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Lalas, Alexi

Alexi Lalas

1970-

American soccer player

One of the most recognized American soccer players because of his red hair and trademark goatee, Alexi Lalas contributed to the popularity of the sport in the United States in the 1990s. A defender, Lalas played on the U.S. national team, and professionally for MLS (Major League Soccer) and in Europe for Italy's Serie A, one of

the best leagues in the world. He was also a singer and guitar player who recorded and performed with bands.

Lalas was born on June 1, 1970, in Birmingham, Michigan, the son of Dimitrious Lalas and his wife Anne Woodworth. His father was a professor who later became the director of Greece's national observatory, while his mother was a writer and poet. Lalas did not begin to play soccer until he was 10 or 11 years old, but by his senior year of high school at Cranbrook Kingswood, he was Michigan's prep soccer player of the year. Soccer was not his only sport. Lalas was also a star hockey player, and his team won the state's high school hockey championship.

Plays College Soccer

When Lalas entered Rutgers in 1988, he joined the soccer team playing sweeper after a try-out. He grew tremendously as a player. Lalas was named captain in 1989, and by 1991 was selected as the national player of the year. Rutgers went to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 1989 and the finals in 1990. Coach Bob Reasso told Alex Yannis of the New York Times, "He's the most dominant player we've had at Rutgers on and off the field. His intensity, his fire and passion for the game is like no one I've ever seen."

Lalas left Rutgers before completing his degree in English, having already been selected to play for the United States in international competition several times. In 1989, he was captain of the West Team that won the gold medal at the U.S. Olympic Festival. In 1990, he played for the U.S. national team several times, but not in World Cup competition. Two years later, he was a member of the U.S. Olympic soccer team that did not make it past the first round.

High Profile Player at World Cup

Lalas garnered the national spotlight when he was a key member of the 1994 U.S. national team that played at the World Cup competition held in the United States. A defender, Lalas played every minute of every game. Both his play and appearance drew attention. Not a finesse player, Lalas played his role as defender with determination, heart, and hard work. Sometimes opponents accused him of playing too much like a hockey player with his propensity for checking.

Played in Italy

After the World Cup, Lalas was offered a contract with Padua, a Serie A team in Italy, as well as with teams in England and Germany. He took the Padua contract, becoming the first American to play in this league, often considered the best in the world. For both the team and Lalas, this was a gamble because Lalas had never played professionally. He played well, becoming a star on the team. Lalas scored three goals on the season, and played with Padua through 1995.

Chronology

1970 Born on June 1, in Birmingham, Michigan
1988-91 Attends Rutgers University
1990 Makes several appearances with U.S. national team
1991 Joins U.S. National Team
1992 Plays for the United States at the Summer Olympics
1994 Plays for the United States at World Cup, playing every minute of every game
1994-95 Plays with Padua in Serie A (Italy)
1996 Plays for the United States at the Summer Olympics
1996-97 Plays for the New England Revolution (MLS)
1997 Plays for club in Ecuador in MLS off-season
1998 Plays for New York/New Jersey Metro Stars; records Ginger which was released on CMC Intl.; reserve for U.S. in World Cup competition
1999 Plays for the Kansas City Wizards (MLS); retires from professional soccer; begins broadcasting career
2000 Commentator for MLS season, Nickelodeon Games and Sports programming, and Olympic coverage of soccer; shaves his trademark goatee
2001 Signed by Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)

Played for MLS Team

After again playing for a disappointing U.S. team at the Summer Olympics in 1996, Lalas was asked to leave Padua to become one of the faces for the MLS in its first season. This was the first professional soccer league in America in a number of years, and having a high profile player like Lalas would bring attention to the young league. He agreed, and was assigned to the New England Revolution. Lalas explained to Rob Hughes of the International Herald Tribune, "I wanted to do something for football back home. I didn't want to have the feeling later that I had sat back and done nothing."

While Lalas had a decent season on a poor Revolution team in 1996, the 1997 and 1998 seasons were even worse for both his professional and U.S. national team play. In 1997, he was benched on the U.S. team. Lalas continued to struggle in 1998 when he was traded to the New York/New Jersey Metro Stars. Though this team made the playoffs, it was the first time Lalas did not register an assist in the season. He was also on the U.S. national team in World Cup competition that year, but only as a reserve and never played in the tournament, in which the American team faired poorly.

Briefly Retires

After turning down a chance to play for Bruce Arena when he took over the U.S. national team in late 1998, Lalas was again traded in 1999, this time to the Kansas City Wizards. Though he played decently on a poor team, he decided to retire after the season ended.

During his hiatus from soccer, Lalas began a career in broadcasting, covering soccer for ABC, ESPN, and Fox Sports Net, the Olympics for NBC, and other sports programming. He also continued to work on his musical career. This physical and mental break served Lalas well. He emerged at the end of the 2000 MLS season signing with the Los Angles Galaxy for the playoffs. The team won the Football Confederation Champions Cup.

