SA Online Ask a Star: Alexi Lalas

Sergio Delgado

Secaucus, N.J.

Alexi, what's up with you and your coach at New England? Why were you benched in the game against the MetroStars?

Alexi Lalas: The benching in New York was a coaching decision, obviously one I was not happy with, and I've made my feelings known. But those are times where you have to muster up some maturity, go on, and look at it in terms of how the team is going to progress.

Pete Bailey: Have you and coach Stapleton gotten things reasonably patched up at this point, as you guys make the stretch run towards the playoffs?

AL: Yeah, I mean, I think the whole situation has required a level of maturity, and I accept responsibility for some of the problems, and for basically being kind of a jerk. I would just ask for a little bit of understanding, and we'll go on from there. We've done pretty well since then, and the important thing for us right now is to make the playoffs. The problem was that all of the off the field stuff was starting to affect the team on the field, and that's something that we can't have happen.

Ralph Culver

Burlington, Vt.

I'm sure we New England fans are as unhappy as you are over many of the coaching decisions being made. I for one have been very disappointed about the number of lineup changes and the emphasis on defense. What suggestions do you have that might improve the Revs performance and player morale?

AL: Well, I don't know. I think people have to take a step back and look at MLS and the teams from a much wider view. I mean, we're trying to establish a style, and a system, and a way to play with each other. Some teams in MLS were able to do this very early on, to get that chemistry going very early on, and other teams, like the New England Revolution, have taken a little longer. That's why all of the lineup changes have come into play. This is definitely not just a one-year project; this is something that's hopefully going to be created over a long time, and if we need time, that's what we have to do.

PB: Speaking of lineup changes, can you tell everyone a little about the situation that occurred with Giuseppe Galderisi (who was cut by New England and now plays for Tampa Bay). He made his return to New England the other night -- did you guys get a chance to hang out a little bit?

AL: Oh yeah, we hung out a lot.

PB: You were partly responsible for his coming over (to MLS), right?

AL: Sure, but Beppe makes his own decisions, and he's played professionally for years. He came to me and asked me about MLS, and Beppe made up his mind that he wanted a new experience. He and his family wanted a new experience, and I think America offered something that some of the other places didn't.

But the whole Beppe situation was difficult, obviously, because personally I did feel responsible for him, and also because of the way that he was treated. Regardless of whether he should have stayed here or not, the way he and his family were treated was embarrassing to me, and never, ever, should have been allowed to happen, especially because Beppe is one of the classiest players and individuals that I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Everything that he does, in his game and in life, is with complete class, and he deserves much more than that -- unfortunately, he didn't get it. That's what really hurt.

PB: Has he settled in all right at Tampa Bay?

AL: That's the most important thing right now, and that eases a little bit of the problem, because he and his family are having a great time down in Tampa. That team has completely accepted him, and he is enjoying it -- where he's living, his kids going to school, his wife really liking the area -- and he's playing well. It's no surprise to me that he's playing very well with a very good team, but that makes it a little bit more bearable for me, because he was able to get to a situation and an environment that respected him for his abilities. The people there went out of their way to make him feel welcome.

PB: That's good to hear -- and he scored the other night.

AL: And he scored the other night.

PB: And you did too! Congratulations on notching your first MLS goal.

AL: Thank you (he laughs)! It's only been a year since I last scored!

PB: I haven't seen the highlights yet -- how did it happen?

AL: I would strongly suggest that you find a copy of it (laughs). No, seriously, it was a corner kick. and, as it's liable to do on our team, the ball went in and sort of got cleared and came back out. On the second cross back in, it came to the far post, and, with cat-like instincts (laughs), I brought the ball down on my chest and, buried it home, but it was only a couple of yards out.

PB: Oh, so this was a leg goal, not a header?

AL: Oh yeah, this was off the foot. So, I mean, I know I surprised everyone, including myself. It's definitely not your characteristic goal for me.

PB: Hey, whatever works. How about the celebration?

AL: There wasn't much of a celebration, actually. It's impossible for me to describe for you just what that goal meant, and it didn't mean anything in terms of the score. Because of everything that's gone on, it just meant a lot. It was cathartic, I guess.

PB: And the goal came off a corner, do you feel that, on corners, you're getting worked into the play a little more than you were earlier in the year?

