SOCCER AMERICA: In the wake of the USA failing to qualify for the World Cup, can tell you us something that should make us feel optimistic about the future of American soccer?
ALEXI LALAS: I know there are those who want to burn down “the system” and I can understand that reaction. But there are generations of men and women who work their ass off to coach, scout, ref, organize and support soccer for little to no money, praise or recognition.
The U.S. system is far from perfect and maybe some of it should be torn down, but 20-30 years later it’s night and day better. No one should ever want to start from scratch and go back to the wasteland it was. But American soccer really isn’t about a system, tournament, league, business, association or club. It’s about people.
The American soccer community is unique and was born fighting for every ounce of respect and attention. The American soccer community is knowledgeable, discerning, passionate and committed. The American soccer community built us and will fix us.
If you had a magic wand to improve American soccer, how would you use it?
I suppose I’d create a landscape devoid of traditional American sports and see what soccer could be in that environment. Or I’d simply wave the wand and remove the seemingly engrained inferiority complex and insecurity that American soccer often has about itself.
What do you think the interest in the 2018 World Cup will be like in the USA despite the USA not qualifying?
I think the U.S., maybe more so than any country, is set up to care about a men’s World Cup without the home team. The diversity and multi-cultural aspect of our country means there are lots of folks who will be tuning to watch their teams, or even their adopted teams. We’ve always said that there are plenty of soccer fans in the U.S., but not necessarily enough fans of U.S. soccer. I also think the U.S. audience understands and respects that the World Cup is a huge party and will want to check it out. I think many will be pleasantly surprised by the interest.
If you could make a rule change in soccer, would you make one and what would it be?
I’d make the handling law much simpler and clearer. If it hits your arm or hand, then it’s a foul. No more talk of deliberate, hand-to-ball/ball-to-hand, natural vs. unnatural position or intent. If that means players must, at times, play with their arms behind their back (which many already do anyway), then so be it. If a player is good enough to intentionally hit the ball off an opponent’s arm/hand, then so be it.
Do your children play soccer? If so, what you think of the youth soccer scene? Is it a lot different than you were a kid playing soccer? Do you give advice?
I have two kids. The youth soccer scene is so much better than when I was growing up. The coaching, facilities and organization have improved dramatically. I don’t say a word when watching my kids.
I’m glad they are active and enjoy sports, but I take much more pride when they read a book than when they score a goal. I’ve never pressured them to play and I don’t care if they like soccer. I believe that the things you love will find you. The only youth soccer advice I ever give is this: If you’re the best player on your team, then find a better team.
Rob Stone and Alexi Lalas
What’s most enjoyable and most difficult about TV analyst work?
I’ve always loved to perform. I’ve always considered myself a performer and an entertainer, on the field or on TV. But that doesn’t mean my performance isn’t authentic, genuine and honest. What you see on TV is only the tip of the iceberg. The work that is done before in order to give context and depth to a performance is essential, but goes unseen.
The most difficult part of TV is the lack of time. You have to be able to edit yourself beforehand and in real-time. You have to be able to give a concise take that is both entertaining and informative, sometimes in 10-15 seconds.
I have the greatest job in the world and I love it. I’m often asked would I be interested in coaching or going back to front office work? Truth is, I don’t want to do anything else. I come across so many people in my business who are just passing through. They are using TV as a weigh-station until something better comes along. You can get away with that for a while but I believe that eventually it will manifest itself in your performance and you will be cheating yourself and the viewer.
I’m a junkie for TV and I want to be around others that are equally as committed and invested.
Have you ever had an embarrassing moment or blooper during TV work?
I’ve messed up every way there is to mess up. Still do. Wrong name, wrong team, wrong word, wrong camera. Like anything, you get better with time. I see our performance as a conversation that the viewer is listening in on. They aren’t eavesdropping but they’re not directly participating. They need to be acknowledged at different times. Mistakes are always going to happen. But I’ve found that a show is never as bad (or good) as you think it is.
