Metros fans go 1-on-1 with GM Lalas
Alexi Lalas, the newly installed president and general manager of the MetroStars, used his first official interaction with his club's supporters to speak of his vision for the club and candidly discuss what he has referred to as 'the good, the bad and the ugly' of the New York-area team.
At a "town hall meeting" held at Giants Stadium on Wednesday night, the former Metros player opened up about the importance of the success of the team for the good of the league, the seemingly never-ending saga that has been the club's attempt to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, N.J., and many other issues.
The meeting began with Lalas requesting to abandon the podium setup in preference of the less-formal circle of chairs, getting up close and personal with the group of hardcore fans that attended the event. He then spent the next few hours making promises about his commitment to the club, talking about the potential he sees in what already exists and in both asking and answering questions about how to make the club a success on and off the field.
Lalas -- who began his duties for the MetroStars on Monday -- said that the club is often judged unfairly, even listing some of his negative preconceptions surrounding the team. In an echo of his media whirlwind tour on Tuesday, he spoke of making the MetroStars into a 'Super Club,' defining that term as "constantly competing for and winning championships, making money and creating a worldwide perception of success."
Lalas stated that former MetroStars General Manager Nick Sakiewicz -- who on Tuesday assumed the role of President of AEG Soccer New York/New Jersey -- would turn his full attention to the completion of a stadium deal in Harrison.
"His first task is to get the stadium," said Lalas. "The only person that can get this stadium done is Nick Sakiewicz. He deserves the credit for where we are today and he's the one that's going to bring us home."
One of the key ingredients in the completion of such a deal is the increased support of AEG, which has vowed to give the MetroStars the same kind of attention that has been given to the Los Angeles Galaxy (also owned by AEG) and their home at The Home Depot Center. Lalas said that it is that partnership that is the most valuable asset to the reshuffling that took place in the early part of this week.
"They're loving it out in L.A.," Lalas said. "I fully expect AEG to give me the same resources -- yeah, it's money, but it's also the strength that is AEG -- if not more. As much effort that (AEG) has put forth in L.A. and as great as they're doing, if we don't do that here, it's problems not only for the MetroStars, it's problems for the league."
While Lalas was quick to clarify that much of his focus will be on how to improve the club off the field, he made it clear that the correlation with the product on the pitch is undeniable. Lalas said he believed the club has struggled with inconsistency and unfocused, underperforming players. He said that while coach Bob Bradley will still have control of what goes on at training and in the locker room, he will work closely with him to try to provide the best talent possible while also voicing his opinions and collaborating with Bradley.
"I'm not the coach. I had a meeting with Bob today," said Lalas. "We talked about state of the team. The only thing I have to compare to is with my relationship with Dominic Kinnear (in San Jose), which was awesome. I'm not going to be in the locker room screaming and yelling at halftime. But if my coaches or players need something that's realistic, I'm going to do everything I can to get it."
One of the main concerns voiced from the fans in attendance was how to better reach the throngs of soccer fans in the New York metro area that haven't become closely tied with the MetroStars as fans.
Lalas shared their concerns and said the club needed to find better, more creative ways to spend the money they have available to them to both attract new fans and win back some of the old supporters that may have abandoned the club in recent years. He did, however, sing the praises of the MetroStars staff, saying he could already tell that they work passionately to improve their club.
"I have people busting their [butts] everyday," he said. "Are they not doing their jobs or do they not have enough resources? I'm not concerned about the effort, but how do we do it and think about it differently?"
He expounded on that point by saying that the players who had been in Major League Soccer and had profited from it should make it their duty to do all they can to improve the team and the league, such as his long-time U.S. teammate and good friend Tab Ramos, whom he singled out by name but said represented a plethora of others.
"I said numerous times over the past 24 hours that my generation has let us down. I need to get in front of my generation and say, 'Who the hell do you think you are?' It takes effort. If I have to shame them, fine."
Having only been at his current post for approximately 48 hours, Lalas acknowledged that much work lies ahead, but he also remained positive and sounded committed throughout. The fans seemed rejuvenated by his presence and excited for the possibilities of the future. Lalas now just has to follow through on his promises, which is exactly what many MetroStars and MLS fans are hoping he can do.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.