AL: You know, I think so, and, obviously, every single team we play is putting their biggest guy on me and marking me and holding me and pulling me and pushing me. I accept that as part of the game, but I think that success on corners has nothing to do with the mark. I've always said that even if everyone in the stadium knows what the play is and where the ball's going, it doesn't matter, because it all depends on if the ball is put in a place. If you put the ball in the same place nine out of ten times, I'm going to get my head to it. Unfortunately, we haven't had a whole lot of balls played to the same place. My role has been much more as a decoy -- I'm trying to let other guys get loose and get free, because of the marking that I draw.

PB: You guys are definitely improving in that area.

AL: Yeah, Alberto (Naveda) has definitely gotten much better at trying to find me, and knowing where I want the ball.

Jenny Buente

San Antonio

How do you think the addition of Joe-Max Moore will help the Revolution?

AL: Well, I think Joe-Max Moore would help any team in the world, simply because he wants to score goals. That's it -- that's all he wants to do. That's all he cares about; that's all he lives and breathes. And you want that attitude in your forwards. He is willing to do anything to score, and he becomes, to the delight of everybody on the team, completely crazy and irritated when he doesn't. That's a person that I want up there on my team. He's come in and had an incredible effect on the team both on and off the field, because he's also a leader.

PB: It sounds like he's really helped to pick you guys up since his arrival.

AL: Yeah, he's scored a lot of goals, and he's helped with the confidence of the team.

Red Foley

Foxboro, Mass.

Hey Alexi, I'm one of your biggest fans. I've been to every one of the Revolution home games so far. What do you think about the level of fan support at Foxboro and around the league in general?

AL: Well, I think around the league the fans have been adequate in some places, wonderful in other places, and, to be quite honest, not very good in other places. Foxboro, I like to think, is the exception. Our fans are absolutely wonderful, and they deserve good-quality soccer and good-quality soccer players. I hope for the majority of the season we've given that to them. I know that there have been some incredible games here, and the fans have gone above and beyond the call of duty -- I hope that we can reward them.

As far as fans in other cities... Well, it's one thing in other sports where teams move because the owner wants to make more money in a different city, even though there already is a fan base. It's another thing when you have cities where people just don't care. I would like to think that it's a privilege to have an MLS team in your city, and you don't want to waste that, because there's many, many cities around the U.S. that would love to have an MLS team, and a lot of cities that were passed up that would support their team and come out to the games. So, that's something to think about.

Darrell Clay

New Orleans

How would you compare the referees in Serie A to those in MLS to those in the World Cup?

AL: I think, unfortunately, the referee situation is something that goes along with those growing pains. As much as the teams are growing together and learning together and gaining that experience that you need and becoming better with each game, the referees are doing the same thing. Unfortunately, they're making crucial decisions while they learn. I think if you ask them, they'll say that they've made mistakes, just like anybody else. I think, from the players standpoint, at least you have other experienced people on the team, along with the others who might be learning. With the referees, the majority of them are very inexperienced, through no fault of their own --
that's just the way it is. I think that, as MLS improves each year, you'll see the refereeing do the same thing -- it should and it has to.

PB: How about the refs in the Serie A and the World Cup?

AL: Well, everyone's going to complain about the referee -- he always makes a mistake for somebody. I think a lot of the referees in Italy, in the World Cup, have grown up watching the game, being a part of the game at a high level -- either from playing or being in an environment where it's played at a high level. They understand what to look for and how plays develop. They see plays happening early.

Mark Arnold

Viborg, Denmark

Do you at all regret leaving your Italian club for MLS? It seems you could have continued at Padova or gone to another country like Germany or England.

AL: I don't regret for one minute leaving Italy. At times I miss it, and I had a wonderful, wonderful time there -- it will always be a very important part of my life, both on and off the field. For me, I think it's great that those of us playing in MLS are working for something that's going to be pretty special. I think that's important, and that was one of the things that excited me about coming back to MLS. And it still excites me. I'm not ruling out doing anything in the future. It might be that I want to go back and play somewhere in Europe, if I can find a place in the future, but right now I'm very, very happy being here and being a part of this.

Mike Scefter

Yakima, Wash.

