Before there was Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, there was Carlos Valderrama and Roy Lassiter. Boy, was their connection sweet in Tampa Bay.
Lassiter was MLS's first Golden Boot winner, scoring 27 goals in the league's inaugural 1996 season – a record that stood until 2018. His pace and finishing touch made him a defender's nightmare. He moved from Tampa Bay to D.C. United, adding to his trophy case as a crucial part of D.C.'s MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield winners in 1999. He played a few more seasons with the Miami Fusion and Kansas City Wizards, then returned to D.C. in 2002 before retiring.
Now, he directs a youth club in Seattle and his son, Ari, plays for one of his former clubs in Costa Rica and for their national team. MLSsoccer.com caught up with Lassiter for a Q&A on his past, present and future.
MLSsoccer.com: Where are you and how have you been spending your time during the coronavirus lockdown?
Roy Lassiter: I'm in Seattle, Washington at this point in time. I'm a director of a youth soccer organization, I'm really spending my time bettering myself. Taking time to read, taking time to better my game models and training models. Getting better at communication, connecting more digitally. So, that's forced me to be better at technology.
It's also family time. I'm getting to spend more time with the family, sometimes it's more than we need. Life has slowed a little bit. We can see it as a curse or a blessing, but I'm choosing to see it as a blessing.
Roy Lassiter: I think it was just the moment. I was in Costa Rica for three years, (and) I played for the top team in my last year there with Alajuelense. The main reason is I wanted to be part of something new. I don't think I would have went to Costa Rica if MLS was already in the United States at that time, I don't think many people would have been in other countries. I also thought after three years it was good to move to another challenge.
How things were going to go about, the people that were joining in or coming back to it, gave it credibility. I wanted to be part of that. It also brought me even closer to the national team. The USMNT coach could really focus on players in Major League Soccer, see them live and stuff like that.
MLSsoccer.com: What's your favorite memory in MLS?
Roy Lassiter: My favorite memory was with D.C. United. Tampa Bay was a good time, too. We were really connected, but D.C. United moved it another needle. We were so close, so connected and very good. I really liked that a lot. I thought those were my best times in Major League Soccer.
MLSsoccer.com: What's your one regret?
Roy Lassiter: Deciding to retire. I definitely could have gone a couple more years. My mentality was always to be the best on the field, being depended upon. I could have gone more than I did, but I was thinking if I wasn't going to be the top person then I'm out, I'm going to move aside and let younger players come through. But I do regret doing that.
MLSsoccer.com: Who is the best player you played with and the best player you played against?
Roy Lassiter: The best player I played with was Carlos Valderrama. He was just a true genius on the ball with superior vision. Man, he'd put that ball right where I'd only ever need one or two touches to score. My job was to read the game. Make the right runs, be where I was. I didn't need to handle the ball much at all, my job was off the ball.
The hardest player I played against was Eddie Pope; he was the toughest defender to play against. An athlete, very good with the ball, but very strong.
MLSsoccer.com: Do you think you'd be just as successful playing in MLS today?
Roy Lassiter: I think I'd be even more successful. I say that because the game is more dynamic now and I needed dynamics. I needed players who could dribble, make space and create space. I needed good wingers who could put balls in. I had those, fortunately, on my teams. That helped me score all the goals I did score.
But now soccer is more dynamic, so I'd like that. Our national team was more dynamic, so I'd be more successful with the national team. Back in my day, we were real defensive. We were slow build-up. But if I had someone like Landon Donovan coming through, I'd probably have been more successful.
MLSsoccer.com: Which current MLS player is most similar to you, if there is one?
Roy Lassiter: I think Chris Wondolowski is similar to me, especially around the box. Bradley Wright-Phillips, too. Back in the day, Taylor Twellman. Our styles were similar. I'd consider myself faster, but in and around the box? Similar. Taylor was so good around the box.
But, yeah, I'd say Wondolowski. Josef Martinez, too, but he's a better header than me. Well, I did score a few goals with my head. I went back to the archives and didn't even remember a few I scored with my head. I always got picked on by my teammates because of that. I wasn't the greatest header.
If you noticed when I was with more dynamic teams, I did very well. I wasn't the guy who would get the ball, turn, beat a few players and score. Nope. I was the one who found spaces. When my wingers got involved, starting to attack, my engine was cranked up and I was starting to move. Martinez is similar to me there.
MLSsoccer.com: You were around the league from the beginning. Back then, did you think MLS would grow to what it is today?
Roy Lassiter: I'm sure Major League Soccer had that type of vision, and that type of hope, but no I didn't envision it being this big. We're attracting great players.
I wouldn't have envisioned Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) in our league. I wouldn't envision big-time Mexican national teamers in our league, even though we had them then. Now we have them more abundantly and we have Europeans. We're not getting them when they're ready to retire, we get them maybe just a little bit above their prime with some of them. But then we have (Carlos) Vela. This is his prime. I don't know if I could envision this at that time.
I'm really, really glad to see this in Major League Soccer.