Alexi Lalas Critique of US Based Fans Ignores Local Game Outside MLS

In March, Alexi Lalas loudly proclaimed that to be a true soccer fan in the United States, you must watch and support Major League Soccer. “Think globally act locally,” Lalas proclaimed.

While the sentiment is nice, the promotion of Major League Soccer by many pundits in the United States tend to forget that the majority of professional teams in the United States are not in MLS, the nation’s top flight league, but in lower divisions that receive little or no promotion from the likes of Lalas. It is these teams, many of which are in larger metropolitan areas than most MLS teams, that have the impact of creating a supporters culture.  Unfortunately, many like Lalas ignore the organic growth of the game at the grassroots level outside MLS and serve merely as cheerleaders for the nation’s top flight.

Take for example the Atlanta Silverbacks who reside in one of America’s largest media markets. Atlanta just won the NASL spring season title yet we have seen very little acknowledgement or discussion of this achievement in the US soccer press. The story that features a Cinderella worst-to-first was partially authored by US Soccer legend Eric Wynalda could be used to stimulate interest in the domestic game in one of the country’s leading cities. Instead Lalas and his cohorts have avoided any discussion of the topic preferring instead to focus on the MLS All-Stars and a newly created “retention” fund that will at least ostensibly prevent top American talent from fleeing the league.

By ignoring those fans in large markets that watch lower division soccer, the bulk of the American soccer press typified by Lalas are driving fans that are connecting with the game locally to further their passion for the sport by watching matches from abroad. MLS could build the relationship with supporters in markets outside of the 15 domestic cities where teams reside by actively engaging fans and supporters groups in these places in discussions about the sport rather than merely “MLS expansion.” Instead as I have personally observed, MLS holds very little attraction for these fans who spend time, effort and money promoting the game locally. Oftentimes these fans — rather than watching MLS — gravitate to pubs to watch the Premier League before organizing and tailgating before local NASL or USL PRO matches. Simply put, MLS has not built the proper relevance for these fans.

Let’s take the state of Florida for example where no MLS team has resided since 2001. The state currently has four professional teams in the second and third divisions, all drawing varying degrees of support. The state is also become a hotbed for amateur teams in the fourth division PDL and NPSL. These fans in the nation’s soon to be third most populated state have zero links to Major League Soccer. The closest top flight professional team to a large percentage of the state’s population is actually Atlante of Liga MX, not any domestic based top flight team.

Again, if those who promote and cheerlead for MLS really want to make the domestic game grow to where those who have connected with the game locally are not seeking out Premier League matches on TV, they need to work to cover the domestic game in the lower tiers, promoting it and giving it relevance alongside MLS rather than trying to further marginalize it.

Supporting domestic soccer isn’t as simple as saying “watch MLS” as some like Lalas seem to believe. It is in fact much deeper than that. Certainly watching and promoting MLS is one aspect of it, but for many outside MLS markets there exists little motivation to watch the league.

59 thoughts on “Alexi Lalas Critique of US Based Fans Ignores Local Game Outside MLS”

  1. Born in minnesota and grew up in Vancouver.

    I support both Minnesota United and Vancouver Whitecaps.

    Currently living in San Diego and it is hard for people to root for the LA MLS teams. In actual fact the majority of people here support the Tijuana Xolos in Liga MX over the 2 San Diego 4th division teams (SD Boca FC and SD Flash)

    Promotion/Relegation would probably draw more interest to the local San Diego Pro teams…but we know that wont be happening for a while.

  2. Alexi Lalas is the biggest clown that’s associated with soccer in the USA, not to mention the world. The guy is a joke and I wonder why he is relevant every single day… And he’s a ginger

    1. Best part of ESPN’s coverage is when they have real football men discussing the matches. Lalas looks juvenile when discussing football with Roberto Martinez and Steve McNanaman.

      1. Remember the Euros 2012 when he tried to argue with Michael Ballack about the playing style of England. Ballack completely outclassed him and ended up laughing at Lalas’s points. He was a good footballer in the MLS but sometimes his Analysis of football is lackluster.

