In an attempt to revitalize what they believe to be a pivotal franchise in Major League Soccer, Anschutz Entertainment Group announced Alexi Lalas will be the new president and general manager of the MetroStars, effective immediately.
Lalas, a former U.S. national team star and one-time MetroStars defender, replaces Nick Sakiewicz, who was promoted to president of AEG Soccer New York/New Jersey.
"I'm tired, quite frankly, of the MetroStars not being as good an organization, as good a team as they can be, in particular on the pitch," AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke said in a conference call Monday. "We want to build an attitude and we want to build a history here where this team competes for the championship every year. This is not blaming anyone but us.
Sakiewicz, who has been the Metros GM for six years, will be in charge of the Harrison stadium project, which Leiweke says should be finalized in the coming weeks.
Kate McAllister will serve as interim president and general manager of the Earthquakes. A decision on that position will be made in a few weeks.
Lalas has been one of the most recognizable figures in American soccer for 20 years and has been given the ultimate responsibility of resurrecting a franchise synonymous with postseason failure. They are one of three original MLS clubs -- Columbus and Dallas are the others -- not to compete for an MLS Cup and the only of that trio not to have their own soccer-specific stadium.
"We really need to strive to become the first super club to emerge from MLS," Lalas said. "Make no mistake that the race is on for that distinction and with all due respect to the people from L.A., I'll be damned if I let the posers out in L.A. beat us to the punch."
The first step, Lalas said, is to meet with the entire organization, which he expects to do Tuesday morning. From there it will be evaluating the talent and making decisions from there.
"We have to have a team that entertains collectively and individually, we have to have players and coaches who understand their responsibilities to entertain and promote and to motivate and sacrifice for this team on and off the field," Lalas said. "I want players with personality and ability and character. It's what our fans expect and deserve and incidentally it's what's going to enable us to win the first of many championships with this club."
As for the future of coach Bob Bradley, who is in his third year with the MetroStars?
"Ultimately as a coach, and I think Bob would understand this better than anybody, you're judged on your performance and I feel that the performance needs to be better," he said. "I'm going to sit down with the entire organization, everyone individually and collectively, and everyone will be assessed."
Lalas is no stranger to the MetroStars and the New York/New Jersey area. He was a three-time All-American at Rutgers, leading the Scarlet Knights to the NCAA Final Four in 1989 and 1990. After starting his seven-year MLS career in New England, Lalas played for the MetroStars in 1998.
"Years ago my father threw me in the car and we drove out east from Detroit and he slowed down long enough to drop me off at Exit 9 on the (New Jersey) Turnpike at Rutgers University," Lalas said. "I'm returning to an area that I know and love. I believe there are soccer fans in New Jersey, there are soccer fans in New York and there are soccer fans in Connecticut. If you give them a reason, both with a quality product and a quality environment, they will come."
He was a two-time Olympian and played in the 1994 World Cup. His MLS career included five all-star appearances, an MLS Best XI selection and an MLS championship with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2002.
Lalas became the first former MLS player to become general manager, when he was promoted to the post at San Jose on Jan. 27, 2004.
He now takes on what could be his greatest challenge to date.
"I don't think anyone has had as much success as Alexi had on the pitch," Leiweke said. "I think he understands locker rooms, he understands coaches, he understands talent and the players' mentality, he understands development and what it's going to take for us to develop the young players going forward to make the MetroStars a dominant team."
And Leiweke said that team should be able to call Harrison its new home in the near future as the much maligned stadium project seemingly is reaching a conclusion. Leiweke said there is one final issue left to be resolved, and that should be done within the week. Then the project will be put up for a vote in New Jersey.
"We believe, and we're optimistic, that vote will be rather easy and hopefully short," he said. "Our hope is that by June or July we've gone through the legislative process. We do believe we're at a point now where we're about to close this deal, we do believe the Harrison project is going to happen and we're anxious in the next two weeks to get the agreement signed and get everyone focused on the design and the construction of that particular project."
Added Sakiewicz: "We have one or two relatively small hurdles left and we have a lot of confidence that we are going to be able to get over those hurdles and into the ground with this building real soon."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.