Besides Baggio and Weah, who were some of the top players in the Serie A?

AL: Gosh, Signori, Ravanelli, defensively Paolo Maldini, of course, and Baresi. I think all great players, and this was definitely true of my time in Italy, you just marvel at their simplicity, and how they do things so efficiently. You might know exactly what is going to happen, but they do it so quickly and so efficiently that it's impossible to stop. I think that's pretty incredible.

The other thing, which you realize very early on, is that they make mistakes just like everybody else. A lot of their mistakes you never see on the highlight tape, but it's good to know. When you watch, you know, "The Greatest Goals" or whatever, you tend to think that that's what happens every single time, and it's not. Baggio wanks a pass just like anybody else, and it's important to see that. I mean, he's still one of the best players in the world. All these players are incredibly gifted and talented, but they're human, and I think that that's an important thing to see.

Jerome Berglund

Marshall, Texas

What were a few things you learned about soccer while you were in Italy that you might not have learned if you had stayed in the US?

AL: Well, I learned how to be a professional soccer player, how to be involved in an environment that really is unlike anything that I could imagine in terms of what soccer means to a country, to Italy, and to the people there. I learned that being a professional is not just the 90 minutes that you play in a game, it's living your life under a microscope -- from the time that you get out of bed until the time you go to bed.

PB: I'll bet that's probably served you well here in the U.S.

AL: I think so. I think it helps out and makes you understand some things.

Mishima Alam

Athens, Ohio

How was your experience playing in the Olympics in the United States? Were the fans as supportive as can be expected on home ground, or were you disappointed?

AL: The fans were great in the Olympics. For me, I was very proud of being a part of two record-breaking crowds -- the crowd for our opening game in Birmingham against Argentina was the most ever for an event in that stadium. And then going to RFK and selling that out. Even though we tied Portugal in that last game, the energy in RFK that night was something that I'll never forget.

Ryan Cameron

Pocatello, Idaho

The lack of NBC's coverage of Olympic soccer (especially the USA men against Portugal and the USA women) was extremely disappointing. Does this lack of television coverage anger the players, too?

AL: Sure. I know all the players and people who wanted to see soccer were angered, and rightfully so. It's obviously very difficult to show everything because there's just so many sports -- they might have done better to have that red, white, and blue channel thing going on. Then at least you could have seen the sports that you wanted to. It's a shame, because I think that soccer warranted coverage as a newsworthy or noteworthy event -- from the crowds, to the U.S. women's team, to the fact that the men's team was having record crowds -- as opposed to some other sports. But, you know, you're dealing with a lot of people that maybe didn't understand what they had on their hands, or didn't want to understand, or understood and just didn't want to put it on. I think people have definitely made their views felt since then, and I think NBC missed out on a pretty amazing opportunity. If you read some of the reports from people who were at the women's final, they talk about how much that game was what the Olympics are all about.

Paul Jacobs

Greensboro, N.C.

Are you and your National team players concerned about the strength of competition of our World Cup Qualifying group? Costa Rica and T&T are solid teams with plenty of skill and speed. I'm already nervous thinking about the matchups!

AL: We're not nervous -- I think we're ready, and we're seriously looking at the fact that it IS a difficult group that we have. In fact, the whole region has gotten better -- it's no longer just a couple of teams that will skate through. A qualifying process is always hard, because you never know what's going to happen with the teams that you're playing, and the places that you're playing, and the situations that you're being put in. For us, it's important first off to get the right mentality going into these games, because there's so much stuff off the field that you have to deal with. You're right, it's a very difficult group, but we've played against the best teams in the world. We're also in a unique situation in that we're no longer going in as the underdog, and it's important for us to make that transition into being a favorite.

Robbie Borgeson

San Antonio, Texas

I am 16 years old and I have been playing soccer for ten years. I know that weight training and running is a big part of becoming a successful star (like you). Do you have any regular work out routines or drills that you do that you think has helped you a lot.

AL: Well, first off, I've never weight-trained a day in my life. Actually, I can't say that, because at Rutgers I weight-trained for a day. I really don't think that weight training is essential to the development of a soccer player. I think that, when used correctly, it can be beneficial, but you're time with the ball far outweighs any sort of weight training.