    2. I think if you wrote this 5 years ago, I’d agree. But, I think he really has developed and grown past his bitter retorts.
      He probably has the best hand on American soccer out there. end of.

  3. I think the furor about American fans who do or don’t follow MLS is kind of shortsighted. If you like football and have a team in your city, I would assume you do, but it’s not the end of the world.

    I have lived in the US my whole life but spent a lot of time throughout south america in the late 80s through the late 90s. At the time people followed their club and if a local/favorite player had gone on to a different league followed that new club to watch that player. Now 15-20 years later it is very, very, very common to meet a South American football fan who legitimately follows a club in Europe or another South American league. This doesn’t make them any less “real” of a fan. I don’t see why it should in the States either.

  4. Until there’s a single table in MLS, promotion/relegation in a pyramid system and a team in Detroit, I’m not interested in US domestic leagues, end of story. No way am I supporting a team in any US city other than my home town. What’s the point of supporting a 3rd or 4th division side with no history, if there’s no way for them to ascend to a higher league? I’ll save my money for my annual trip to England to watch West Ham.

    1. Sing it Kartik. I have season tickets to my USL PDL team (Carolina Dynamo) and also attend a number of games at NASL’s Carolina Railhawks. And, my enjoyment of the Railhawks soared after they beat the Dynamo in the US Open Cup this year…..

      The closest MLS team to me is in Washington, DC. It just doesn’t seem sane to demand that fans support clubs that are 6+ hours away by car. Once you’re reduced to watching games on TV only, then it doesn’t really matter if the club is 500 miles away or 3000 miles away. At that point, why not watch a better league.

      Plus….I find MLS’s whole expansion model to be gross and elitist. I mean, we’ll NEVER have an MLS club in my local area. Never ever. So if MLS doesn’t care about me, why should I care about MLS?

      Honestly, I’d love to see NASL grow and blow the doors off of MLS.

        1. To my friends Paul and Kartik:

          Kartik this could be your finest piece, in that you took a sound bit which Lalas is great at gifting and have worked a great headline out of it. I presume that Lalas did not have the NASL in mind when he made his comment. I would be of the opinion that he is speaking towards the Euro league fans in the US who will watch their Italian club over the Chicago Fire.

          Paul, I think US soccer fans on the whole are very supportive of the NASL. It makes me happy to hear(the Fire fan that I am) of the growth of the NASL and particularity what is going on with your home team. Most of us MLS fans would like to see promotion/ relegation in the US. However I think we all know that the reality of the US TV market means it can not happen anytime soon if ever.

          In event comment provoking piece.

      1. Don’t say never, soccer in the US still has a lot of growing to do, and if MLS goes the direction that most American sports have gone (with a lot of things really besides just expansion) with the amount of teams they have in their league then it is completely possible that their could be a MLS team in North Carolina.

        Could you not envision a league the size of the NFL, MLB, or NBA? It may not be happening now, but it’s possible in the future, and North Carolina has a team in two of those three so why not MLS?

        But in all honesty, with the evidence provided by your last sentence, it doesn’t sound like you want one anyway.

  5. To Alexi Lalas:

    You have a job because some dopey people have a sentimental attachment to you and the 1994 US National team. You really inspired the country with your hair and beard.

    Your opinions are amateurish. I have learned to ignore when you come on the television.

    Enjoy your charmed life.

  6. Good article…

    How would you feel about MLS not being a closed circuit league and working with the other professional leagues to introduce 1 league with several divisions and yes…promotion and relegation?

    I think there is a vast pool of talent and I’m not talking about just stereo typical athletic tall amricans that seem to play the game.

    I’m talking about skill and passion for the game that just goes untapped. One of america’s great founding qualities was inclusion, the open invitation to “Give me your tired, your poor”, right at the gateway to america…why is this so absent from the worlds game in america when everywhere else that is exactly the model!

    The current system with MLS and the college draft is leaving out so many and almost becoming elitist, the current accepted path is play at youth level, get scouted by a college, get drafted by MLS…just like every other sport in america…unfortunately football shouldn’t be run that way.

    If Scotlands footballing powers can recognize its issues and attempt to fix itself, why can’t america?

