Jose Antonio Reyes has impressed on the right side of midfield, the territory once thought to be the exclusive domain of the Englishman.
MLS has a salary cap in place, but it recently made a change to the system that allows clubs to sign one star player without it counting against the cap. Terms of Beckham's contract with the Galaxy were not released, but British news reports put the L.A. deal at $250 million US.
Former captain of England and one of the world's biggest celebrities, the midfielder is a prodigiously talented player who has become a global icon thanks to his Hollywood good looks and marriage to a former Spice Girl, Victoria (Posh) Adams.
1996 goal putsBeckham in spotlight
Beckham's talents were evident early.
He won the Bobby Charlton Soccer Skills Award when he was 11 and signed as a trainee with Manchester United, one of the top clubs in the English Premiership, when he was 15.
He became a household name in 1996 when he scoredagainst Wimbledon from the halfway-line, and won acclaim when he helped Manchester United win a treble of trophies — the English Premiership title, FA Cup and Champions League crown — in 1999.
During his time at United, he helped the club reach worldwide fame as the biggest and most successful sports franchise in the world. United also achieved great success on the field, winning six league titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League.
The unthinkable happened in 2003 when he parted ways with his beloved Manchester United after a falling out with manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Beckham was sold to Spanish club Real Madrid, but his departure could not erase his years of success at United.
Fails to score success in Spain
Successin Spain has proved harder to come by, however. Thus far, Real Madrid has yet to win a single league title or Spanish Cup during Beckham's three years with the club.
"I have enjoyed my time in Spain enormously and I am extremely grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity to play for such a great team and their amazing fans," said Beckham, who owns a soccer academy in Los Angeles.
Beckham's impending arrival is a major coup for MLS, the top professional soccer league in the United States.
The league kicked off in 1996 with 10 teams and boasted surprisingly strong attendance the first season. Numbers declined slightly after the first year, but stabilized in subsequent years thanks to the league's TV deal with ABC and ESPN.
Still, it is often considered a second-rate league by American sports media and fans, but MLS hopes Beckham's arrival could do for the league what Brazilian superstar Pele did for now-defunct North American Soccer League.
In the 1970s, Pele joined the New York Cosmos which led to a huge surge in soccer's popularity in the U.S. before the league folded in 1984.
"David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally," said Timothy J. Leiweke, president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Galaxy.
"David is truly the only individual that can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world."
MLS commissioner Don Garber called Beckham, "a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America."
"His decision to continue his storied career in Major League Soccer is testament to the fact that America is rapidly becoming a true 'Soccer Nation' with Major League Soccer at the core. … The addition of David Beckham represents another significant step forward for the MLS and the sport."