Do you remember Sunday afternoons on Channel 4 and Football Italia? In 1994 a gangly player with straggly red hair and goatee would appear on our screens. An American in… Padova. An American in Serie A? What was football coming to?
On the back of FIFAs attempt to enlarge the football world still further the 1994 World Cup had been held in the U.S. For a team who nobody was quite sure knew how to play football Team USA had performed pretty well. At the centre of a stout American defense had been Marcelo Balboa and Alexi Lalas.
Born Panayotis Alexander Lalas on the 01st June 1970 in Birmingham, Michigan, Lalas would go onto be one of the most recognizable figures in American football. Educated at Cranbrook Kingwood School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and only began playing football at the age of eleven. However by the age of 17, he was already good enough to be named Michigan High School Player of the Year.
Following High School Lalas went to Rutgers University where his ability at football was further recognized, being named Third Team All American in 1989 and 1990 before being named First Team All American in 1991 [the best XI college players in America] as well as being selected for the Hermann Trophy. In 1992 Lalas was selected for the Olympics squad alongside Cobi Jones, Brad Friedel and Claudio Reyna. Team America might not have progresses past the first round but it was valuable tournament experience for 1994.
On the back of his performances at the World Cup, Lalas earned a move to Padova. Whilst there were individual highlights such as scoring against both Milan clubs, the season was a struggle and Padova only avoided relegation by winning the playoff. With MLS delayed a year due to financial difficulties, Lalas returned to Padova for the 1995-6 season on loan.
The end of his loan saw a return to the MLS with New England Revolution. Two years in Foxborough were followed by spells at the Metro Starts [later the New York Red Bulls] and Kansas City Wizards. Lalas retired in 1999 before returning in 2001 for a two-year spell with the LA Galaxy where he would win four trophies including the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Lalas may not have been the best player to appear for the US but with 96 caps he was an important one. His extrovert personality, his appearance and his high-profile helped give American soccer an impetus when it was going through a “rebirth” with the World Cup then the MLS. His personality and appearance arguably also detracted from a player who was better than credited for and always committed on the pitch.
GREATEST SQUAD – STARTING XI [3-4-3]
MARCELO BALBOA EDDIE POPE CARLOS BOCANEGRA
JOHN HARKES PAUL CALIGIURA
LANDON DONAVON BRIAN MCBRIDE
GREATEST SQUAD – RESERVES
GK: KASEY KELLER
GK: TONY MEOLA
LB: JEFF AGOOS
RB: FRANKIE HEDJUK
CB: ALEXI LALAS
CB: THOMAS DOOLEY
CM: RICK DAVIS
AM: HUGO PEREZ
LW: DA MARCUS BEASLEY
RW: COBI JONES
CF: CLINT DEMPSEY
ST: EARNIE STEWART
Created by Alan Robins Images by Jorge Manuel Martins