Michigan native Alexi Lalas likes Detroit’s MLS chances

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News


Alexi Lalas

Transplanted in California, call Alexi Lalas an ardent Detroit booster who likes the city's odds of landing a Major League Soccer franchise.

"If I try to step back — it's next to impossible because of my background — I do think they have a very very good chance," said Lalas, who starred in both soccer and hockey at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in the late 1980s before representing the U.S. at the 1994 World Cup.

"The template, the footprint, the rivalry aspect of it, the size of market, all those different things, play into it. There is a stadium situation there, I know it's not perfect — none of them are — but it still looks like it is much more positive certainly than other places that are vying. This is a battle among very qualified cities."

The loquacious, ginger-haired soccer analyst for Fox Sports shared his views during a recent telephone interview from New York.

Lalas, 47, has been on both sides of the ball. After a nine-year professional playing career that spanned Italy, Ecuador and MLS, he served as general manager for the San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy.

Lalas believes the deep pockets of Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, and name recognition as NBA owners, provide an inside track to join an “exclusive club” of MLS membership.

Sacramento, Calif., St. Louis, Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Nashville, San Antonio, Raleigh, Phoenix, Indianapolis and San Diego are also in the mix to be awarded one of two expansion franchises. The league board of governors are expected to make an announcement in December.

Alexi Lalas

A Detroit MLS entity has a chance to stand above the pack, Lalas said.

He cites the spirit semi-professional Detroit City FC has roused, drawing 5,000-7,000 per game in the fourth tier, within the soccer community. That type of passion can only grow.

“I have battled back and forth in terms of debate and argument with many of their fans in terms of how this MLS possibility will or won't impact what they are doing,” said Lalas, referring to Twitter exchanges with DCFC followers who have antipathy for an incursion the first division imposes.

“This is good stuff. Ultimately, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what they have created there and what they have done on the ground.

“I'm far away from it. I know the people … who have taken it as their own. That type of ownership I think is unique in soccer and I think can be really, really unique going forward with regardless how professional soccer looks in Detroit.”

Detroit's bid organizers asked the Birmingham native to lend a comment for promotional purposes in the early going. That's the only contact Lalas said he's had with them.

He does a stepover on the possibly returning for a managerial role with a Detroit MLS entity. He and his family, wife Anne Rewey and children Sophie and Harry (Red Wings fan), live in the Los Angeles area.

“I love what I do on television,” said Lalas, who joined Fox from ESPN in January 2015. "I haven't thought about that part of it in a long time.

“I tell you what, though, for an area and a city and a state that gave me so much and really introduced me to the game in so many ways, to be able to part of that full-circle type of thing, it would be an honor and a privilege."

Odds and sods from Lalas

Did the U.S. national team regress under Jurgen Klinsmann?

“No. I think that if you look at it in totality that there was a regression. I actually believe the U.S. is in a better place than when he was let go right now. I think probably the things on and off the field still helped the U.S. progress, not at the rate everybody wanted, not at the rate we should have progressed, but I do think it was a progression rather than a regression.”

Is Christian Pulisic the new Landon Donovan or is that too much pressure to lay on him at this stage in his national career?

“I don't think it is too much to lay on him and it is inevitable to compare and contrast when you have a young phenom. I think he can be as good, if not better than someone like Landon. There is a lot of variables, including the biggest, which is staying healthy. But if you look at the talent, which he showing even at 18 years old, I think we are justified in being excited and hopeful at this point.

“I don't think by being so we are going to break him with unrealistic expectations or hype. And I think that is what makes him unique, is nothing seems to faze him at this point. He's going to go through bad times, but so far so good. I'm excited and others should be excited about the potential this player has to do so really, really good things for himself and the country.”

What is it going to take for the German Bundesliga (shown on Fox Sports) to gain a foothold in the U.S. among soccer TV viewers?

“I think there has to be a general consensus in the soccer world that is the place to be. The hurdle from an American soccer standpoint is obviously the language barrier, No. 1, doesn't lend itself as easily to the day in and day out narratives the EPL is able to generate and foster and cultivate in the way they go about the business with their league. The talent is certainly there. I say that because you saw what happened with Serie A (Italy's top flight).

“It obviously had a different language and had that same language barrier, but there was an understanding the players in the world were playing there and the best teams are there. So whatever barrier was there, when it came to the lack of English language you were able to overcome that. I think that's what has to happen. I'm not sure it's going to happen.”


Twitter: @larryo1961