Lalas opted to re-sign with the Galaxy, and played for them during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. In 2002, he had a career high four goals and four assists, playing center back. The team won both the MLS Cup and Supporters Shield that season. No matter what he chose to do, Lalas remained true to himself. He told the Tampa Tribune, "I made my bed with who I am and the way I look. It's honest and I believe in it from an individual standpoint and from a soccer standpoint. If I ever felt I was being manipulated against my will, where I was becoming this cartoon or something, I would get out of it."

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: c/o Los Angeles Galaxy, 1001 Rose Bowl Dr., Pasadena, CA 91103.

Awards and Accomplishments

1987 Named Michigan's soccer player of the year
1989 Led Rutgers to NCAA Final Four appearance; captain of West team that wins gold medal at U.S. Olympic Festival
1990 Led Rutgers to NCAA championship game appearance
1991 Wins Hermann Trophy and Missouri Athletic Club award as national college player of the year
1994 Named U.S. representative to All-Tournament team for World Cup
1995 Wins U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year Award
1996 Named to Eastern Conference All-Star team (MLS)
1998 Inducted in the Rutgers University Olympic Sports Hall of Fame
1998-99 Selected for MLS All-Star Game
2000 Won F.C. Champions Cup with Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)
2002 Won MLS Cup and Supporters Shield with the Los Angeles Galaxy

SELECTED WRITINGS BY LALAS:

(With Thomas Lee Wright) Kickin Balls: The Alexi Lalas Story. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Dell Apa, Frank. "Red-Hot: Soccer May Need Lalas' Fiery Image." The News & Record, (April 28, 1996): C8.

DeSimone, Bonnie. "Lalas Kicks Back With His Guitar." Seattle Times, (January 31, 2000): D10.

Dure, Beau. "Major League SoccerSo What's Up with Alexi Lalas." Seattle Times, (October 17, 1999): C3.

French, Scott. "Galaxy Preview: Lalas Finds Himself in New Surroundings." Daily News, (March 28, 1998): S2.

Haydon, John. "Lalas Challenges U.S. Team to Develop Better Chemistry." Washington Times, (May 16, 1998): 8.

Hersch, Hank. "Alexi Lalas." Sports Illustrated, (January 31, 1994): 68.

Hughes, Rob. "Soccer Returns to U.S. On a Stronger Footing." International Herald Tribune, (April 3, 1996): 21.

Jones, Grahame L. "Career Makeover." Los Angeles Times, (December 22, 2000): D1.

Jones, Grahame L. "Lalas Goals Puts Galaxy in Final." Los Angeles Times, (August 23, 2001): D3.

Jones, Grahame L. "Lalas to Join Galaxy for Season." Los Angeles Times, (January 12, 2001): D5.

Jones, Grahame L. "Start of MLS Season Can't Come Soon Enough for Lalas." Los Angeles Times, (April 7, 2001): D2.

Kuhns, Ike. "Lalas Coming Home to Metro Stars." Star-Ledger, (February 5, 1998): 55.

"Lalas Refuses to Let Fame Go to Trademark Red Head." Tampa Tribune, (May 3, 1998): 7.

Leonard, Tim. "Lalas Returns Home." The Record, (February 7, 1998): S3.

Leonard, Tim. "Metros Trade of Lalas Blindsided Defender." The Record, (June 20, 1999): S4.

Longman, Jere. "Carrot-Top Defender of the U.S." New York Times, (June 26, 1994): section 8, p. 1.

Lopez, John P. "MLS Takes Show on Road to Try to Gain Acceptance." Houston Chronicle, (November 6, 2002): 1.

Mcintyre, Jason. "Lalas is Always the Entertainer." The Record, (June 15, 2002): S5.

Montville, Leigh. "Uncharted Waters." Sports Illustrated, (September 26, 1994): 50.

Murphy, Mark. "Rolling with the Punches." Boston Herald, (May 31, 1998): B20.

Robledo, Fred J. Older, "Better Lalas Path Leads to MLS Cup." Daily News, (October 16, 2002): S11.

"Soccer Gypsy Glad to be Back Home." The Star-Ledger, (March 17, 1996): 21.

Starr, Mark, and Niccolo Vivarelli. "Good Enough for Majors." Newsweek, (October 10, 1994): 64.

Stephenson, Colin. "Lalas Hopes to Find That Lost Step Somewhere in France During the Cup." Star-Ledger, (June 10, 1998): 5.

Trusdell, Brian. "Unlikely Celebrity." Denver Rocky Mountain News, (August 10, 1997): 26C.

Yannis, Alex. "Rutgers Lalas Named Top Collegian." New York Times, (December 18, 1991): B14.

Other

"Coaching Staff: Sigi Schmid." Los Angeles Galaxy. http://www.lagalaxy.com/coaching.html (January 25, 2003).

"MLSAlexi Lalas Player Profile." Yahoo! Sports. http://sports.yahoo.com/mls/players/3/34/ (January 13, 2003).

"Player BioAlexi Lalas." MLSnet.com. http://www.mlsnet.com/bios/alexi_lalas.html (January 13, 2003).

"Profile: Sigi Schmid." SoccerTimes.com. http://www.soccertimes.com/usteams/roster/u-20men/schmid.htm (January 25, 2003).

"Win or lose, Sigi a success." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/soccer/s/2002/1019/1448218.html (January 25, 2003).

Sketch by A. Petruso

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