SBJ/20090316/SBJ In-Depth

Lalas challenges league to prove itself to world

Alexi Lalas has been making headlines in soccer throughout his life. He did it as a player on the U.S. national team that beat Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and as a general manager and president of the Los Angeles Galaxy when the team signed David Beckham in 2007. This season the outspoken redhead will be making headlines for ESPN as one of the network’s studio analysts. He recently took time to share his thoughts with SportsBusiness Journal reporter Tripp Mickle.

What is your take on the David Beckham situation and how it has played out?
LALAS: I love entertainment, and this is pure unadulterated, cotton-candy entertainment. While I recognize that it’s become kind of a soap opera, people are still talking about the Galaxy and MLS, and in the bigger picture that’s a good thing.

Was bringing Beckham to MLS a net positive or net negative for the league?
LALAS: Anyone who says the David Beckham experiment was a failure is delusional. Of course it could have gone better on the field, but the impact he’s had and the impact that will be felt later on is immense.

Lalas participates in a celebrity soccer
game last year at Home Depot Center.

If you were commissioner, what’s the first thing you would change?
LALAS: I’ve been in a unique position to see a lot of numbers involved. The knee-jerk reaction is to say, increase the salary cap. That would certainly have an effect on the quality we could field out there. I’m also realistic about what the league can bear. One other thing … is to schedule our league to shut down during international fixture dates. That message is important not just to MLS fans but the world.

What’s the most important thing for MLS to do next?
LALAS: The next thing is to work on our credibility internationally. It goes hand in hand with our salary cap and the quality of players we bring in. To achieve the status we want, we have to meet teams internationally in competitive formats. The CONCACAF Champions League had one MLS team and two USL teams in the final eight. Hats off to the USL, but that’s embarrassing for MLS. I’ve heard the excuses and they’re valid, but it’s time to put up or shut up. You’ve got to win and you have to make that a priority.

What does the league need to do to bolster attendance?
LALAS: We live in a country that’s always expecting the moon. The reality is we compete against the majority of leagues around the world and we’re better than a lot of them in attendance. Something we started off with, and have gone away from, is this concept that when we started out it was a Barney show. We have to have an element for the kids, but there’s a generation of fans who grew up with MLS who want to go and have a beer and take a date. It doesn’t have to be a bar, but it doesn’t have to have a PG-13 feel.

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