    What will end up happening is clubs from around the world especially the BPL like Man city, Spurs, Chelsea, West Ham etc… will have their academies and spot players and take them out of the league, the MLS will eventually be treated like a farm system for the other leagues in the world.

    Unless the parties at the executive level of the game figure something out, that is exactly what will happen…The US can do better!

    1. You seem to forget, that there was no top level soccer before MLS… So the structure is set up to just survive. NOT develop USMNT talent. And yes that means Everton and the like will open academies and try to pluck the best talent… BUT…. This isn;t Argentina nor Brazil…. Kids have to be at least out of high school or have EU passports to get out. and Work Permits are difficult… Add to that MLS added Man City NYC, so they can dump U21s into MLS. This is probably what MLS wants… they recognize that NASL model didn’t work, as in you can’t just bring in world class talent, and pay for it on credit, or the credit card of an owner. So yes… top players will leave. just like they leave teams not in the champions league for bigger challenges… The MLS is Soccer communism. The top players get paid, the workers make a standard wage, and there is ONE body who decides who can be transferred.
      The only way that changes, is more Portland and Seattle franchises come along. So while I follow your ideas about elitism… It really is the opposite… communism or worse yet, fascism . cheers

      1. To say that a league structure/nasl model didn’t work because of it structure is wrong…it failed because the interest in the sport was near non existent in comparison to today…

        While the American sports structure may give you the impression it’s communist or facisy it’s not, it’s insular, its capitalism at its finest, it’s controlling a market place for maximum profit, the ultimate version of treating fans like atm’s.

        Without wanting to digress into a Political science post communism and fascist are not those things.

        MLS is about money plain and simple, not the good of the game. Every other league in the world incl China uses the 1 league multiple divisions model.

        The draft system is what is holding america back in its league development as well as its national team. Messi, Ronaldo, Bale, Lampard, Beckham, Xavi, Iniesta, Hoddle, many many more players would never make it out of the MLS system….college coaches and scouts get to pick who get the chance to play for a draft spot, seriously?

        The other sports org’s in America like the NFL, NBA and Baseball have every interest in their being a limited market for football.

        The youth of America is turning to football, I see it every week, there are not enough coaches to handle the amount of kids that want to play football over baseball. More people are turned away…the MLS system keeps these kids that have that interest at a young age from being able to pursue a football path…

        Football growth and talent is being strangle by the lack of outlet at the true professional level because of the stubbornness of the MLS model.

        The two should merge, the MLS can be the top tier, the nasl could be the championship and below, but relegation and promotion would have to be key to encourage investment so we can have a Swansea, a ride from the 4th division up to the top division.

        Instead chivas USA get to suck every year with no need to improve…

        I should be able to invest in a team with a plan to gain promotion to the top league in the USA. Why should a team I invest in be limited? It makes no sense and discourages investment in the game.

        There are 7m plus people in the SF Bay Area, all for the earthquakes, now, look at London, 10m for how many teams? LoL.

        The interest in football is there just not for the earthquakes, it is elitism, I’m sure the same is true for the rest of the country too.

        50,000 turned up for Mexico b team v can’t remember now at candlestick… NO superstars at all..50,000 on a weekday…

        IMO MLS is elitism personified, there is room for at least 2 teams in the SF Bay Area, the problem is they’re not all the MLS demographic…

        So much wasted potential…

        If they changed the rules and merged to the traditional model interest would be absolutely massive…

        15 yr plan for Bahia F.C to start and rise to the top division.

        But the money mongers won’t have it…

  7. Mr. Lalas – MLS decided I wasn’t important when they contracted the Miami Fusion. I had season tickets for the Fusion, and MLS lost me when they left. I went to a bunch of Strikers games last year though haven’t been back yet in ’13. But why on earth would I watch an MLS game – what does MLS do for me? Don’t tell me I’m supporting the USMNT – the best American players don’t play here for the most part. I’m now a Newcastle supporter, and when they played in Orlando a few years back, I went to see them play.

  8. Until MLS has a single table, promotion and relegation, and removes some of the salary restrictions I won’t watch it. I live in the heart of the southeast, where MLS isn’t even a dormant entity. It’s never had a presence here, & ignores Atlanta, as well as the NCAA hotbed of North Carolina.

