Alexi Lalas has a passion for soccer. You saw it in playing days and now as an analyst for FOX Sports for the game he loves so much. Lalas played mostly as a defender and became one of the most famous soccer players in the United States after he played in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. He became the first modern-era American soccer player to play in the Italian Series. Lalas served as the president and general manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer until August of 2008. He was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006. Alexi spoke with me about his time in the game, fatherhood, and the state of soccer today.
Art Eddy: You do a great job breaking down the game of soccer. From the time you were playing to now are you happy with the evolution of the game?
Alexi Lalas: Yeah! We love to kick ourselves for what he haven’t done when it comes to our soccer in the United States. I think we have to pat ourselves on the back for just how far we have come in the last 20 years on and off the field.
There is a generation now that looks at soccer as not just their sporting landscape, but cultural landscape. There is a whole American soccer culture that is no longer underground or a niche. It is above ground. It is vibrant. It is passionate. It knows what good and bad soccer is. The generation that is growing up now has Major League Soccer. They have been able to watch the Women’s (National) Team win the World Cup last summer. There is professional men and women soccer out there.
So we live in really good times. It is not the Wild West that I grew up in. I am real happy about the direction that we are heading right now, but we can always do more. We are getting ready for a summer of soccer with the U.S. Men’s National Team involved in Copa Americano. For the Women’s National Team, they are in the Olympics. So there is always another game. Thank God that there is because it is a game that I love and I can’t get enough of it.
AE: I feel that soccer is becoming more and more popular here in America. Whether people are cheering on teams in the MLS or in other leagues. What is the best way for parents to introduce the game of soccer to their kids?
AL: You have the traditional ways when it comes to AYSO, youth teams, community teams, church teams and all the school teams that you have. One of the great things about soccer that we all know is that it is a very simple game. It is a cheap game to play. You don’t need a whole lot. I know that our culture is very organized and we program our children and families. That is just what happens in the United States in 2016 as well as the world.
The ability when it comes to soccer to just throw a ball out there and have kids figure it out. Say look you figure it out. Make goals with whatever you have around. Whether it is a pine cone or a shoe. Let them figure it out sometimes. That is how some soccer players are developed around the world. Sometime we are too regimented and too organized.
You will have plenty of time to be in an organized setting with coaches and referees. One of the beautiful things about soccer is its simplicity. A lot of the times if you give kids a ball and give them an area to play they will figure it out. It is incredibly beneficial. Not just from a soccer perspective, but from an interaction perspective and a social perspective. All those different things.
AL: When I was a kid I had to go down two blocks to Ms. Van Heusen’s for piano lessons. I went kicking and screaming every single week. While I cursed my mother at the time for making me do it. Now I love her so much. It has introduced me to something that has been in my life ever since. I continue to write and record and perform.
I have a passion for music as I do for soccer. I continue to release stuff. My latest is an album called Shots. You can find it on all different platforms out there. Whether it is iTunes or Spotify or Amazon. For all three of you that are going to get it, thank you so much. (Both laugh.) That includes my mother. It is a labor of love. It is something that I love to do and continue to do. Music was introduced to me at a young age. It introduced me to a whole different segment of people that I might not have been associated with growing up. Whether it was middle school or high school. I was involved in sports, but I was also involved in this music scene. It was wonderful because it broadened my horizons. I had relationships with so many different people that I might not have had if I wasn’t exposed to music. I know I talk a lot about soccer, but I always encourage kids to make sure that they are trying as many things as possible. You may never know what you might find that you have a passion for.
AE: Switching to fatherhood now, what are some of the core values you looked to instill in your kids as they grow up?
AL: I talk to them all the time. The last thing that I tell them before I drop them off at carpool is make good choices. Recognize that you are going to make mistakes. I am not angry if you make mistakes, but I will be angry if you keep making the same ones over and over again. Also the understanding of the responsibility as a parent is to soften the blow at times and to try and amass those tools and techniques in order to make those good choices. I am not always going to be there. They will ultimately be responsible for the choices that they make.
Communication and understanding that I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and a recognition that they have to have the comfort level to come and talk to me. Even admit if they had made a mistake and share what they are scared of and what they are curious about and make sure you have that communication in place.
Look, we are all just winging this. As parents we are going to make mistakes as we go along. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have a map that people can follow. Each family is different. Each individual child is different in terms of the relationship. I think understanding that and not beating yourself up too much when you do make a mistake is important. Being able to have a good support system around you whether it is a wife or a significant other or grandparents and parents is important too.
AE: What were the first few thoughts that you had when you found out you were going to be a father?
AL: They will let anybody do this, won’t they? (Both laugh.) It is all of those clichés out there. You are thinking about something bigger than yourself. You are not the most important person. All of those things rang true to me at that time and not the least of it of what do I do now? Talk about not having a road map or anything like that. Everybody will give you advice and some of it resonates. The reality is that a lot of it doesn’t always necessarily apply.
You have to figure it out as you go along. There are billions of people over the course of humankind that have figured it out and struggled while trying to figure it out. That is part of the human experience that you have to go through. Some of us figure it out quicker or better than others and others will struggle as they go through it.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads out there?
AL: Oh my goodness. When you turn on the vacuum cleaner that always helps. It is that sound. Let me tell you I have been there. I have been there a couple times now. There will come a time in the middle of the night and you are up. You haven’t slept and you are holding on to this child. This child will not be quiet and will not go to bed. You will think that you are at the end of your rope. I can only tell you that it gets better.
Whether you believe me or not there will come a point many years from now where you will look back fondly and a sense of longing to be there at three a.m. holding on to that child who will not go to sleep. You will romanticize it. It will be something that you appreciate, but it won’t be appreciated in the moment. You have to go through it just like everyone else.
AE: What is your favorite family movie?
AL: The Sound of Music.
AE: What is your favorite song to dance to as a family?
AL: We have a lot of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry stuff that brings the house down.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
AL: I have a really good time with my family in Cape Cod.
AE: I heard you are a Slurpee connoisseur so what is your favorite Slurpee flavor?
AL: Well I am a traditionalist and so I believe that a cherry Slurpee is the way to go. I don’t mix that is for amateurs. So for me a cherry Slurpee.
AE: What was your favorite stadium to play in your great career?
AL: If you have a chance to see a soccer game played in the Rose Bowl from a sports perspective is iconic, but also keep in mind a World Cup was won there. Both a Men’s and a Women’s World Cup was won there in 1999. The US Women won it there. I played there in the World Cup. If you have 100,000 people in there for a soccer game in the Rose Bowl you can’t beat it.
Follow Alexi on Twitter at @AlexiLalas.