David Beckham has left only a modest footprint on the North American soccer landscape in two ineffective seasons so far with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Galaxy will be without the league's highest-paid player when they open their 2009 Major League Soccer campaign on Sunday against DC United.
The MLS season kicks off Thursday in Seattle when the league's newest club, the Seattle Sounders, host the New York Red Bulls.
Beckham, who turns 34 in May, won't be available until half way through the season to the Galaxy who have failed to make the playoffs since his arrival in 2007.
Even when he has suited up for Los Angeles, Beckham has had little impact. He played just five games of an injury-filled first season and had five goals and 10 assists last season.
But that's more of a statement on the calibre of the MLS than a knock on Beckham's skill level or leadership qualities.
Beckham is a better player when surrounded by international superstars than journeyman MLS players.
One of the best passers in the game, his style doesn't translate well when he is trying to set up players who make less money for a full season than he earns in one month.
NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Italy and follows international football, said Beckham feels the need to test his abilities at the highest level.
"American soccer is still years away from being able to compete with soccer on the world stage," Bryant told the Los Angeles Times. "He obviously wants to play against the best. It is a tough call. But him being a friend, I want him to do what is best for him."
Beckham was originally supposed to return from Italy on March 9 to get ready for the MLS season.
But in a deal worked out recently between the Galaxy and AC Milan, Beckham will remain with Milan until the end of May. He's then got two England World Cup qualifying games before rejoining Los Angeles at the beginning of July.
As part of the deal for him to return, the Galaxy will also host AC Milan on July 19 at their south central Los Angeles stadium.
American fan interest in Beckham has weakended since his splashy introduction in 2007 when more than 66,000 showed up for his first game at Giants Stadium in San Franciso.
Television ratings in 2008 were 22 per cent higher for Beckham games than they were for games he didn't play. But that figure was down from 67 per cent during his first year in the league.
Some criticized Beckham and his handlers for misleading the American sports fan. When he arrived, the Galaxy and American Idol creator Simon Fuller talked up a 250 million dollar "agreement".
But it was a pie-in-sky figure, which Beckham's handlers knew they could get get past most of Los Angeles' tail-wagging media which they knew wouldn't check the figure before rushing it into print.
Beckham was also stripped this season of his captaincy. The captain's armband has been handed to Landon Donovan who recently rejoined the Galaxy after his overseas loan to Bayern Munich.
Seattle is expecting 32,000 for its inaugural game on Thursday against New York. The Sounders have done well at the box office so far, selling more than 20,000 season tickets.
Defending champion Columbus takes on Houston as they kick off their season with the rest of the teams on the weekend.