PB: So you'd recommend a lot of skill-honing drills, like dribbling and juggling?

AL: Play, play, play -- that's what you've gotta do.

K.B. Fu

Durham, N.C.

I have been practicing as often as possible recently, and I've improved my individual skills a lot. However, I find it much more difficult to improve my decision making skills. What suggestions do you have for players and coaches?

AL: That's just developing your quickness of thinking, and knowing what you're going to do before the actual play develops. I think that comes with playing games where you limit the number of touches. Whether it's one or two touches, you have to have your mind made up about what you're going to do when the ball gets to you. That's what it is at the next level -- understanding and being efficient like that.

Al Iannacone

New Providence, N.J.

At Rutgers you played your home games on artificial turf. Fortunately, Rutgers now has a grass field for its soccer and lacrosse teams. How much does playing on artificial turf change the way you and your team execute a game plan?

AL: From a defensive standpoint, I don't mind artificial turf because you always have a true bounce. The trick to being a good defender is anticipating what's going to happen, and that means anticipating absolutely crazy stuff. On the other side, forwards anticipate that mistake, that jump in the ground where the ball hits a divot. With artificial turf you don't have those little quirks in the game, but I think that turf takes the game and makes it a whole lot blander. You don't have the unexpected things that I think make sports, and especially soccer, exciting.

PB: Plus, you can get a mean turf burn on a slide tackle.

AL: Yep, you can get wonderful raspberries.

Christina and Kim

Santa Maria, Calif.

How are professional defenders able to position themselves so far up the field so as to score a goal? Are the overlaps so well executed that other players, such as the midfielders, cover the defensive position? What conditions determine your decision to put yourself in a scoring position?

AL: You got it. Any time that a player from the back comes up, on good teams, there's always cover for that player -- someone filling in until he gets back. As far as the decision on when to go up, that's a matter of reading the game and feeling the rhythm of the game. It's like coming in the back door a lot of times when a defender comes up within the run of the play. All the focus and attention is with the ball or maybe on another part of the field, and when you come up, and opposing team has to adjust and mark a player that normally they don't have to deal with.

PB: That was happening a lot out here when you guys played against San Jose.

AL: Yeah, (Troy) Dayak and (John) Doyle were going great -- too great.

Michael Frick

Erie, Pa.

I bought your Woodlands CD for my soccer playing daughter, who, as I did, loved it (Unfortunately, on a skiing trip for school somebody stole it and her CD player). What are your future plans for your music career?

AL: Ouch! Well, I have a new CD that's done. It's "in the can" as they say. I'm hoping to get a good distribution deal so we don't have to go through the same 800 number, independent sort of stuff. Hopefully the CD will actually be in stores and you can just walk down to your store and get it.

PB: Are we looking at a potential major label deal here?

AL: I don't know about major label, but at least, distribution that will get it in the stores. It's strange because the CD is actually done, it's not like we need to record it. It's just a matter of getting the distribution, which I hope will be done as soon as possible.

PB: Why don't you give out the 800 number again, while were at it?

AL: 800-707-1777.

PB: Is the Italian CD available through that too?

AL: Nope, the Italian one is the one that's actually done. That's the one were trying to get out here.

Laurie Wade

Anchorage, Alaska

Have you ever considered coming to Alaska and putting on a clinic?

AL: Actually, I think that there's a lot of places in America that we haven't visited, whether it's with the national team or with MLS, and I think it's important that we start going into those places. Not to introduce the game, because I think a lot of places have the game and are playing good, quality soccer, but they just haven't been fortunate enough to schedule a game or a friendly or an international. I think in the future you'll definitely see soccer players and teams coming to places like Alaska and other places that haven't had soccer.

PB: One other thing I wanted to ask -- have Cherry Slurpees picked you up as a spokesman yet?

AL: Yes! I signed a deal with 7-11 slurpees a couple of weeks ago, and fulfilled a lifelong dream. It's my honor and pleasure to be representing such a wonderful frozen beverage.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in to Alexi. We received numerous questions, so if you're didn't appear, feel free to try again with our next star -- U.S. Women's national team captain and Olympic gold medalist Carla Overbeck. To send her a question, simply go to the Ask A Star section of the Interactive area of SA Online.

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