American soccer pioneer Alexi Lalas has worn a number of hats during his career. Whether playing, managing, or commenting on television, Lalas has always strived to grow the game's popularity in the United States.
He recently joined NESN.com for a wide-ranging interview about a number of soccer-related topics.
In part one, Lalas talked about his playing days — both in Italy and in Major League Soccer. In part two he discussed the growth of MLS and the arrival of David Beckham. Here in part three, Lalas talks about his future prospects and those of the game he loves so much.
NESN.com: Do you have any advice or tips for young players? Is there anything you wish you knew back when you were a young player?
Lalas: I learned it along the way, and I'm proud of the fact that it was kind of a "Wild West" type of existence. It's easy to say "If I had known this or that," but I think I'm better for having gone through the good and the bad — the successes and mistakes. Looking back, I'm proud of the fact that me and a bunch of a guys went through it, we're better off but, more importantly, the sport is better off.
NESN.com: Now when I first saw you, you had the rock'n'roll beard and hair. Now I saw you this afternoon [on television] in a suit and clean-shaven.
Lalas: I cleaned up a little on the outside, but I'm still a mess on the inside [laughing]. You can't change your spots — even though I cut my hair and put on a suit. I do take my work very seriously, and I always have. But I always remind myself not to take myself too seriously. I enjoy having a good time, and I enjoy being able to poke fun at myself. I was comfortable at the time, but you change and move on. I'm still the same person quite honestly.
NESN.com: There's been a lot of positive feedback on your work with the Euro 2012 coverage as the American commentator talking about the biggest soccer stories on Earth. Is doing media work and being a television presence something you want to do long term, or do you want to get back in management?
Lalas: I do! I do enjoy it. I take it seriously but not myself too seriously. I enjoy being involved in the game. I can still and affect change and inform people and entertain people. At my core, I'm a performer. Whether it's on a soccer field or in front of a camera in the studio, it doesn't matter. I enjoy working very hard and rehearsing and training and putting it out there for people to see and judge. Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn't, but I love that rush to be honest. To be involved in soccer even though I don't kick a ball in a professional capacity, I'm very fortunate.
NESN.com: Are you thinking about going back to management or executive side in MLS or overseas?
Lalas: I believe that to do television right, you have to be committed. For a lot of people, it's just kind of a weigh-station until the next gig comes along, and that's not what I want to do. If I wanted to be in management, I'd be actively pursuing that. But I love television, and I want to get better at it and continue to do it. If you're not fully committed, it will manifest itself in your performance. I never want to get to that point where I'm always looking elsewhere, or I'm phoning it in. Thankfully, it excites me as much as the first day I ever did it.
NESN.com: Where do you think the game is headed on a global scale? It's played all over, but places like China and America are growing. It seems to be coming more global. When you look out a few years, where do you think the game is headed?
Lalas: Asia is certainly going to be a major emerging market for not just supporters and fans but professional soccer. I think their leagues will continue to grow and have a tremendous amount of money. I think that MLS is poised to really do some great things because of the attractive nature of playing in the United States. Also, as the money increases, the opportunity and willingness to come over will increase. I'm very bullish on the future of MLS and the business of the league. I also think we continue to compare and contrast, rightfully so, what's going on around the world because soccer is unique in its domestic and international affiliations. The more times that we can be in situations where we're coming out on top in those comparisons, the better it is for our credibility as a soccer playing nation.
NESN.com would like to thank Alexi Lalas for answering our questions. Fans can follow Lalas on Twitter @AlexiLalas22, or catch him on doing soccer commentary on ESPN.
Photo via Twitter/@AlexiLalas