Lalas shares a pint with Metros fans
NEW YORK - Alexi Lalas has been everywhere. He's been shaking so many hands and kissing so many babies that you'd think he's running for political office.
The latest campaign stop was the top of the bar at popular soccer watering hole Nevada Smiths in Manhattan Wednesday night for what was his second Town Hall Meeting with Metros fans.
The first meet and greet was at Giants Stadium, a few days after being named Metros president and general manager.
"The concept is to make sure the most important people in your organization - your fans - have a voice," Lalas said afterwards. "Whether it's in a bar, or a hall or the stadium or in the street, I want to make sure that they have an opportunity to tell me their hopes and dreams, their problems, with the organization they love."
About 100-150 fans packed the tiny bar to hear what Lalas had to say about a variety of Metros topics, including the seemingly never-ending saga of the Harrison stadium project, the cost of tickets and trying to identify fans throughout the New York metropolitan area. They stayed to watch the Metros game at Columbus with Lalas, and left disappointed following the 1-0 loss.
Wearing MetroStars jerseys, shirts and scarves, a steady stream of fans walked into Nevada Smiths about an hour before the scheduled start of the Town Hall Meeting. The first part was the taping of the Metro Soccer Report, a weekly cable television show, which included questions from some fans.
But the segment wasn't picked up by the house speakers, and most of those in attendance couldn't hear the questions or the GM's response. Undeterred, Lalas took to the bar - literally - to have an informal Q&A with fans.
"This is actually a much more comfortable position for me," Lalas said. "Usually I'm under the bar, but now I'm on top of it."
Lalas discussed the importance of reaching out to soccer fans from all around, not just those in New Jersey, which, he said, is a driving force behind his decision to live in Manhattan.
"The fact is that I can't get in front of people and look them in the eye and tell them to come over to Giants Stadium if I'm not willing to do the same exact thing," he said.
While he didn't make a definitive statement about a timetable for the Harrison stadium project, which most fans desperately wanted to hear, he emphasized that the Metros will have their own soccer-specific home - at some point.
"I would love nothing more than to stand up here and tell you that the stadium is a done deal," Lalas said. "Do I believe the stadium will get done? Yes. Do I believe that it's vital to our future as the MetroStars? Yes. Do I believe it's vital to the future of the league? Yes. Having said that, it's a very, very complicated situation."
When he told the crowd that Tony Meola would be replacing Zach Wells in goal about 15 minutes before the Columbus game, there was a mixed response. But Lalas was unfazed.
"Yeah, yeah, boo, cheer. Who cares, at least you're reacting," he joked.
While he couldn't give a definitive answer to a new stadium or cheaper ticket prices, he did wrap up his 15 minutes on the microphone giving all the fans at the bar something they wanted - free beer.
Actually it was one free pint and most of the fans had that drink with Lalas, who spent the game mingling with some of the more hardcore Metros fanatics.
"It's a campaign to win back the hearts and minds of MetroStars fans that have left us and I completely understand their concerns," Lalas said. "But it's up to me to make sure that they identify a part that made them a fan in the first place and most importantly, that they recognize that we're making an effort.
"I'm going to do everything I possibly can to get in front of people, to talk to them, to tell them that I care."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.