Saturday, January 6, 2007
ESPNsoccernet: January 8, 9:53 PM UK
Lalas: I tell my players, 'Don't bore me'
2006 was a trying year for the man who was and arguably may still be the face of United States soccer. Alexi Lalas is looking to take the edgy style that made him the first (and only) American to play in the Italian Serie A to success as a general manager in MLS.
After leaving the New York Red Bull franchise last April, Lalas took a position with the L.A. Galaxy. His move to Los Angeles was supposed to be a dream fit, but things didn't quite work out as planned as the Galaxy missed out on the playoffs and failed to defend the MLS Cup title. Lalas sat down with ESPNsoccernet to discuss the 2006 season. ESPNsoccernet: Alexi, it was a whirlwind of a season for you. From New Jersey and the sale of the team to Red Bull, to Los Angeles. What was 2006 really like for you? AL: It was a crazy year, and one that nobody could have scripted. There's probably a book to be written, maybe even a movie. I wonder who would play Mo [Johnston]? ESPNsoccernet: Personally, I think William Macy would be a wonderful Mo. Just a thought. Anyway, it appeared that when you were on the East Coast with Red Bull that there was some conflict with the team and the new ownership. AL: The Red Bull transition was quite a surreal experience. I learned a lot from the whole thing. I was excited about the direction that we were heading and it's too bad we didn't get to see it through. They did well in the end, but I like to think we might have done even better. ESPNsoccernet: You also had some interesting comments about Giorgio Chinaglia, where you stated he can kiss a certain part of your anatomy. AL: It's pretty simple. For some reason Giorgio felt the need to shoot his mouth off about the MetroStars, and I responded accordingly. Just because you were a big shot at Studio 54 doesn't mean you have a clue about what's going on in 2006. I actually had a good time working with Giorgio this summer at ESPN and I wish him well with his new radio show. At the very least, he's someone who understands that we're in the entertainment business. He gets it. ESPNsoccernet: Looking back at how the season unfolded in the Meadowlands, do you think the moves made in the offseason were justified? Any mulligans? AL: I think every GM in the league would take a few mulligans if they could. But we can't. Now, it wouldn't be right for me to single out any players, especially any opposing players. What the MetroStars/Red Bull went through in 2006, on and off the field, can never fully be appreciated. I certainly made some mistakes when I was there, but without having the opportunity to see it through, it's difficult to say what should have been done differently. ESPNsoccernet: Now you're with Los Angeles, one of the glamor teams of MLS. You can't consider it to have been a successful 2006 for the Galaxy, who missed the playoffs for the first time in their existence. AL: As Freddie Mercury said, "Into every life a little rain must fall." Longfellow said pretty much the same thing. But you probably knew that already. Anyway, if it's true, then the Galaxy had an incredible run of beautiful weather during their first decade. Unfortunately, in 2006, it poured. But I think the experience refocused our entire organization, and I'm confident that we'll be back up where we belong in 2007. ESPNsoccernet: With both the MetroStars and the Galaxy, you termed the team as "Superclub" in the making. Some would say that this is a redundancy of speech and that you're spewing the party line. Fair criticism? AL: Look, once and for all, let me explain what I mean by a "Superclub": Real Madrid is a "Superclub." Man U is a "Superclub." The Yankees, the Cowboys, the Lakers -- these are "Superclubs." They are teams that dominate their leagues and actually transcend the sport they play. With the MetroStars and now with the Galaxy, I have always wanted my club to be at that level. Who wouldn't want that? What's the point if you don't want to set yourself apart? In order to do that, you have to raise everyone's expectations, set a course and highlight a destination. Creating the first MLS "Superclub" is something I think about every day. I know it doesn't happen overnight, but it's going to happen eventually. And if nothing else, at least we all have a word for the concept now. Watch, the Lakers will probably steal it. ESPNsoccernet: Some would go so far, Alexi, as to say that you're more concerned with self-promotion than promoting the club or the league. AL: That might be a fair criticism, but part of my job is bringing as much attention to the team as possible, and I'm going to use every asset I have. Unlike other GMs, I'm in the unique position of being able to generate interest because of my playing background. If that's what it takes to get more butts in seats, then I'm gonna do it. ESPNsoccernet: Shifting gears, there were some interesting personnel moves in Los Angeles this offseason, from dealing Todd Dunivant to bringing in players such as Kyle Martino and Santino Quaranta. What conspired for each one of those moves to happen? AL: Obviously, we wanted to get better. That's why any deal happens. Santino wanted to come to L.A., and I think he'll benefit from a full season under [coach] Frank Yallop and hopefully live up to his potential. Same goes for Kyle. Todd is one of the best left backs in the league, but we just felt that Ante Jazic has the potential to be even better. ESPNsoccernet: You also brought a coach into the picture you enjoyed a lot of success with in San Jose in Frank Yallop, and someone who was rumored to join you in New Jersey. What in particular do you see in Yallop that made him the right choice for this position? AL: He's a winner. Period. He proved that in San Jose. I also like the fact that he played and coached in MLS, so he understands exactly what it takes to succeed in this league, on and off the field, because MLS is completely different from any other league. He doesn't have all the answers, but he's got a lot more than most. ESPNsoccernet: You made a stir in 2005 when you made Bob Bradley wear a suit on the sidelines, but no suit was required for Steve Sampson or Frank Yallop in Los Angeles. Why the change of heart, Alexi? AL: Unfortunately, the suit thing took on a life of its own. I simply believe that a coach's work is done during the week, and come game time there should be a clear visual distinction between him and the players. I thought about instituting it with Frank, but it wasn't what the moment called for. Every situation is different, and if you always apply the same formula, you can run into problems. ESPNsoccernet: Looking at your biggest rival, Chivas USA, make the playoffs -- and be quite successful against the Galaxy [in the regular season] -- had to be difficult. Personally, what does the impact of Chivas' success have on the Galaxy and what are your thoughts on their team and the job Bob Bradley did with the club? AL: Bob did a great job with Chivas USA. They were crap the first year, and the fact that Chivas USA is now competitive is good for the Galaxy. A rivalry doesn't work when one team always wins. Saying that, we're going to kick their [behinds] next year. ESPNsoccernet: You were the first one to admit that the Galaxy needs some tinkering and tweaking. Now, with the new rule dynamics [for contracts] announced at the MLS Cup, you have a real opportunity to bring some glitz and glamor to the club. Alexi, has the team been actively pursuing Beckham? AL: I can't comment on specific players, but I will say this: You can't build a Superclub without a little glitz and glamor. ESPNsoccernet: Houston, the transplant of the club you once directed, just won a MLS Cup. Was it bittersweet watching that triumph? And what does the Dynamo's success, a team that you oversaw the foundation of, say about your ability to be a GM in this league? AL: I couldn't be happier for Dominic [Kinnear] and the guys in Houston. I really had very little to do with it. ESPNsoccernet: If you were a betting man, what marquee talent would you wage on seeing in MLS next season? What clubs will take advantage of this new rule and how many will seek to unload this option? AL: I think you'll be surprised by the number of teams that will look to use the new mechanism. More than one will probably concentrate their efforts on a high-profile Mexican player. Maybe a Brazilian or two. I think Red Bull and the Galaxy will push the envelope in Europe and do some things that the entire league will benefit from. Should be an interesting offseason. ESPNsoccernet: What would a Beckham player in the Galaxy colors mean to the club on and off the field? AL: For the league, in general, signing the right world-renowned players will help with our credibility and hopefully spark an influx of talent. The fact is, in recent years, MLS has not acquired the type of quality international players that helped establish the league in the early days. Now we have a way to do that again. And once players realize that MLS is a legitimate