SME5Q is our discussion forum with various industry leaders, where we ask five thought-provoking, brand-related questions about their areas of expertise.

SME5Q Title


Panayotis Alexander "Alexi" Lalas is a retired American soccer player who played for the United States National Soccer Team in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Known for his flamboyant red hair and even-tempered leadership, he became the first modern-era American soccer player to play in the Italian Serie A. Following his playing career, Lalas served as the president and general manager of the San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. He was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006. He currently works as an analyst with ESPN and ABC Sports.


SME sat down with Alexi to discuss his thoughts on the modern soccer brand landscape, the meaning of this year’s World Cup South Africa, and his legendary hair.


Will Landon Donovan’s success at Everton give rise to more MLS player off-season loans? How will the fans react (on both sides of the pond)?


Landon is a world-class player; that he is American is secondary. His success with Everton can certainly help improve the image and increase the level of respect for MLS, but I don’t see a mass exodus coming. Having said that, if I was a manager in England I’d certainly be mining MLS for players.


Did the signing of David Beckham have the desired effect on the LA Galaxy, Brand MLS and the global football conversation?


The signing of David Beckham was crucial to the league. It hasn’t necessarily gone completely to script, on or off the field, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. The sheer global attention he has brought to the Galaxy, MLS and soccer in the United States is invaluable. The Galaxy is now an international brand and the overall business, including the franchise value, has dramatically increased. Ultimately, a growing league and product like MLS requires platforms from which to spring to the next level and I think that the signing of David Beckham will forever be looked upon as vital to the continued growth of the league. 


As the first modern-era American soccer player to play in Europe, you witnessed first-hand the level of passion European fans have for the beautiful game. Does any sport, even March Madness or Brand NFL reach this level in the U.S.? How and why is this?


It’s not even close. While I don’t doubt that many American sports fans have a genuine passion for their teams and sports, it is not at the level exhibited around the world. There is a culture behind the supporters of soccer that permeates everything; from how they dress, to how they talk to whom they associate with. It is a lifestyle. In the United States the spectacle and entertainment of a sporting event is often part of what we are drawn to, and sometimes that makes it disposable. In cultures around the world where soccer is king the passion often seems to come from a more authentic and organic place.


The US National team’s 2002 World Cup performance gave hope, even gold medal hope, to American soccer fans. But the team disappointed in 2006. How much does the future of soccer in America hinge on 2010 World Cup success?


Every 4 years we have an opportunity to put on an advertisement for the game of soccer and hopefully push the game in the right direction. How powerful and galvanizing that message is relies heavily on the perceived success of the US Team. Getting out of group play should be expected and would go a long way to maximizing the power of the World Cup. If the team fails, it’s not the end of the world, but the game needs all the help it can get to continue to grow in the United States.


In your day you owned the “hair guy” brand, even in an era where Carlos Valderrama and Dennis Rodman had crazy ‘dos. Now that you’ve moved to a more grown-up cut, who holds the throne?


Unfortunately, this new generation of player seems to have forsaken the power of massive hair in the game of soccer. It’s rare to see younger players with the courage, flair and conditioner to wear it long. You see the occasional dreadlock, mullet or tail, but for the most part it’s a barren wasteland when it comes to any big soccer hairdos. I suppose it’s cyclical, so I’m sure at some point in the future we’ll see some young kid sporting a beautiful Bon Jovi mane and six-inch goatee. And I, for one, look forward to that day!