World Cup 2014

World Cup Memories: USMNT legend Alexi Lalas ranks Diego Maradona's Hand of God top moment

With just 31 days until the World Cup, MLSsoccer.com kicks off a brand new "World Cup Memories" series in which we relive the most memorable World Cup moment of soccer personalities across North America – in their own words.

We kick it off with US hall of famer and ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas, who ranks Diego Maradona's controversial "Hand of God" goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals as his No. 1 favorite moment. Here's why:

It was the first World Cup I watched and I just turned 16. I was in Colorado at a soccer tournament [the Tykes Peak invitational] with my team [the Birmingham Blazers], and I remember gathering around the television in the lobby of the hotel to watch it and being mesmerized …

In that particular moment we said: "My god, this is a guy who just outjumped a goalkeeper to score a goal with his head and he was one of the smallest guys on the field!" So there was that period of awe that he could do that.

But then we realized from the replays that he used his hand and had the wherewithal to do it in a way to make it that much more difficult for a referee to see or judge. There are all those thousands of calculations he had to make and to do it in such a short period of time and have it come off perfectly – that was pretty amazing.

The Hand of God for me is still such an incredible and an almost perfect representation of how I look at the game. That may be difficult for people to understand. But it has all of the complexity, the gray area, the nuance and the subjective part of the game that I love. I realize it's maddening to some people, but it’s what makes this game beautiful. For some people they see no beauty in that moment. For me, it’s almost a perfect representation of what the game of soccer is.

There’s going to be incredible hypocrisy and sanctimony that comes out from people that want soccer to be black and white and want it to have no gray area. But soccer is played in the gray area. What people fail to admit and realize is that the beauty in soccer is a result of the gray area.

It was a profound moment for me … I didn’t grow up on the streets, but I had an understanding that life isn't always fair and I think this was a confirmation of that. Having cleverness and having guile is an asset and can be advantageous.

Some 19 years later, Lalas met Maradona for the first time, following the USA's stunning 3-0 win over Argentina at the 1995 Copa América in Paysandú, Uruguay at a lounge inside the stadium. Maradona was there to watch the game:

Everyone on our team was celebrating and having a good time. And all of a sudden you can tell something was happening at the back of the room – there was a parting of the seas. These stern-looking gentlemen started walking toward us and everybody was stepping aside, but I couldn't see anything. And then there was Diego Maradona and he introduced himself to me and we talked in Italian for a bit and he asked for a jersey.

It was a surreal moment for a kid from the suburbs of Detroit sitting in Paysandú, Uruguay, and here was Maradona coming up and asking for a jersey.

Where were you for Maradona's Hand of God in 1986? How did the play make you feel then? How does it make you feel today? Share your comments below.