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On air with Alexi Lalas: ‘I don’t care if you like me or you don’t’


“I’ve worked with Alexi for 10 years,” says Stu Holden, Fox Sports analyst and former United States men’s national team midfielder. “He’s one of the first people that I am asked about. They say: ‘What’s that guy like off-camera?’.”

It is a thought many may share while watching Alexi Lalas, the formerly goatee-bearded U.S. central defender who rose to prominence at the 1994 World Cup, now best known for his tinderbox contributions on American soccer television.

He comes with a significant soccer pedigree, recording almost a century of caps for his country and playing in Italy’s Serie A and Major League Soccer. A signpost of his influencer status came in 2021 when the world governing body, FIFA, undertook a feasibility study as part of a failed attempt to introduce a biennial World Cup. Lalas was invited along to a seminar hosted by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as part of a cohort that included Brazilians Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, former Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Australia’s Tim Cahill.

On U.S. television, Lalas, 54, a studio analyst for Fox during the European Championship and Copa America this summer, is bold and direct in his opinions. This week, he has already compared the England national team to the Dallas Cowboys, saying the English are as “insufferable as they are talented”.

And over 40 minutes in a Manhattan coffee shop, he is no different. Topics cut across the future of Gregg Berhalter as coach of the U.S. men’s national team (“We’re letting the players off the hook”, he insists), or his “video game” approach to social media. This is a dose of pure, undiluted Lalas. Sitting beside him, ordering a piccolo coffee (“Don’t encourage him,” Lalas says, when I ask what a piccolo involves), is the more reserved Holden, 38, who also packs a punch in his analysis.

I tell Lalas that some people took a deep breath when I mentioned I was due to interview him. He smiles. First and foremost, Lalas says he sees his studio role as “hopefully having an interesting and informative take, and doing it in an entertaining way”.

He stirs. “But I’m in the entertainment business. I am a performer. When you say that, sometimes people cringe. By no means am I saying that I can’t be authentic and genuine. But I recognise the way I say something is as important as what I say.

“When I go on TV, I put on a costume and when that red light goes on, I don’t want people changing the channel. I don’t care if you like me or you don’t. I am as human as I possibly can be with the recognition that, on television, things have to be bigger and bolder.”

Holden interjects: “He’s one of my good friends. People ask me: ‘Does he believe everything he says?’. And I say, ‘We have the same conversations at the bar that we have on air’.

“I’ve learned from Alexi that you have to be interesting in this business to have longevity. Whether that’s the role that he plays, still authentic to who he is and the opinions he carries — but maybe a little bit of juice on there to fire it up — you never want to be in between. You never want to be in the middle of it, where people are just like, ‘Ah, that guy’s fine’. So be on one side, be bold, don’t care about opinions, but be authentic to who you are. And that’s who he is — on and off camera.”

Holden made 25 appearances for the USMNT but a career that included Premier League spells at Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers was cruelly cut short by injury. He and Lalas apply diligence to their output, often meeting with coaches, players or front-office staff the day before the match to explain to viewers what the team is seeking to achieve.

Lalas on the US team at 1994 home World Cup (Photo: Michael Kunkel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

As time passes, they are more distant from a modern locker room but Holden says it’s important “to take people inside the tent”.

“It’s not as common in England,” he adds, “but it is ingrained in American sports television where they will go to NFL practice, sit with the coaches, get exclusive breakdowns of play. Europeans have a hard time understanding this when they come here. Patrick Vieira (when he was manager of New York City FC) didn’t want to meet with us. Frank de Boer (at Atlanta United), too. Often the European or South American coaches are like, ‘Why are you guys in here?’.”

They believe that being that little bit detached, in terms of age, allows them to come down harder, when appropriate, on those they analyse. I suggest that many within the sports industry police themselves carefully when on television or radio these days, cautious about a public backlash.

“Life’s too short and f*** them,” Lalas says, bluntly.

“Ultimately, I’m talking about soccer. I know we get incredibly passionate and emotional about these things — something I love about sports. I try to be honest and sometimes it comes off in different ways and people perceive it differently. It’s one thing over a keyboard but it’s a very different type of interaction in normal life. There are people that come up to me who disagree with me but we have a cordial, civil and respectful conversation, even if we vehemently disagree about things on and off the soccer field.”