In the USA’s famous 2-1 win over Colombia at the 1994 World Cup, you scored a goal that was wrongly nullified by a bad offside call. After the game you said, “Twenty years from now, I’ll roll the tape for my kids and stop it just before the call. I’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah. I scored in that famous ’94 game. They’ll never know.” It’s been more than 20 years and you’re a father. Did you show your kids how you scored at a World Cup?
Ha! Actually my kids know very little of the person and player that I was. They have seen some pictures and simply roll their eyes at the way I looked. My past has done very little to make me any cooler in their eyes. Maybe someday I’ll show them that “goal”… but I still doubt it will make me cool.
What’s the favorite goal you scored for the USA that did count?
In 1993, I scored vs. England. It was huge because of the opponent and it was the start of much more playing time. It kind of put me on the map. [Coach] Bora [Milutinovic] was so happy for me and recognized the significance more than I did. I became a regular starter after that and I never looked back.
You played on the U.S. national team that reached the second round of the 1994 World Cup and finished fourth at the 1995 Copa America. How would you compare the talent on that team to recent national teams?
I think we were less talented but I think we had more character, personality and leadership. I know that’s a grumpy old guy answer. Get off my lawn … again.
Your last album (“Shots!”) came out in 2016. How often do you perform live?
It’s rare nowadays, but I’d like to do some more when the new album comes out next year (2018).
If someone wanted to familiarize themselves with your music, which three songs which would you recommend they start with?
1. Seems So Long Ago
2. American Outlaw
3. Dancing To A Whisper
Before the 1994 World Cup, you and your band The Gypsies released the album, “Woodland.” You said at the time, “Even if no one buys it, I’m real proud of it.” How did it sell?
I think it went tin. I want to thank all three people who bought it … including my Mom.
What musicians or bands have influenced most, would you say?
Bands like ABBA, Beatles, Zeppelin, Ratt, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, AC/DC, Kiss, GnR, Duran Duran, Air Supply, Bowie, ‘Til Tuesday, The Psychedelic Furs, Rick Springfield, Hall & Oates, Loverboy, Foreigner, Eddie Money, Bryan Adams, Pat Benatar, John Mellencamp, Black Crowes, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Billy Joel, The Lemonheads, Crowded House, Jellyfish, Robbie Williams … and a hundred more.
“The Miracle of Castel di Sangro” by Joe McGinniss and “Chapel of the Ravens” by Paul Bishop.
Favorite soccer movies?
“Victory.” There is only one.
World Cup Memories
Mexico 1986 -- First World Cup I ever watched. I was 16 and staying at a Holiday Inn in Colorado Springs for the Pikes Peak Invitational tournament. I remember watching Maradona’s “Hand of God” and “slalom” goals vs. England. I was fascinated by the strange but ubiquitous shadow that cast over the field at Azteca Stadium. Never thought I’d play there one day.
Italy 1990 -- I traveled to Italy with my high-school buddies. We saw the U.S. play Austria. We painted out faces, drank a lot of beer and had a blast. I had no clue I would be on the field four years later.
USA 1994 -- It changed my life forever. I lived the power of what a World Cup can do to an individual. It gave me opportunities, on and off the field, that I never would have had. I milked it for all it was worth, burned it at both ends and had the time of my life.
France 1998 -- It was a disaster and wasted opportunity. I regret few things in my life, but I regret the way I behaved in 1998. I hurt the sport I love.
Japan/South Korea 2002 -- I was playing for the Galaxy at the time and I remember getting up at night and watching. It was surreal because of the time and distance … but it was magical.
Germany 2006 -- I was the president of the Galaxy at the time. I remember when Jan Koller scored for Czech Republic in the 5th minute … I think we all knew the World Cup wasn’t going to end well.
South Africa 2010 -- South Africa was lots of fun and lots of work. I remember sitting every night at the bar with Bob Ley after our work day drinking red wine and eating a Greek salad. I love Bob Ley.
