The recent move by British soccer superstar David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy has drawn much attention to a sport that otherwise hasn't scored big in popularity in America.
Beckham's arrival to the states last month has helped lift the profile of Major League Soccer (MLS) and soccer at large in the United States. The new midfielder for the Galaxy, however, faces a grueling three months as he faces at least 22 games and almost 80,000 air miles playing for both the LA team and trying to help England qualify for next year's European Championships.
Some players fear Beckham's burnout but his spokesman, Simon Oliveira, told BBC Sport that they are not worried and that Beckham is very confident he will be in peak condition.
This week, the Galaxy slipped into their ninth defeat in 17 MLS games and the team is scheduled for many late-season games plus travel.
Pumping up the team’s body and soul amid the increased media attention and grueling schedule is a chaplain trying to develop three-dimensional athletes.
“I tell the players that they should not just think of the fans’ approval, which can change at any moment, but rather they should try to play for God’s approval,” said Ray Caldwell, chaplain for the Galaxy.
Caldwell is part of Campus Crusade for Christ's Athletes in Action (AIA), which has a presence on 10 of MLS's 13 teams.
They hold team Bible studies and focus on the idea of building mind, body and spirit, including the players' motivations and morality.
"Players are all about being the very best soccer players they can be, but the physical and mental aspects of sport can only take you so far,” Caldwell said. “When they begin to focus on things above they often find they can play at a higher level.”
The Bible studies generally draw around six to eight players. Players from the Galaxy involved with AIA include former U.S. national team midfielder Chris Klein, midfielder Peter Vagenas, defender Troy Roberts and defender Quavas Kirk.
All players and coaches are invited to attend the Bible studies and chapels, according to Caldwell, who recently met with Beckham and extended an invitation to him.
“The front offices (MLS) have gradually gained an understanding that we aren’t trying to get something from the team, but rather that we are here to give to and resource the teams,” Caldwell said. “Through the relationships and trust we have built up some teams have granted us increased access.”
Athletes in Action was founded in 1966 by David Hannah, who desired to build on society's great love of sports and utilize the platform given to the athletes to reach the world for Jesus Christ. As of 2006, AIA has a ministry presence in 85 countries, on nearly 100 U.S. college campuses, and on 35 U.S. professional sports teams.
Next week, the LA Galaxy will take on Pachuca, the Mexican champions, for the SuperLiga title.