His on-screen character, he says, takes inspiration beyond sports broadcasting. “It is an element of a shock jock, an element of political commentary, an element of late-night television host. And then when it came to actual sports, I grew up in the ESPN age where the hot take was happening, but then I also like Gary Lineker (the former England international striker and long-time presenter of the BBC’s football coverage in the UK).

The way he talks about things, you almost forget that he was a player — and not just a player, but a f***ing great player. When I hear him talk about the game and life, even if I agree or disagree with the way he does it, it makes me forget that he was once this great player because it’s interesting, informative and entertaining in the way he does it. And so I have a lot of respect for what he’s carved out.”

Lineker and Lalas share another thing in common, in that both men appear to be in a love-hate relationship with social media. Lineker’s show Match of the Day, the BBC’s Premier League highlights programme, was plunged into crisis last year after the corporation took a dim view of his political commentary on Twitter, now known as X.

If Lineker is on the centre-left, Lalas appears to be a political antidote, recently announcing on Twitter that he will be attending the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. Like Lineker, he seems unable to resist being sucked into the vortex of culture war politics. He shared posts recently that appear sympathetic to Donald Trump and is in regular playful combat with his social media detractors. Yet he has already said that he places so much more value on in-person interactions. So why bother with X?

“I’m sure there’s an element of addiction that I will cop to,” he acknowledges. “It’s just the world in which we live. There is an element of ego. But I’m also under no delusions that I’m not solving the world’s problems. Nobody gives a s*** what the hell I have to say about most of this stuff. First off, Twitter is an information machine.”

But it can also be a misinformation machine.

“At times,” he laughs. “It depends on who you ask or where you look. I look at it almost as a video game that I play.

“There’s an element of poking the bear and being provocative that I enjoy. When it comes to things off the field, like politics, there is a cathartic release to being honest, especially in this day and age. There was a time we were all so bold. And now we live at times, unfortunately, in fear of the real backlash that can come from just saying something people disagree with. Whether it’s politics or sports, I don’t want to live in a world like that. Maybe this is just the way I retaliate.

“I’m not saying that it’s smart or prudent, especially if it can be alienating to people. When it comes to separating the sports and the personal, sometimes they blur and sometimes they infect or affect the other side. But I will only live once and I’d rather just be as honest as I possibly can, regardless of whether anybody listens or cares.”

During this summer’s Copa America, with the USMNT looking for signs of substantial progress under Berhalter, Lalas will be as direct as ever. Holden, too, makes clear the expectations.

How to follow Euro 2024 and Copa America on The Athletic

“Passing the group stage is not negotiable,” Holden insists. “If we don’t get out of a group containing Panama and Bolivia, then what are we doing? That becomes the time to make a change.”

Lalas cuts in: “Is it untenable? Maybe from the outside and how we look at it. But ultimately it’s (U.S. Soccer’s technical director) Matt Crocker who will make that decision. And he had the opportunity (Berhalter was reappointed as USMNT coach in June 2023).

“Nobody would have begrudged cleaning house and getting rid of everybody. And yet he (Crocker) didn’t. So something really bad has to happen for U.S. Soccer to make a change.

“But there are a lot of people sitting with their arms folded saying, ‘All right, Gregg, you got a long leash, you got a second opportunity, we need to see something different, we need to see something that makes us believe that come the World Cup 2026, there’s the possibility for the first time ever, that a U.S. men’s national team could win a World Cup.’ And we haven’t had those moments. He needs a statement type of game and statement type of summer to mollify some of that.”

Holden points out the USMNT, who exited the last World Cup in the round of 16 against the Netherlands, had the second-youngest team in Qatar and cites the draw against England, where he says the USMNT went “toe-to-toe”, as evidence of what might be possible.

Lalas says: “We’re letting the players off the hook a bit when we constantly talk about the coach. They have been given every benefit, every resource. Nothing has been spared from an early age. It is fair for us to expect more out of them individually and collectively. They’re no longer teenagers. Some of them play for the best teams and in the best leagues in the world. It’s time to put up or shut up.

“We put a lot of emphasis on coaching — and I’m not saying they can’t have an effect — but this is a players’ game. When that whistle blows, you get to decide what happens and the onus is on you. And if you want it, that’s great. If you don’t, then don’t blame the coach.”

Holden grins: “If the U.S. wins the Copa America, it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever done as a soccer nation on the men’s side — hands down.”

(Top image: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

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