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SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES : U.S. Soccer Gets No Award for This Award

October 23, 1995|GRAHAME L. JONES

Alexi Lalas last Thursday was named U.S. Soccer's male athlete of the year, a cumbersome and totally unnecessary way of saying that some person or persons unknown at the federation headquarters in Chicago believes Lalas was the best American player in 1995.

Apart from the fact that he was not--the honor should have gone to goalkeeper Kasey Keller--there is no openness about the way the so-called "honor" is awarded.

Who decided that Lalas was the best? Was it voted on? Who were the other candidates? What was the criteria for selection?

U.S. Soccer answered none of those questions, simply announcing that Lalas had been chosen.

He got the award, according to the USSF's increasingly inept public relations department, for "exhibiting decorum on and off the field which reflects well on U.S. Soccer, and contributing toward soccer's popularization, acceptance and credibility in the United States."

Great. Now we know why he won. It was a marketing award. Alexi Lalas: Soccer Salesman of the Year.

Lalas is bright, intelligent, personable, quotable. He has all the attributes, in fact, that the marketing types drool over. That he also is outspoken and a little off the wall is regarded as a plus. It's all part of the charisma.

But just because he has done an admirable job of selling himself as a character is no reason to honor Lalas as an athlete.

As a player, his willingness to throw himself into any situation, regardless of physical risk, shows courage. But not skill. Truth be told, Lalas' skills are somewhat thin on the ground.

It would be a good idea if U.S. Soccer started honoring players for what they accomplish on the field.

*

Alejandro Gutman's Futbol de Primera soccer radio program, operating out of San Francisco and carried by more than 40 stations in the United States, Canada and Mexico, jointly sponsors the far more meaningful Honda player of the year award.

The winner is determined by a mail ballot involving the nation's soccer media. Last year, more than 150 writers and broadcasters chose Marcelo Balboa as the recipient.

As in years past, there was a black-tie banquet and the winner was given a new car. The two runners-up receive round-trip airline tickets from another sponsor, Aerolineas Argentinas.

This year's ceremony will take place a month later than usual, in January in conjunction with the CONCACAF Gold Cup to be played in Southern California.

U.S. Soccer could take a lesson in public relations and promotion from Futbol de Primera. Better yet, why not scrap its award and make the Honda award the official honor for America's top professional player?

*

Bruce Arena, the coach who has led Virginia to four consecutive NCAA men's titles, is heavily favored to become the U.S. Olympic team coach, replacing Timo Liekoski, who was fired last month. The announcement is expected Tuesday.

As part of the package luring him away from Virginia, Arena reportedly has been offered the coaching job of Major League Soccer's Washington D.C. United.

He is expected to coach both teams simultaneously, with the Olympic team being based in the Washington area.

*

"We don't expect to catch lightning in a bottle," MLS Chairman Alan Rothenberg said.

But with a team named the Kansas City Wiz, MLS might well catch something else.

Flack.

The league had no sooner unveiled its team names and logos last week when the guffaws and smart-aleck comments began.

In Kansas City, one of two teams in the league owned by Lamar Hunt, the Wiz was greeted on radio by the predictable flushing toilet sound effect.

It could be the team's future going down the drain.

*

Danny Villanueva Jr., president and general manager of the Galaxy, talks about turning the Rose Bowl into "a stadium within a stadium" when the MLS team begins play there in April.

The idea of "downsizing" huge stadiums and creating a more intimate atmosphere is the result of some realistic thinking on the part of MLS leaders.

The Rose Bowl will not be filled for soccer--at least not until the World Cup or the Olympic Games return to Pasadena.

"I hope the public and the media understand that," said Rothenberg, "that they don't think this is the World Cup, with 60,000 screaming fans in full stadiums. It will be a long build-up process."

"We've tried to take a long-range view of things. Our internal projections are modest. A 10,000-12,000 average. We do not need instant gratification. Give us 5-10 years of gradual growth every year, and that will be fine."

As long as the investors are willing to be patient, that is.

*

Some quick reactions to the names and logos chosen by (or perhaps foisted upon?) the 10 MLS teams that launch their inaugural season April 6:

--Los Angeles Galaxy: Barely acceptable name, absolutely worthless logo, not unlike a mustard spill.

--San Jose Clash: So-so name; why not the Scorpions, given the logo? The team's T-shirt logo of a striking scorpion is far more dramatic than the one selected.

--Denver Rapids: Pretty logo, pretty name; a pity that neither have anything to do with soccer.

--Dallas Burn: Nonsensical name and a farcical logo that appears to show a horse with bad breath.

--Kansas City Wiz: See above. They won't be around for long, Toto.

--Tampa Bay Mutiny: Original name, equally fine choice of logo and colors. If the league can survive, this team will flourish.

--New England Revolution: Predictably patriotic and altogether uninspired both in name and logo.

--Washington D.C. United: The only team with a traditional soccer name and logo. Wonder how they stole it from the Germans?

--Columbus Crew: So pathetic it's almost acceptable. Logo looks like something peeled off the back of a third-rate pair of jeans.

--New York/New Jersey Metro Stars: A name so forgettable that it soon will be. Logo looks like a reject from "Batman Forever."

Overall impression? Considering how much time it had, MLS could have done better. The old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee applies here.

The league is going to need a lot of luck to get over this hump.

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