Recently, during a game break between the L.A. Galaxy and Seattle Sounders your favorite commentator, Alexi Lalas, effectively ripped the U.S. Men’s National Team to shreds.
A quick reminder for those unfamiliar, Lalas is a former USMNT player and now a correspondent for most all things soccer in the US. An underwhelming international break in which the US drew away at Honduras, and lost at home to Costa Rica was most likely the stimulus to his bold monologue. However you may feel about Lalas, his comments in regards to the quality, or lack thereof demonstrate exactly the kind of pressure we should be applying to this talented US outfit.
First, Lalas takes direct jabs at the so-called “leaders” of the squad: Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore, and you guessed it, head coach Bruce Arena. Essentially, Lalas calls out each player in correspondence with positional expectations on the pitch. For example, “Tim, the Belgium game ended three years ago. We need you to save the ball now,” or one of my personal favorites, “Jozy Altidore. Is this really as good as it gets? Because it’s still not good enough.” I love it. After calling out Bruce Arena, he moved his attention back to the team, intentionally not referring to Pulisic by name, but instead as “Wonder Boy”, as if to patronize the Dortmund youth promise. He ended his siege of the team with one last clever boom of the cannon, referring to the lads as, “a bunch of soft, underperforming, tattooed millionaires”.
Wow. I’d love to dive right in and reaffirm every concrete detail he presents with equally sturdy commentary, but there are a few things we need to clear up beforehand. First, injuries. The most recent international matches were played without two key defensive pieces: center back, John “Big Boy” Brooks, and right back, Deandre Yedlin. The defense seemed to be the team’s main problem in both matches but in particular the Costa Rica match, in which organization was abysmal and resulted in 2 unanswered goals. Next, I think it’s fair to cut them a little slack (but not much) as Bruce Arena is still moving his pieces around in every conceivable way to produce the best squad possible come 2018. Move the puzzle around enough, and eventually, you’re looking at a completed picture… or at least that’s the hope.
Now we get to the fun stuff. I am 100 percent on Alexi Lalas’s side. Save it, take a picture, whatever, because more than likely those words will never come out of my mouth again. Regardless of my commentating prejudice, Lalas nailed it with this one. The current USMNT oozes talent, with myriad players spending time and getting quality minutes for high-profile European clubs.
Living in the US, it’s easy to become complacent. Unfortunately, most years soccer is towards the bottom of the sports relevancy list. We all ride the world cup high and act like we care for a few months, and then it’s back to the “real” football. What a shame. Yet, I’d be ignorant if I didn’t recognize the tremendous strides US Soccer has taken in our country to grow and strengthen the sport. Which brings me to my point. Just as Spidey’s Uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility”, Ethan says, “With great growth so should come great motivation”.
We all recognize how much the sport is growing. I know we do because the sports media’s new favorite bit to talk about is how Atlanta United broke an MLS attendance record. With that growth should come national team expectation. Put some pressure on these guys, motivate them to move beyond the Belgium’s and into a World Cup final. How long is losing at home against weak CONCACAF competition going to be acceptable? Hopefully, Lalas answered that question for us.
I was hungry to see replies from players in regards to Lalas’ comments but was disappointed when they surfaced. USMNT Captain Michael Bradley was quoted saying, “The lion does not care about the opinions of the sheep” in reference to Lalas. First, you are not a lion, you are a slightly above average holding mid that is a few years out of his prime. Lalas’s comments were not meant to make you cry, they were a slap on the butt, an encouragement of sorts. That being said, Michael Bradley, your job is not to formulate philosophical roasts aimed at the media, but hear the complaints and use them as motivation. Further, Jozy Altidore tweeted out in reference to Lalas’s comments on the players being soft, overpaid, tattooed millionaires by saying, “I don’t have any tattoos”. And to that Jozy, I will say your sarcasm is almost as bad as your first two touches.
I might have been a little harsh, but Lalas opened up a can of worms that must be addressed. I challenge the USMNT to hear Lalas’s comments and make a change. Be the leader you’re expected to be, produce when production is expected, and welcome adversity with open arms.