    Those of you who took Alexi Lalas seriously need to look at the shock news op-ed idiots on certain “news” channels who will say anything for ratings. Alexi is paid by ESPN to be the controversial, heel type, commentator. Look back at his performance during the Euro 2012 coverage. His debates with Michael Ballack were embarrassing and a disgrace to American soccer coverage. ESPN paid him to act that way, & probably regretted the unprofessional level he took it to, as I’ve noticed he has toned it down quite a bit when amongst the likes of Macca & Roberto.

    Don’t pay any attention to him and he might go away. I am thankful he never did EPL coverage. I’ll sure miss the class acts of Ian & Macca.

    1. Hey Cody. There will be no Promotion and Relegation until this internal war between the NASL & USL Pro stops, all pro sides get their own stadiums and other things within US Soccer circles.

      Stop being on the outside looking in and assume you know what the hell your talking about.

      1. I beg your pardon Daniel, but I believe I do know what I’m talking about. I know what I don’t like about MLS and that’s that. There is no incorrect facts stated, as it is a fact that I don’t like the structure of MLS. Go curse at someone else please.

  9. Promotion and relegation is the next step for MLS. That is the way to grow the domestic game in this country and engage fans at all levels. I can understand why it’s not been on the table up to now. But MLS has a foothold and does not look like folding anytime soon. Garber should grow a pair, extend a hand to the NASL and introduce true competition. It’s worth the risk.

    1. True… and I have said for years that to be taken seriously the MLS need.. 1. observe international breaks. 2. promotion/ demotion.

      That won’t happen till there is a plan to keep demoted clubs from folding, and risking the league going out of business, So while we all have our WANT list. they have a survival list.

  10. There is no way MLS will do anything to help the lower leagues because if those leagues go anywhere it will show how MLS went about running their league the wrong way.

      1. The only thing the new loan system with the lower divisions does is sets it up as a farm system like baseball and hockey.

        1. And, if I remember correctly, the new loan agreement deal is only between MLS and the third division in US soccer, USL Pro.

      2. We wrote about the loan program extensively in the past. Teams have the option of signing up USL Pro “affiliates” or fielding reserve teams in USL PRO. But still one of the great issues is that many writers who cover MLS behave as if their is no other pro teams and even if you are in a market with another pro team you should be focused on MLS. Atlanta is a prime example.

  11. Yaaaa here come the real eurosnob/pro rel jokes out there! Have complaining guys because its all you’re good for! I love Lalas he is a true American! I feel sorry you people can’t enjoy the game in the US because your all to busy bitching about what’s wrong with it.

    1. Tim
      since i do not enjoy or watch mls does that make me un American?i enjoy the EPL does that make me a eurosnob?i guess we will have to agree to disagree what makes a true American and a eurosnob.those were your words.

      1. Yes it does….point being…who does not enjoy EPL? I do and it’s a great league. It’s all the American soccer haters like you I can’t take. Lalas was just making a point for US soccer with and I don’t disagree with him however I’m sure he was not taking a jab at the people who soccer the lower divisions in the US and not MLS because they are local. Some of you have such a complex when it comes to soccer in the US that any comment made for it you have to immediately shit on it. Soccer must be great only on TV for you…enjoy!

  12. Take for example… Oxford United. A team most Americans would think is a University club. Not a team that almost grew to be a Chelsea or Manchester City in England. I won’t bother with the story, but the point is… You won’t attract fans to the game with minor league soccer. I live in Central New Jersey. We have so many teams and colleges playing soccer, that MLS considered Trenton for the team that was to be the Philadelphia Union. And it would have been if not for the MetroStars claiming 75 mile local rights. I have seen matches on all levels in many countries. And to compare the Silverhawks to the worst MLS squad is a joke. Sure I’ll venture out to see the Cosmos this season, the Reading and Harrisburg squads… Ocean City Nor Easters, Central Jersey Express, I’ve even seen the Brooklyn Italians play in years past in Queens… It is football, but not quality. It is a day out. But I hardly remember seeing a player that stood out. or an experience I thought special.

