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Readers have mixed feelings on Lalas.

(Monday, November 1, 1999) There was a mixed response from readers to Jerry Langdon's October 25 column headlined: Lalas is owed a great debt for carrying the burden of building his sport," which also touched on the televising of the imminent under-17 men's world championships.

Under-17s something special

I just wanted to send a quick response to your article about the U.S. U-17 team. The article referred to the team as "something special." I can truly tell you that they really are special, not just as players but as people.

As Director of Students at the Bollettieri Sports Academy, I have had the opportunity to see them in action both on and off the field. They are a group of young men who clearly understand the awesome opportunity and responsibility ahead of them as they represent the United States in the World Championships. It has been a privilege the last eleven months hosting these young men in our dormitories. They have represented themselves and their families with the utmost of class. They have been such a positive addition to our student body that the good-byes and wishes of success took nearly two hours Friday night as the team was making final preparation for their early morning flight.

You could see the confidence and excitement in their eyes. They are ready for the test. They are ready for the World. They are ready to represent all those who believe in them.

Thank you for your article. We all wish these guys the best.

Chip Hart com [Chart96@aol.com]
Director of Students - Bollettieri Sports Academy

Lalas was a gamer

Thanks for the kind words regarding Lalas. He may not have been the best skill player in the last few years, but it seemed to this soccer fan that he was always a gamer, a player who showed heart and determination no matter how lost the cause or long the odds.

I saw him play for the MetroStars and remember him scoring the winning goal, as a defender, in the last 25 seconds for their first win of the season. He didn't play for a tie or a shootout. He wanted to win. Compare him to a great skill player, Tab Ramos. Tab was quoted in Soccer America as saying that you play for a win at home and a tie away. When Tab has the ball and is in control he is as beautiful an American player as there is, but you never see the effort and the love of the game on his face the way you did with Alexi. Lalas always just seemed to want to be there more. He seemed to understand what all of the other pro players who complain about the shootout don't: the fans don't care about points in the standings when they have paid money to see the game, they want to see an effort to win, and they will accept a loss if the game is played with heart.

The Metros in the playoffs showed this better than any other example I can think of. Lalas also stepped up for big games. He seemed to play better with the national team, and he played awesome in the World Cup. I do not believe, again in my humble opinion, that a simple punch to the solar plexus would have mentally taken him out against a team like Germany. Something like that would have only fired him up. Heck, even just knowing that somebody did it to a teammate would have focused him.

Remember, nobody expected the U.S. to beat Germany (in the '98 World Cup), as Tab Ramos pointed out after the match Can you imagine coming off of a World Cup match against a soccer power and saying "Did you really expect us to beat them?" If you didn't believe you could beat them why play the game? Let someone with lesser skill but a belief that it can be done have a shot. But we just wanted the team to put up a fight. Frankie Hedjuk stood out, not because he scored or for anything substantial, but because he was the only U.S. player on the pitch who played without fear. Alexi Lalas was just that type of player, as we saw against Brazil in '94, and against Mexico in qualifying.

Regarding the TV rights to the under-17 team, I hope the subsequent ratings are not used for anti soccer purposes. Nobody pays to watch high school sports. Very few people will take the time to watch them for free. I am looking forward to seeing some of the games as a soccer fan, but this will not capture the general sporting audience's interest. It will hurt if the U.S. Soccer Federation uses the poor ratings to justify not spending for the Confederations Cup last summer. They are apples and oranges. I hope everyone can remember that.

Kevin Heald [KHeald@Responsestaff.com]

Lalas is owed little

I am writing in response to your short article on Alexi Lalas and the great debt owed him by the American soccer supporter.

I do not intend this to be another cheap shot at Lalas, I'm simply trying to explain the facts of the matter. I must admit I thought you made Lalas look like he saved and built U.S. soccer single-handedly. You refer to him as a focal point of US soccer for a number of years. I am in full agreement except that I would call it the exploiting of a personality to sell a sport with few other personalities.

