On Thursday, Lalas spoke to NESN.com about Euro 2012, playing in Italy, and coming to New England for the dawn of Major League soccer. This is the first of a multi-part series.
NESN.com: What are your thoughts on Thursday’s Germany-Italy game?
Lalas: I picked Germany to win. I think it’s definitely an upset. Germany certainly was favored. The way it went out was surprising. Some of the decisions that Joachim Low made will be questioned and rightfully so. When it works it’s great, and when it doesn’t you’ll be held accountable. I don’t think this will be any different to be honest with you. It’s definitely an upset, but that’s what these tournaments are about, and I love it.
NESN.com: How angry was Michael Ballack? Can you share anything about that?
Lalas: (Laughing) He was alright. He had some perspective. He recognized Germany lost out to an Italian team that played very well. We both agreed that [Italy manager] Caesare Prandelli got it right in terms of the way the team played. Mario Balotelli came through. The back four was impressive, Andrea Pirlo did his thing. All the things we talked about in terms of qualities for Italy were on display, and it didn’t bunker in. Italy deserved to win without a doubt.
NESN.com: You were in town recently for the Tradition. What were you doing with the Sports Museum of New England?
Lalas: They got in touch with me and said they’d like to honor a male soccer player for the first time. The New England area and Boston has obviously played an important part in my life. It was a real honor for me. I had a good time.
NESN.com: How have you seen soccer [in America] grow on a broad level from the early 90′s until now?
Lalas: If you’re a kid growing up in the U.S. in 2012 as a soccer player, you have incredible advantages that my generation didn’t have. I’m very proud of that. There’s much better coaching, better infrastructure, better facilities and, not the least of which, is the ability to watch professional soccer in your own country.
To go to MLS games, to watch them on television and to be living in a world where all the other soccer is readily available to you, either on television, your tablet or whatever, it’s a wonderful time to be a soccer fan.
NESN.com: Can you talk about your experience being the first American to play in Serie A? When you were there the Italian league was ahead of other leagues including the Premier League.
Lalas: Sometimes people don’t remember that in the 1980s and 1990s Serie A was the place to be. It was the best players, money, prestige. For me to get that opportunity at that time, I became a better player, and I also became a better person through living in that culture. I saw what it means to be a soccer player in Italy. Learning a new language and being within a culture completely immersed in soccer — which wasn’t something I grew up with — meant everything to me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was a wonderful experience on and off the field.
NESN.com: What are some of the major lessons U.S. soccer can import from Italy?
Lalas: Traditionally, you’re going to talk about the tactics that Italy has. I also think there is an understanding of how to play as a team and a recognition of what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how to play to them. Being pragmatic in a way. I also think I learned how to think about myself in each moment of the game in a different way — in that everything that I do matters. Every move that I make, every decision that I make has a consequence and to not take them lightly. Those are much more big picture types of stuff. I also saw firsthand how the best soccer players aren’t necessarily the best athletes. There is a willingness and understanding to accept that and give players [a chance], even if they don’t fit the traditional template of how a player should look. They still have value and can be incredible players.
NESN.com: You were part of that first wave of players who came back to start MLS, and you came to New England. What memories do you have of your time here?
Lalas: It was an incredible opportunity to come back and, to this day, coming back to New England and being a part of the start of MLS is one of my proudest moments. I lived in the Back Bay [area of the city], and I chose to come to Boston because I loved it as a city and I loved the people. I loved it and had such a great time. It was wonderful to be able to have the opportunity to make the choice to come play in Boston and play for a great family like the [Revolution investor-operators] Krafts and be a part of something that still endures.
Join us next week for part two of our conversation with former U.S. international Alexi Lalas.
Thumbnail photo via Facebook/Alexi Lalas