Panayotis Alexander Lalas, commonly known as Alexi Lalas, was a charismatic center-back that represented the United States of America (USA) national team and clubs such as LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, Emelec, and Padova. In this talk conducted by Nuno Milheiro, the current Fox Sports soccer analyst reflects on the evolution of Major League Soccer (MLS) in a global context and the chances of the USA winning a World Cup.
The process of picking up players for the USA national team was carried out in a continuum perspective since college, in a period in which there was no professional league in the country and many athletes playing abroad. “I came through a much more traditional pathway, which involved college. One day I was playing against Brad Friedel, who played for UCLA Bruins, and in the next week, I was playing against Tony Meola, who played for Virginia Cavaliers. Then, the best players eventually were called in. I was able to play in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and it was important. If you look at that group, myself, Cobi Jones, Brad Friedel, Mike Lapper, the list goes on and on…Those players also featured then in the 1994 FIFA World Cup team, and beyond”, he said.
After a European experience at Padova, Lalas returned to his home country to sign for NE Revolution and was somewhat skeptical about the new MLS, which was founded in 1993
One of the proudest moments of my life was being a part of it from the beginning in 1996, but I would be lying if I told you that I thought it was going to last. We had some cautious optimism, but it was a labor of love. This was and is La Cosa Nostra! It is our thing. It is not perfect, but the structure of that league with the salary cap and the restrictions is what has made it survive and, in many cases, thrive”.
Despite recognizing the undeniable growth of the competition and admitting that “being able to spend more money is the quickest way to try to compete” with the most powerful leagues in the world, he also believes that a large investment “is not a sure-fire way”, pointing to the example of the Chinese Super League. The idea is to gather a set of conditions to attract renowned players, without compromising their reputation. “If you can pay as much and maybe even more, provide the lifestyle that many players want, make sure that their credibility is not hurt, especially when it comes to the national team part of their careers…”.
On the other hand, it is its differentiating features that have contributed to the league’s growing notoriety.
Parity and making sure that there is a competitive balance is one of the things that attracts a lot of people and make it unique to most of the other leagues in the world. The haves and have nots do not exist. Every fan of whatever team they are a fan of has at least a belief that they could win. You can go from worst to first. We know that in most leagues around the world that is not the case”.
On the possibility of the USA winning the next World Cup, Alexi Lalas left a message of optimism. “Sometimes, when people in the USA say we are going to win, a lot of people in the soccer community go “no, do not do that”, and they cringe. I love that attitude! In 2002 we were a handball away, or we were maybe a VAR away from going to the semifinals of a World Cup. Anything can happen, especially with the amount of talent we have now. We can win a World Cup in 2022!”, he concluded.