This is a series that looks at the greats (and goods) of the beautiful game that went on to sully the ears of footy fans around the world in the cushy confines of the commentary booth. Today’s subject: he’s big, he’s red, he’s adamantly going to insist he’s right all the time: Step forward, Mr. Alexi Lalas!
Alexi Lalas is a groundbreaker in American Soccer. As a center back, the 6-3 son of a Greek Professor was the first American to play in Serie A in the modern era, and scored three goals during a two-year stint at Padova, two of which came against both Milan sides (only to piss off Orr, the one against AC Milan is below), before signing with MLS and being allocated to the New England Revolution for the league’s inaugural season. Lalas bounced around the American League, having been traded to MetroStars and the Kansas City Wizards before retiring and then resurfacing with the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2001 to 2004.
Lalas’ playing career is more noted, however, for his time on the US national team, where he earned 96 caps. Most notable of those are the four matches he played in the 1994 World Cup, which took place on these shores. Lalas was an ever-present for the US, and earned a spot as an honorable mention to the World Cup All-Star Team (hey, YOU try competing with Paolo Maldini). Lalas also chipped in 9 goals for the US National side, including one in a 3-0 win over Argentina in the 1995 Copa America.
Lalas has been a bit of a dilletante since retiring from the pitch. He’s served as general manager for the San Jose Earthquakes, MetroStars (where he oversaw the switch from MetroStars to Red Bull New York- seriously, thanks a friggin’ lot, Red), the Galaxy, where he engineered the “Brand Beckham” experiment; fronted a band called the Gypsies (which opened for Hootie and the Blowfish in 1998); recorded a handful of solo albums; and, much to the chagrin of the football-watching world, a pundit.
Lalas’ main failing as a pundit is that he’s spent too much time inside the structure of MLS- his three managerial positions were all with AEG-owned teams, so he’s been close to the founders of the league for a long times- and so when he talks about issues with which MLS struggles, like domestic player development, he toes the company line, and ends up putting his foot in his mouth. Observe:
And it’s a shame, because Lalas has a lot of things that should make him a good pundit, especially for a league that’s not even 20 years old: He has name recognition, he’s technically proficient in front of the camera, he has knowledge of the game and how it’s played, and he is quite passionate about football. If he could move away from shill mode and actually deign to be critical of the things he loves, he could be much better at drawing interest for the US National Team and MLS. But in accepting this “we’re right and everyone else is naive” pose, he loses the credibility that he earned during his playing days.
Put another way: He has all of the potential to be Gary Cohen, but ends up wrapping himself in the flag and becoming oh so much Michael Kay. And anyone who knows baseball knows- Michael Kay is one piss-poor pundit.