Brazil 2014 -- I’ll never forget our studio on Copacabana Beach after Brazil lost 1-7 to Germany in the semifinal. It was complete and utter shock and silence from the Brazilians working with us. There wasn’t even sadness, there was simply disbelief.
Lexi, Nobody wants to burn down the system of developing players for the USMNT. How about we agree that the system is badly in need of repair?
Read that rant, hoping to learn HOW and WHERE it needs to be improved and by WHOM, left dissappointed.
The hardest part of the handball rule is knowing the definition of INTENTIONAL, applying it consistently and forgetting the other irrelevant factors.
Alexis, you were a real good player, I’ve seen you played and now listen to your commentaries, also great. I believed you played at one time for Emelec in Ecuador.
In the NASL I was players director of the Miami Toros and recruited some excellent talent, then in the 90’s I owned the Miami Freedom, so I have experienced in the American soccer scene, therefore I can say that when you and Marcelo played along with Winalda it was a pleasure to see you guys. Thanks
Amen. I'd be a bit more blunt--there are far too many soccer fans in the US who take great pride in trashing the American game, at all levels, at every opportunity; as if the rest of us are too daft that the game is better in Europe. Who act as though trying to improve the game domestically, or even bothering to care about it, is casting pearls before swine. A few such trolls seem to hang out here, but not many, fortunately.
Yes, a lot of those people comment on this site reguarly.
There are a raft of people across the country that are easily butthurt over any criticism of US Soccer, and like to characterize those critics are "eurosnobs". I think that's a simplistic and reactionary response that should have run its course by now, but apparently not. You're still easily offended. The painful truth of the matter is that kickball coaches live at the rec level as well as the professional and U team levels, and they have ruined, and continue to ruin the game in this country. Here is an example: There is "this guy", a nice family guy who wanted to coach soccer but was only a fan. He was allowed to take over coaching of U8s, and slowly got a couple badges. He was a terrible coach the first 5 years, screamed at kids, played kickball--clueless. He's at a point now where he's not too bad, doesn't scream like he used to, plays out of the back half the time--but he has burned out every keeper and defender (other than relatives) for the first 5 years he coached. He points out all the kids that have stayed, without counting all the defenders that have left because they got tired of running backwards and never getting a touch on the ball. This isn't rocket science but it just happens over and over and over. And when I still see this at middleschool, highschool, college, MLS, I will criticize that all day, every day, because as long as kickball coaches and that archaic playing strategy remain, we are losing the battle for a high-level style of soccer in this country. (Obviously, as a tactic the long ball is a necessary tool that should be mastered. But if we can't score goals on the ground we will continue to be second rate).
Rest assured, I wasn't referring to you. I'm not offended by criticism of US soccer in the slightest, even harsh criticism, so long as there is a modicum of a desire to see things improved. I'm referring instead to those who would write the project off as a lost cause, and have nothing constructive more to say than "it all sucks; I'd rather watch a German third-division game than the MLS Cup".
And yes, we have a lot of really bad coaches. Not just dads, either--I've seen some pretty bad club coaches as well, at more than one club. (I've also seen some amateur rec coaches who are excellent).
One interesting thing, though. Lots of people in the coaching community, and on the sidelines, like to badmouth "bootball". It's become a bit of an insult, one that is often thrown around without any actual analysis. But many of the same parents that sling this term, also get pissed at the coach when their kid's team does play out of the back, loses the ball in the defensive third, and gets scored on (or at least gives up a good shot, even if the keeper makes the save).
And of course, the longball is routinely part of the professional game. When pros play it long, it's far less of a crapshoot than when a U14 goalie punts it (those are almost always 50-50 balls), but hoofing the ball occurs at all levels of soccer.
