Alexi Lalas is a Soccer Hall of Famer. He’s also an entertainer, with interests in music as well as riling people up from a soccer broadcast studio. So when he rips the U.S. men’s national team as “soft, tattooed millionaires,” he’s drawing on both backgrounds.
In our conversation, Lalas explains that “tattooed millionaires” came from a solo release by Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson (no, not the “More Cowbell” guy on SNL), and then we talk about whether everything from the now-defunct Bradenton residency program to the Development Academy is giving us a generation of coddled, entitled men’s soccer players.
We also talk about specialization, playing in multiple soccer environments (i.e., not just in the Development Academy), high school/college soccer, the Apollo Theater, diversity of playing styles, Michael Bradley’s understanding of livestock, and Brad Friedel playing basketball.
One irony — a nice exception to the rule this year has been Jose Villarreal, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy. His coach, Bruce Arena, is the one who likened the current system to a “black hole” in a Washington Post interview.
One solution seems relatively simple — MLS should probably enter its reserve teams in the USL or NASL to get those players more meaningful games. Not that anything is simple in the turf wars of U.S. soccer.
The other solution: Let players try pro soccer, and if it’s not working out by age 20, let them go back to college. That just requires the NCAA to be reasonable.
(I almost said that with a straight face.)
Related in Soccer America: An interview with NSCAA CEO Joe Cummings, who seems as irritated as anyone else about the Development Academy banning its players from high school games.