CARSON, California When David Beckham ends his playing stint with LA Galaxy in what he expects to be a very emotional MLS Cup final, he will take pride in how he has helped raise the game's profile in North America.
Since the former England captain with his global celebrity status joined the Galaxy in 2007, Major League Soccer (MLS) has grown significantly and become much better known in the soccer world.
"This sport now has the foundation of becoming much bigger here over the next 10, 20 years," Beckham told reporters at the Home Depot Centre on Tuesday, a day after announcing his decision to leave the Galaxy after six seasons with the club.
"I've seen first-hand the new franchises that have come into this league, I've seen the attendances grow to the point where they are competing with baseball and basketball, and I've seen the quality of players that have come into this league.
"We've also seen huge television deals signed and this league is taken very seriously in Europe and different parts of the world now. I am very proud to have been part of that."
At the age of 37, Beckham remains one of the most marketable figures in the game and was the biggest soccer name to move to the United States since Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff in the 1970s.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena described Beckham's influence on the sport in North America in glowing terms.
"He's done more in MLS and for the Galaxy than any of us would have imagined," said Arena. "He's worth a lot more to the league than we ever could have thought.
"He has done wonders for the Galaxy. We have accomplished much on and off the field, and he's done incredible amounts of positive things for MLS. We are now a well known league around the world and I attribute a lot of that to David."
Asked whether he had achieved all the goals he had initially set for himself in North America, Beckham replied: "It's for other people to decide what my impact has been in this league over the last six years.
"It might have been different 20 years ago but now we have the foundations, we have the owners, we have the stadiums that have been built so the foundations are there for this sport to grow.
"I've seen it grow in the last six years and we all want it to continue to grow. Soccer's potential has no limits in this wonderful country," added the London-born midfielder who plans to continue his playing career elsewhere.
Beckham, who won six league titles with Manchester United in the English Premier League before enjoying success with Real Madrid in Spain, hopes he can end his Galaxy career by winning a second successive MLS Cup.
"I always want to win any game, whether it's a game with my kids in the backyard or the MLS Cup final," he said.
"To be able to finish my career as a Galaxy player in my own stadium in a Cup final is special enough, but hopefully to win it would finish everything off for me."
The MLS Cup final will take place on December 1 when the Galaxy host Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Centre, having beaten the Seattle Sounders over two legs to clinch the Western Conference championship.
"I was actually quite emotional after the game in Seattle because it was the last game in a different stadium in my career here with the Galaxy," said Beckham.
"But I've got a feeling it's going to be even more so next Saturday because this has been my home for the last six years. I've had some amazing times, one or two difficult times, but some amazing memories here in this stadium with this team.
"I will continue to support this club because I love the players here, I love the fans, I love the ownership. It's an exceptional group of guys and I am sad to be leaving that."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)