option, without all the tabloid BS, I think they'll be clamoring to come over. ESPNsoccernet: Whoa. "The right world-renowned players"? Alexi, Beckham is a right-sided player, any thoughts? AL: Yes, lots of thoughts... ESPNsoccernet: There is already one star on the Galaxy roster, Landon Donovan. Has Donovan received a bad rap? Is MLS truly the right spot for him and can he grow into his full potential here in the league? AL: Critics sometimes have a very narrow view of things. Landon takes a lot of crap for a decision that involved a number of factors, many of which were personal. But essentially what he's saying by playing in L.A. is that MLS is a quality league, and what's more, he can develop as well here as anywhere in the world. Time will bear that out, I think. If you look at last summer's World Cup, you can see that overseas experience doesn't necessarily produce a better player. Clint Dempsey and Jimmy Conrad were the only players who showed up. ESPNsoccernet: What needs are the Galaxy looking to address this offseason? We need a few more hard-nosed players on the field, guys who will kick and claw and fight for the logo on the front of the jersey. You'd be surprised at the beauty that can be created with a little toughness. ESPNsoccernet: Alexi, you may not know this, but MetroFanatic -- a site dedicated to all things Red Bull/MetroStars -- selected you as bum of the year based on your tenure with the team as general manager. How warranted is this selection? AL: It's amazing just how eager folks are to let you know when someone has ripped you a new one. I was indeed informed of the honor bestowed upon me. I just hope they spelled my name right. ESPNsoccernet: You're a lightning rod for criticism. Why is that Alexi? AL: Who knows. Its cliché, but I think a lot of us like watching high-profile people fail. There's a German word for it, but I can't spell it. You know, I took shots as a player and I'm taking them now. It goes with the territory, and I rarely take anything too personally. I learned pretty early that it's impossible to have everyone on your side, so go ahead, let the lightning bolts fly. ESPNsoccernet: You were always known as a showman, on and off the field. Who in MLS right now brings that type of excitement to the league? Is MLS lacking in that department? AL: Hell yeah, it's lacking. For the most part, we've created a generation of players who are unwilling or unable to show any personality. At times it's mind-numbing. Somebody do something. Grow some Valderrama hair! Date a supermodel! Clint Dempsey isn't everyone's poster boy just 'cause he scored in the World Cup. He made a rap video and plays with that attitude he's got. It's great. Like it or not, controversy, rumor and speculation are good for the game, and we don't have enough of it. So, like I tell my players: Don't bore me. Have an opinion. Make me and everyone else interested in who you are as a player and person. Make an impression. ESPNsoccernet: Your face had quite a reaction when you took a swig of Red Bull on the date announcing the team's sale. Not a fan? AL: Hey, hat's off to Red Bull. What they've done with their product, it's pretty incredible. Maybe I'm old-school, but I just prefer my stimulants to come in a longneck bottle. ESPNsoccernet: "Parity is a stupid concept. I really believe that. Two or three dominant teams in this league will be good for the league. I think everyone likes chasing Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, those types of teams. I think it's great." The source of the quote? Bruce Arena. Call me crazy, Alexi, but this sounds suspiciously like a "Superclub" concept. AL: Ironic, isn't it? Same message, different messenger. I don't know. Maybe I was just ahead of my time, and Bruce is finally catching on. ESPNsoccernet: You've been rumored to be an insider for the position of commissioner of MLS if Don Garber ever leaves the post. Give us Alexi Lalas' plan for success. AL: Commissioner? Man, I'm still trying to figure out the GM thing. Besides, Don's done a great job taking MLS to the next level; I'd stick with his plan. ESPNsoccernet: Finally Alexi, make a prediction for the next coach of the national team or whether Bradley gets the job permanently. AL: I think it'll be a man. Although personally I would go in a different direction. Kristian R. Dyer covers U.S. Soccer and MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He appears regularly in the New York City newspaper Metro. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com.