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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 13:41 GMT
Alexi and me
By Matt Slater

Alexi Lalas
Lalas prepares for another last stand in the US defence
There is a bookmakers near London Bridge that mocks me every time I walk past.

But this betting shop does not mock me for the reasons such establishments usually do - "hello loser, thanks for the money".

The bookmakers at 43 Railway Approach takes a more personal line of attack - "you will never play professional football but Alexi Lalas has scored against England, starred in a World Cup, signed for a Serie A team and generally enjoyed a wonderful career in the game".

Before you assume I'm just being gingerist, I should explain that I went to the same US high school as the follically flamboyant footballer in the late 1980s.

Being new, skinny and English, I thought getting the better of Lalas, then the captain of the first XI, would be a great way to make a good first impression.

Now I don't remember if I did say "nuts" as I poked the ball between his legs early in our first practice session, but I do whenever I have replayed the moment in my head.

I do remember, however, what happened when I tried the same trick 15 minutes later. Lalas, pretty much the same size then as he is now, ignored the ball and dipped his not insubstantial shoulder into my less substantial chest.

So you can imagine my disbelief when six years later I saw the same clogger come charging on to the field during the second half of England's 1993 friendly against the US in Foxboro.

Alexi Lalas
Lalas does a David Lee Roth during the 1994 World Cup
No sooner had I finished telling my mates that I had played against this "clown" and he was "useless" than he scored a classic near-post header to stretch the Americans' lead to 2-0 and condemn Graham Taylor to another "do I not like that" moment.

Lalas' celebrations can still be seen in that betting shop's window, alongside pictures of Will Carling and a mullet-haired Andre Agassi - it is something of a sporting Old Curiosity Shoppe.

And I am reminded of the cruel loss to the game that is my eventual calling as a mere witness - and not a protagonist - every time I pass it.

When I told Lalas of his fame in south-east London betting circles, he said: "Well there is no accounting for bad taste over there. They'll throw anything up."

The bookies in question might be in need of refurbishment, but Lalas himself has come a long way from those heady, hairy playing days.

"I shaved up, became a suit and cleaned up - at least on the outside. I'm still as much a mess on the inside as I ever was," said the president and general manager of America's most popular soccer team, the Los Angeles Galaxy.

EVER QUOTABLE, LALAS ON...
His music
I'm still writing, recording and performing, and I've got my guitar right here in the office - music will be part of my life long after soccer


Football's status in the US
There are five big sports and we've definitely caught, and in some cases passed, ice hockey


MLS v NASL
It's completely different! We have American players and stars, we own the stadiums and we've learned from our mistakes


Freddy Adu
Wonderful talent but I worry about his size - a perfect example of somebody that has to go to the right team, he is not the kind of player that can adapt to anything


US performance at World Cup
It was horrible, a wasted opportunity, but we've made a transition from people not giving a c**p to people caring, that is important - we will win a World Cup before England does


England's World Cup
What was that garbage you threw out there?

He made the unlikely move "upstairs", without passing through the managerial dugout first, when he was only 33.

It was the San Jose Earthquakes that gave Lalas his first chance in a Major League Soccer boardroom in 2004 before he moved to the east coast to run the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

When that club was sold and rebranded as the New York Red Bulls earlier this year, Lalas picked up his guitar, swapped coasts and took over at the Galaxy, the club that he had enjoyed his greatest successes with as a player.

This remarkable rise arguably began with that lusty leap against the English.

"Yes, it was a coming out party of sorts for me," said Lalas, now 36.

"It was a big moment in my life and career. It led to a whole lot more playing time and attention and all that kind of stuff.

"I didn't realise at the time what it meant, especially in England, but I remember getting up the next morning and seeing the papers. And then the coach got fired and it was like the end of the world."

Taylor actually limped on for five more games. But Lalas is right (one paper's headline was "Yanks 2 Planks 0"), he probably should have been fired for fielding a team that had Carlton Palmer in the heart of its defence.

That goal cemented Lalas' place in a fast-improving US team that would, 12 months later, make a decent fist of things on home soil in the 1994 World Cup.

His performances there earned him a big-money move to Serie A's Padova, where he stayed for two seasons. He remains the only American (and very possibly the only red head) to play in Italy's top flight.

After that he returned to help kick-start the MLS, the competition which formed from the wreckage of the original fantasy football league that was the North American Soccer League.

Alexi Lalas celebrates scoring against England
Lalas, of Greek descent, enjoys a Braveheart moment v England
It was a no-brainer for the MLS to get their most (perhaps only) recognisable face on board early but his first few years back in the States did not bring a great deal of success for the man himself.

But all that was to change when, after short stints with the New England Revolution, MetroStars and Kansas City Wizards (and a very brief retirement), Lalas rocked up in La La Land to play for the Galaxy.

A hit on and off the pitch, the defender helped the Los Angeles side win the US Open Cup, the Confed Cup, the MLS Cup and their first MLS Championship in 2002.

And now he gets to decide if his football team should go out and try to buy David Beckham.

So looking back on his 10-year professional career, 96 international caps, two Olympics, three albums with his band "The Gypsies" (my favourite being "Ginger"), charity work in Sierra Leone, countless television appearances and numerous team and individual honours, he has bounced back well from being nutmegged by the new boy back in 1987.

I still maintain I was better than him, though.



SEE ALSO
LA Galaxy admit Beckham interest
06 Nov 06 |  Football


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