    Further… You miss Lamas’ point totally. MLS is the face of professional soccer in the States. Not NASL or other lower leagues filled with has beens or never will be. When you speak about baseball you don’t talk about the lack of a major league team in Indiana. A state that constantly produces major leaguers. And in soccer you don’t talk about how Florida had and lost top level soccer.

    If your point is pay more attention to lower leagues, say that. But don’t attack Lamas for trying to say following soccer doesn’t mean watching Man U highlights. And THAT really is his point.

  13. I live six hours away from the closest MLS team and that one is in a city that I truly don’t like…but I am supposed to support them because they are MLS?

    Sorry Alexi, I think I will support the local boys and go to most all of their home fixtures (work permitting.)

  14. Oh, god, Lalas. I could unload an epic blast on that utter and complete @ssclown but that would be too easy.

    So just factual stuff here.

    I live 10 minutes away from an MLS club’s home ground and will go a few times a year just to see live games conveniently. But that’s about the level of my “support” for it. I don’t think I’ve watched a televised match ever.

    In a world where you can easily watch pretty much 100% of the matches from England and lots of them the big Euro leagues, and where those matches are all brutally meaningful with all kinds of things at stake…. Well, the MLS has some problems there.

    Say you are a Toon fan. You start last year thinking about the Champions League possibly. You have an actual Europa League run going. But everything goes sideways. You end up on the edge of/in a relegation fight. EVERY MATCH MEANS SOMETHING for pretty well 9 months.

    For almost every EPL club there is something (usually several things) at stake for you for the whole year. Each goal (for or against) in a match is a reason to jump up so suddenly as to sprain the ball of your foot. [massages ball of foot sprained during Cup semi v Chelsea last year.]

    But the MLS fan? What, you need to keep an eye on the standings for the Western conference to make certain you finish higher than 6th or some such so that you can qualify for the playoffs? Please.

    That isn’t being a euro snob. That is comparing apples and the half-severed stem of an apple.

  15. If I am a Eurosnob, so be it. I started following Manchester United in 1959. I did so because my father was a fan. I received a subscription to the Manchester Evening News delivered two weeks after publication via the mail.
    When my (now) 37 year old son started playing footy, I was told by his coach, the guy who drew the short straw, that soccer would be the next big thing in America. Soccer will always be the next big thing here because you cannot sell cars and beer without commercials.
    Personally, I think MLS is a bad intro to footy for Americans. The lack of skills and pace are too boring for the American sports palate.
    I gave up trying to get my friends interested in footy long ago. Those who get it get it. Those who don’t just don’t matter.
    I find it curious and funny that during footy matches the team colors are listed frequently during a match. Again, those who follow footy already know. Those who don’t don’t matter.

  16. If I am a Eurosnob, so be it. I started following Manchester United in 1959. I did so because my father was a fan. I received a subscription to the Manchester Evening News delivered two weeks after publication via the mail.
    When my (now) 37 year old son started playing footy, I was told by his coach, the guy who drew the short straw, that soccer would be the next big thing in America. Soccer will always be the next big thing here because you cannot sell cars and beer without commercials.
    Personally, I think MLS is a bad intro to footy for Americans. The lack of skills and pace are too boring for the American sports palate.
    I gave up trying to get my friends interested in footy long ago. Those who get it get it. Those who don’t just don’t matter.
    I find it curious and funny that during footy matches the team colors are listed frequently during a match. Again, those who follow footy already know. Those who don’t don’t matter.
    I do not feel that it is my duty to convert anyone from baseball or throwball.

    1. Same sentiment: if anyone wants to call me a Eurosnob, so be it. You can’t force something to anybody.

      The first world cup I watched was 1986 and the first FA Cup final I watched was 1987. Became United fan in 1989 and no one can force me to like something or dislike something.