Please don't confuse his off-field antics that helped bring attention to the sport, and his on field mediocrity. Yes he did earn a spot on the World Cup All-Star team, only because they had to pick someone from the home country and seeing that the U.S. played defense 95 percent of the matches, it had to be a defender. It just so happened it was the defender with the most personality. At no time in his U.S. career was he even the top defender on his team.

You were even so bold as to claim him the number four defender in the MLS. Are you kidding me? In the air he is one of the best. However, if you recall this game is played mostly on the ground. Lalas has never had good speed and was often protected by a zone defense. You also made mention of his man-marking, " Just ask Hermosillo." It just so happens that Hermosillo is not the fleetest of foot either. Carlos is a great at putting himself in the right place at the right time. He's not a man who will dribble through the defense or out pace anyone down the wing, he just knows how to score. All that plays right into Lalas' strength.

Padova, Was also a first for U.S. soccer, but hardly something that one would consider successful. He played for a bad team in a league that was over his and the teams head, which explains why he and the team are no longer in the Serie A. If he was the savior to Padova that you make him out to be, then why is he retiring.

As much as Lalas did to promote the sport 3-4 years ago, it has all gone away in the present. No longer is he the superstar and media gem that he used to be, which explains why the last three teams he's played for have been largely ineffective on the field and his presence on the team had made no significant effect on gaining larger crowds.

In the end, I think Lalas is what the sport needed, about 10 years ago, [someone] to bring some attention to a sport that meant little to this country. However, his cause has been overshadowed by his lack of form on the field. Let's face the facts, we are slowly turning the U.S. Soccer program in to something to be respected. And with that comes better players with skills that Alexi could only dream of.

The sport is now looking for more skilled defenders, i.e. Pope, Llamosa, and some other younger boys. We no longer have room for a player who's only offensive threat is through the air, and one who can't keep up with the speed of the game. Let's give Alexi his due, but please don't over DUE it!

Lucas Yoder [yoderfutbol@juno.com]

Lalas was overrated

I find it difficult to believe that you could make the following assessment (of Alexi Lalas): "Outside of the dominant trio of Jeff Agoos (D.C. United), Robin Fraser (Los Angeles) and Lubos Kubik (Chicago), no one played better on defense in Major League Soccer than the 29-year-old red-haired, goateed guitar player and band leader."

Agoos is one of the WORST players in the league . . . his hype is, like that of Lalas', beyond control. He nearly kept the U.S. out of France due to his pitiful showing in qualifiers (Jamaica, for example)! Fraser is solid, but Greg Vanney is by far the best defender on the Galaxy. Kubik, of course, is very strong.

Lalas' "talent" has been a figment of the media's imagination since 1994, when his "look" shifted the focus off of his poor play in the Cup to his peripheral activities. He failed in Italy. Any other rating of his performance there would be a blatant lie.

While I completely understand that his "Q" rating helped bring attention to soccer in America, his willingness to play the role of a clown was more of a detriment to soccer purists than anything else. Let's not get too sentimental about the 1990-1998 era of soccer in this country. Frankly, there's not much to show. Instead, let's credit the club and developmental programs that have spawned the new era of American player . . . until we have an apprentice school system for MLS squads, there's not much hope!

Praising Lalas for helping soccer in this country is like patting James Naismith on the back for Michael Jordan's success!

George Cuddy [gcuddy@streetzebra.com]

U-17 television appreciated

I recently read your article regarding Alexi Lalas and the fact that the USSF has made a decision to televise the U17 World Cup. To the USSF: Kudos!

Just as I have seen justifiable criticism over their failure to televise marquee tourneys in which the U.S. has participated, I think they deserve well-earned praise when they pull of such a good marketing move. Here's hoping that this is the start of more exposure for our national teams which, most feel, will lead to more awareness of them and, hence, increased interest in the game (if the teams do well, of course).


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