A related issue, of course, is kids who try and dribble the ball through traffic. In general, this is a bad tactic--if a ballhandler is marked by more than one player, that means someone is open somewhere, and it's a great way to lose the ball--but it's an important skill to master, and one the US is woefully deficient at. Yet coaches--even ones who are development-focused--will routinely bench kids who dribble excessively, especially if not in the attacking third; and such kids are often labelled as "ballhogs" by parents and teammates. This is one reason why "streetball" is important--less of a focus on team tactics and more on individual skill.
I've been around my share of bad coaches but don't you think there are obnoxious, clueless coaches in every country?
And plenty of obnoxious and clueless baseball, football, and basketball coaches here in the US.
We need to worry about the median coach, not about the outliers.
Is it just me or is Lalas getting smarter? Refreshingly positive.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves--he's still the ginger ninja/headless chicken, but reads as more intelligent from prudent editing and old age.
R2,I forget to inform you earlier but in Holland to obtain a coaching license to be able to coach professional players costs 21000 euros or about $22000. Of course it doesn't guarantee to be able to coach or think like a Johan Cruyff or Pepe Guardiola. I remember to get just a A-license which includes to other licenses...over $20,000...that was a few years ago and again no guarantee that you will be able to read the game like a Cruyff or Guadiola, LOL
Wasn't impressed with the interview and I would have also asked a lot better questions. Even so I expected a lot more insight from Lalas considering his background and experience..maybe it will be heard on his latest CD if you play it backwards.
You are the example of the person discussed in the above comment - someone who just wants to trash anything related to US soccer. Now, even an interview of a former USMNT is bad. Give me a break.
Wasn't referring to Frank, either.
As a player, Lalas was fun to watch--if nothing else, he had some of the best hair in soccer back in '94. Some of his comments as an analyst have been off the mark, especially his "in my day" act. (Even though the US advanced to the round of 16 and gave Brazil a good scare, that was NOT a golden age for US soccer). His criticism of "wonder boy" was more than a bit out of line; Pulisic is already better at 19 than any of the '94 squad ever was.
In this interview, at least, it seems the chip has come off the shoulder somewhat. Perhaps he should have been more harsh in his assessment--he did seem to pull punches that in the past he has been willing to land--but I think most people in US soccer know things need fixing, even if there is disagreement as to what should be done and who should be charged with doing it.
The sad part is that changing anything seems to run counter to US Soccer, in principle, as well as the general fan. All seem uninterested in making a change. Rehiring Bruce Arena and changing back to boot and hope soccer should be proof of that. Perhaps Klinsmann rubbed the discerning US Soccer fan wrongly. However in many of his proposals and suggestions and even his tactics were on point. I am one of those fans who learned soccer in my country of birth and has watched soccer develop in this country since the the 1950s. It truly was a wasteland. I had hoped that when finally MLS became a reality after the failed NASL experiment we would see some soccer. Unfortunately, the only soccer that has developed is a modified form of Ho-ruck Holzhacker Fussball developed and was merged into US National Team Soccer. That is where the Nats. proved their ineptitude. Even the training here is deficient in that vision, movement and even some basics are not taught or practiced. In any case, while Mr. Lalas certainly has my respect I sense he is buttering his bread so as to benefit his future opportunities. Best of luck to all.
I don't think I ever saw any US coach play a more negative style than Klinsmann.
Joe, hiring a different individual as coach is simply hiring a different coach. It is not changing the organization or the soccer. It is not progress.
Klinsmann was hired to improve soccer; Arena was hired to right a capsized boat, not change soccer.
My view of US Soccer is that they make no progress on the technical side because they make grand plans for change but fail to manage the change. Instead of correcting the execution, they make a new plan.
The DA program is one area where there has been followthrough. I don't care for certain aspects of the DA program, but is a management success. I think one reason that it has been successfully implement is because it doesn't really change soccer. It merely started a USSF league in direct competition with the existing leagues and USSF member youth organizations.
Ironically the DA programs claims to be the best league because it poached clubs from its competitors. That too is not a change. The typical "top" club recruits its players rather than develops them. So DA is more a reflection of us club soccer culture rather than a change.