  17. MLS is the league that will make the US a soccer country. Not NASL, not USL not even the Premier League which has no connection to America. If fans want soccer to be a big deal here watch MLS. If you don’t care keep going to your minor league games and whining about why you cannot play with the big boys. I actually think PRO/REL is on its way out in Europe and is never going to happen here. Why should big money owners risk relegation anywhere in the world? As you have more big takeovers the appetite for PRO/REL will die. Here in the USA these minor league teams are a waste of time and space. The USSF should either fold the minor leagues or force them to play on days when MLS is not playing so soccer fans watch MLS instead of this other nonsense. Want to know why the MLS TV ratings suffer compared to Euro matches? Things like a good chunk of fans going to meaningless NASL and USL games while MLS has games on national TV. You people are hurting the sport in America.

    Another issue- the USSF needs to stop the predatory behavior of NASL putting teams in New York, and Washington DC where we already have established MLS teams and now talking up LA. That league needs to be stopped. I won’t even get into the activities of the author of this piece, longtime NASL Minister of Propaganda himself, Comrade Kartik Krishnaiyer.

    1. By the way, MLS man I no longer work for the NASL and have plenty of disagreements about the direction of the league currently. Things have changed in many ways over the past year. I don’t disagree with your last point about NASL going into MLS markets though I think the DC example is one where both can co-exist. I am unconvinced about NYC right now , and think the Cosmos will have to do an awful lot they are not currently doing to be successful. My guess is they don’t have much of a long-term chance unless circumstances change. Virginia on the other hand are going for a completely different demographic and part of the metro area than DCU and they both can co-exist. Also the Virginia owner and front office is fantastic. The jury is still out on the
      Cosmos in that sense.

      Your top paragraph is nonsense, utter rubbish. So you would prevent NASL and USL owners from maximizing their business potential in their local markets in order to boost MLS’ sagging TV ratings? Why would anyone invest in the game in this country or those markets then? Also PRO/REL is going nowhere in Europe. Nowhere.

      1. So NASL and USL are hurting MLS? If the MLS and their product is good enough, they shouldn’t be worried about NASL and USL.

        If something doesn’t go well: you concentrate on making yourself better, not blaming the others. I have never gone to any NASL or USL games and have no interest in doing so, but to blame them for MLS’ problems? That’s not right.

  18. NYC resident here.
    My nearest MLS team is in another state and the future expansion team is run by that spiteful small club in the sky blue kit. I’d support these teams I want to catch AIDS.

    1. Not at all a fan of Manchester City, in fact as far as the EPL goes I do support Manchester United (say what you will about that), but I’d support NYCFC if I lived in NY whether Man City was the owner or not.

      The fact that I would have a team in my city, that will surely be a top team in the league because of the ownership’s buying power and experience in soccer, and that WILL have its own identity meaning that it will not be Chivas USA 2.0 is good enough for me.

      BTW, I hope you’re not a Jets or Giants fan, because they are also in NJ.

  19. Kartik great job stirring up the pot to a boil! May be I am missing something but when did the MLS v lower divisions war start?

    From my Chicago vantage point being a Fire fan and season ticket holder if we had a second division team in town all the better. The NHL has a lower division team in Chicago and it does quite well. Until recent years you would have had a good debate if there where more soccer fans or hockey fans in Chicago. Given Chicago’s extensive ethnic population both of Latin and Eastern European immigrants and second generation Americans it may still be a toss up of soccer v hockey fans (many claim now to be hockey fans but can not tell you what a power play is). The point her is a lower division team may draw well here and I would think in some other MLS markets.

    I know MLS did not make a lot of fans happy when teams moved or the league folded franchisees. Yet the real problem with MLS appears that towns and fans want teams and the MLS Is still a slow growth league. They do make even MLS fans angry when towns get two teams and good soccer fans in other cities are left wanting.

  20. Go to hell, Lalas. There’s no team in my city or even state so I see no reason to support that rubbish of a league.

  21. Lalas was a hack as a player and obviously this atribute has not left his questionably inept reporting. Arrogant and narcissistic like the MLS owners where profits are guaranteed thank to a ridiculously low and cheap salary cap, owning all player contracts smells far too much like a monopoly. Even though MLS can at best boast at being on par with the BPL 2nd division and a few clubs on their best would play at the level of the lower third of the BPL championship division, Lalas must have take a few too many headers the wrong way to think his opinions his playing days they are long forgotten unimformed and not at all memorable at best

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