He recently joined us for a wide-ranging interview that touched on a number of topics related to the beautiful game.
In part one of our chat with Lalas, the American soccer icon spoke about his playing days — both in Italy and here in New England. Here in part two, Lalas talks about his second career as an Major League Soccer executive, bringing David Beckham to America and how MLS has grown in over a decade and a half.
NESN.com: After your playing career you moved into management, did you foresee that while you were a player?
Lalas: It was something I was interested in. I was so fortunate to be given the opportunity to manage a bunch of teams, learn about the business of soccer and everything that entails, and to be exposed to some of the realities. It was an opportunity and experience I'll never forget. It really informed me in a way that I hadn't been as a player.
NESN.com: You started as a general manager in San Jose, then moved to the Metrostars, then the Los Angeles Galaxy. You had three unique experiences, how can you compare them?
Lalas: All three of them had their own challenges to be honest with you. San Jose was a team in the midst of moving, and eventually it did move to Houston. That's never easy for the players or employees. In New York, it was a team that was ultimately sold. These are men and women working very hard for the sport facing a time where you don't know what the future is, and it's not easy to work through that. In L.A., the whole Beckham situation was a different experience and had its challenges. But ultimately, regardless of where I was, I was exposed to the business realities and introduced to the men and women in the front offices who are as important to the future of the sport as any of us that kick the ball. I got a real appreciation and respect that I like to think, that when I went and spoke with the players, I was then able to show that there was incredible work going on and have them respect and appreciate it.
NESN.com: One of the biggest moments of your executive career was when you brought Beckham to L.A. What about that time stands out the most in your memory?
Lalas: It was challenging, but something that I'll always be proud I played a small part in. I think it changed the way we look at not just the Galaxy, but MLS. I don't regret it for a second, despite the numerous challenges it caused. There was plenty of collateral damage along the way because we were in unchartered territory — in terms of an organization having a player like Beckham, what he means and the hurricane he can sometimes bring. It was not easy to absorb that into a club that was still big but certainly hadn't been through something like that before.
NESN.com: What do you think about him being left off the Great Britain Olympic team?
Lalas: I heard, and it was probably a big disappointment for him I imagine. I actually do feel for him because he did everything he needed to do in order to be on that team. I feel for him. I'm sure he doesn't feel great, and I don't think he did anything wrong. I think he actually deserved maybe more than anybody to be given the opportunity to do that.
NESN.com: Have you seen a change in the MLS player from your time (as a player) until now? Do they approach the game or their career trajectory differently?
Lalas: I think they look at their profession much more as a profession to be honest with you. It's much more accepted, they are much more respected in their choice to be a professional soccer player in MLS. That goes with the growth and relevancy of MLS that it has achieved over the past 16 years. But it's all been good. It's all been progress. Sometimes we're too hard on ourselves in the US. Once in a while we should take a step back and pat ourselves on the back for the incredible success and evolution in a very short period of time. Especially when you compare it to other leagues and other sports.
NESN.com: What are your thoughts on MLS’s overall setup — specifically the single-entity model and the level of spending and salary caps?
Lalas: Look, the reason MLS has been able to survive is because of the structure. It might not benefit all of the individuals, but the manufactured parity and adherence to strict financial guidelines benefits the whole. The single-entity concept is something that certainly has its challenges from a player standpoint, but I can also look at it from a soccer standpoint and the fact that we're still in business is directly related to the responsibility we have. I think it will actually prevail in the long run as the model as opposed to something unique or different because a lot of clubs around the world are looking at going the MLS direction, as opposed to the other way.
NESN.com: MLS is now thinking about going in their direction when it comes to developing young players and bringing in players at age 14, 15, 16. How do you compare this system to the college system you went through. If it was you or you were looking after a young player, which would you recommend?
Lalas: I see benefits both ways. There are certain kids who would benefit from bypassing the college route, but I also see some kids that I think would benefit from having that opportunity. Not necessarily the soccer part, though that's very important too, but the overall experience. The 22 hours and 30 minutes that you're not playing soccer is as important as the time that you are. Some of those lessons that you learn in college off the field are lessons you can take into your professional career. If you don't learn them, you run the risk of falling into some of those traps. Now, this is not for everybody because it makes sense for some players to go directly to being professionals. But I'm never one to say everybody should bypass college. It should be on an individual basis. I think we'll eventually be surprised by how many players can go through college systems and still be incredible players. I think if youre good, you'll find a way regardless of the road you take.
Join us later this week for part three of our conversation with former U.S. international Alexi Lalas. Happy Fourth of July.
Thumbnail photo via Flickr/The American Outlaws