Lalas announces end to his playing career after Kansas City finale.KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Saturday, October 9, 1999) -- Defender Alexi Lalas, one of the best known American players ever, announced his retirement following the completion of his Kansas City Wizards' 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, the club’s Major League Soccer season finale at Arrowhead Stadium tonight.
Lalas, 29, is a four-time MLS All-Star who won the 1991 Hermann Trophy and Missouri Athletic Club Award signifying the best collegiate player. He made 98 appearances for the United States national team, received the 1995 U.S. Soccer “Athlete of the Year” award, became the only American ever to play in Italy's Serie A in the modern era and was named to the Gannett News Services' United States Soccer "All-Century Team".
He was traded to the Kansas City Wizards from the MetroStars on January 28, and played in 30 games for K.C., winning the team's “Defensive Player of the Year” honors and finishing the year with his highest point total in his MLS career (four goals and one assist).
"I have decided to leave the game and I am looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life off the field," Lalas said. "I want to make it clear that my decision has absolutely nothing to do with wins, losses, trades or being in Kansas City. The people here have gone out of their way to express their support and to make me feel at home. Kansas City is a well-kept secret and it has been an honor and a privilege to have played and lived here.
"This is simply a question of following my heart and thus makes it difficult to explain to people why or how I came to this decision. At 29, I definitely feel that I could continue to play for some time, but this is not about age or ability. It is a personal choice and something that I feel is right at this moment in my life."
Lalas' pioneering spirit was a major factor in his decision to return stateside from Italy in 1996 and help launch MLS, and he has always supported the game and fans. Lalas, always the last player on the field signing autographs and a fixture on billboards and in promotions for each of his three MLS teams -- New England (1996-97), MetroStars (1998) and Kansas City (1999) -- is one of the most popular players with his teammates and with the fans in each MLS city.
"Alexi is what this league is all about -- being young, hip and in the now," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "His presence was vital in the establishment of this league on the American sports landscape and his vibrant passion for the game on and off the field brought numerous fans to our sport. In addition to wishing Alexi luck in his future endeavors, we look forward to pursuing an ongoing relationship with him as we work to take Major League Soccer into the next millenium."
The Birmingham, Mich. native appeared in 110 MLS games, starting 108, and is the only player to be on the winning side of every MLS All-Star game (1996 and 1997 with the Eastern Conference, 1998 with the MLS USA side and 1999 with the Western Conference). His last MLS goal, a diving header against the Dallas Burn on September 19 which tied the game at 1-1 in the 86th minute, is the leading Wizards candidate for the 1999 “Goal of the Year.”
"Major League Soccer is something that I have had a pleasure of being part of since the beginning and I will continue to support it in the future in whatever way I can," Lalas said. "I am proud of what the game of soccer has become in the United States and I would like to think that I, along with many others, have played a small part. Also, I would like to thank the fans and all my teammates and coaches whose support throughout the years, both on and off the field, have enabled me to become a better person and player."
Lalas, a central defender, enjoyed tremendous success throughout his soccer career, with both MLS and the United States. A central figure during the United States' international resurgence during the 1990s, Lalas has scored nine goals and tallied 11 assists; his 29 points rank among the top 10 scorers in U.S. soccer history.
He was one of five players to play every minute of every game in the World Cup USA ’94 and was a member of the 1998 World Cup team. He represented his country in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics.
"This game has given me so many things that have nothing to do with kicking the ball,” Lalas said. “It has enabled me to travel, learn languages, meet interesting people and explore new cultures, all from the unique perspective of an American soccer player. I still love the game and the gift of being able to entertain people by my performance on the field."
Lalas, recognized for his long red hair and goatee, achieved success both on and off the field. His band Nectar Drop played numerous times in Kansas City, and Lalas also had his own local weekly radio show, “Alexi Lalas Live.” Lalas also has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, the Tonight Show and Arli$$, and toured Europe with the rock group Hootie and the Blowfish.
"It came as a total surprise," Wizards Head Coach Bob Gansler said. "Obviously Alexi had made his decision and there was no way to talk him out of it. The door is always open for Alexi Lalas, with me and this franchise. Alexi should have many more productive years ahead and I wish him luck in whatever endeavor he chooses. He is a class act."
Wizards General Manager Doug Newman was instrumental in bringing Alexi Lalas to Kansas City, along with goalkeeper and longtime friend and teammate, Tony Meola.
"It is impossible to put into words what Alexi (Lalas) has contributed to the game of soccer," Newman said. "The one thing that always has impressed me about Alexi is that he has never taken any of his fame for granted and truly appreciates what the game has done for him. I remember one time when we were leaving a game and the entire team bus was waiting for Alexi to finish signing autographs. When he finished I thanked him for taking the time to sign every one and Alexi said, 'Hey, you only have one chance to make a first impression and if you are a jerk that is how fans will remember you and maybe that is what they will think of soccer.' That was not a canned response, that is who he is -- a person who cares deeply about people and the game of soccer."