By Ridge Mahoney
A more apropos name might be "Becks Does Honolulu" for the Pan-Pacific Championship officially announced by MLS yesterday, but marketing issues aside, this event certainly offers some allure beyond that of David Beckham. The four-team tournament will match teams from MLS (the Galaxy and Houston), J-League (Gamba Osaka) and Australia's A-League (TBA) in Honolulu Feb. 20 and 23.
The MLS teams play their foreign opponents in the semifinals with the winners meeting to decide the crown.
If Sydney FC wins the A-League, it could meet the Galaxy in a repeat of the friendly played earlier this week, a 5-3 Sydney victory. But it would have to win its semifinal, as the Galaxy has been paired against Gamba Osaka in the semis, with Houston meeting the A-League champ, to be decided in early February.
Dynamo forward Brian Ching, the only native Hawaiian currently playing in MLS, lends a local flavor to the competition, and the presence of the reigning league champion adds a dose of legitimacy to the obvious marketing forces driving the formation of this tournament.
At a press conference two days before MLS Cup, Commissioner Don Garber cited Seattle, scheduled to start league play in 2009, as a potential future site for this competition. The large Asian population in the area is a symbol of the frontiers targeted by MLS and its marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing, to maximize the popularity of Beckham as well as its other properties.
Hawaii is not regarded as a serious expansion candidate, but its proximity to Asia offers MLS/SUM plenty of marketing potential and is just another perk of playing for the Galaxy.
And, Ching probably won't be the only Houston player welcoming a week or so in the islands.
A source said Dentsu, the Japanese marketing agency with ties to MLS and SUM, is one of the event's sponsors, but there's been no official mention of Dentsu so far or any other official sponsors.
The Australian league is sponsored by Hyundai. The J-League has no title sponsor; earlier this month, Gamba won the League Cup, which is officially named the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup and is a separate competition from the Emperors' Cup, which is open to all clubs, professional and amateur.
Other details, such as prize money and television coverage, have yet to be determined.