San Jose general manager Alexi Lalas met with the media Tuesday to discuss the decision to keep the team at Spartan Stadium in 2005 and the return of head coach Dominic Kinnear. Here is the following transcript:
Alexi Lalas, opening statement: "From a business standpoint, we are now open to business and committed to giving our fans the quality they expect on the field as well as off the field.
From a fans point of view, I am real happy that people will be able to see this team play here in San Jose. The response over this past year and the loyalty and commitment that our fans have shown this team is at this point, bordering on legend. Whether it is the creation of Soccer Silicon Valley, the attendance at the rally or just the one-on-one relationships that we have with people expressing support for this team, it has just been incredible and my hat is off to everybody that has shown support for this team. I'm exited."
Lalas, on exercising the options on the contracts of head coach Dominic Kinnear and assistant coach John Doyle: "I certainly sat down and assessed the entire team, both in terms of the team in the office and on the field. I think that Dominic Kinnear has done a tremendous job and had some incredible challenges, and I also think that if anybody can recognize the challenges and difficulties that arise from the first year on the job, I can. Just as I've learned from this past year, I know that Dom and his staff have learned, and I'm excited to see him use that experience that he has gained over this past year to make the changes necessary, both in terms of personnel and the way that he coaches and goes forward. I couldn't be more happy with our coaching staff and excited to go forward."
Lalas, on the decision to bring Kinnear back for a second season: "We exercised an option to bring Dom and John back. This was a cognizant decision to bring back our coaching staff because I believe that they are of tremendous quality and I believe that they can have success."
Lalas, on who will own team in 2004: "At this point, AEG's position in regard to this team has not changed. They are still actively searching for ownership of this team for the future. Their preference still remains to find local ownership. I think everyone recognizes that it gives this team a better chance for success to have that local ownership, but that is easier said than done. I do believe that there are groups of people or a person out there who not only has a passion for the game but understands the business side of it and will be appropriate local owners. We have to find them. We are committed to providing all of AEG's resources to doing that. If we are able to do that, that is great. If not, we all know there are other people who have expressed interest with being involved with MLS for the long-term and expressed interest in the Earthquakes. Some of them are in the Bay Area, and some of them not in the Bay Area."
Lalas, on the situation with former interested investor Tony Amanpour: "The situation with Tony Amanpour is a situation of leaving no stone unturned. We went down a road with Tony and he brought to the table a tremendous amount of passion for this team, but from a business standpoint and a financial standpoint, it didn't come to anything. I don't think it was wasted time."
Lalas, on AEG taking responsibility for the instability in San Jose: "I believe that there has been a certainly less than ideal climate here. I also recognize that it has been very difficult not just for our fans but internally for our organization to function. It has been a challenge and I'm very proud of what we have been able to do under the circumstances. Are there things that we could have done differently? Of course. I think that I am someone who was in their first year on the job, and I look back and there are things that I could have done differently, but ultimately, given the situation, both AEG and the Earthquakes did the very best that we could. We were very open and honest with the fact that AEG has been a huge part of this league and they have been open with what they feel they need to do with the Earthquakes and other teams that they own from a business standpoint. Especially in the long-term. Certainly, we would have loved to make decisions sooner rather than later, whether that decision was to continue in San Jose or elsewhere. But, this is the business of soccer, and it is not for the faint of heart."
Lalas, on the quest for a soccer specific stadium: "We continue to look around and see if there is any possibility. A stadium for any person that comes into MLS is a vital component and I think that has been proven. For it to work from a business standpoint, you really need to have that stadium solution, whether it is in Chicago or even here with Tony Amanpour, he understood that the viability of owning the team was contingent on that long-term stadium solution. Once again, it takes a tremendous amount of work and takes the right situation, and just because it happens in another city, doesn't mean it will be able to happen here in the Bay Area. I believe that there is a solution out there, and the big thing is finding it, and right now we have not found that situation."
Lalas, on the current situation with Spartan Stadium: "Right now we are committed to playing at Spartan Stadium for the next year. We are not talking about renovation or anything like that. Spartan Stadium has been a wonderful partner over the years, not just for MLS but for professional soccer. It has been well documented and I have said it many times the challenges that we have at Spartan Stadium, and it is an over 70 year old stadium. Especially with the response we have had from our fans this year, if anybody deserves that kind of stadium with the bells and whistles, it is the fans of the Earthquakes. They have been tremendous and I would love to not only give them a winning soccer team, but one that plays in that type of stadium that we long for. We are all set and ready to move forward with Spartan. Our relationship with Spartan has been very good."
Lalas, on AEG's future involvement with the team: "This is a league that is only as strong as its weakest part. It does us no good to sell the Earthquakes to someone who doesn't have a long-term vision, deep pockets and a long-term vision for the sport. That commitment for the sport is with those soccer specific stadiums. So we need to do everything that we can, from AEG to help that come. If that can happen here - great. If that is going to happen someplace else, then that is something that we will have to deal with in the future. AEG has said from the very beginning that they don't want to be the long-term owners of this team."
Lalas, on whether AEG has a specific timeline for selling the team: "There are no hard and specific dates. With the announcement that the team will be here for 2005 and playing here at Spartan Stadium, it certainly gives us a tremendous amount of time, and much more time than we had this year to not only go out and find the appropriate stadium situation. But more importantly, the appropriate owner situation. As I said before, I believe there is that appropriate owner in the Bay Area, it is just a matter of identifying them."
Lalas, on the feasibility of building a soccer specific stadium in the Bay Area: "I don't think it is [a dream]. I think you could say the same thing in other cities. It does take a certain amount of belief and faith in a sport that even today is not as well known as any of the other sports. You have to have people that not only believe that there are a lot of kids playing soccer, but that this is a business and one that can generate revenue and provide the sports entertainment that can rival the other sports that we have. There are certain people out there that do have that belief and there are a lot of people out there that don't. I recognize that. We need to find the people that do."
Lalas, on when to expect a decision on whether Landon Donovan will return to the Quakes in 2005: "I expect a decision on Landon sooner rather than later and hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Landon is making a decision that will affect him for a long time and it is a very personal decision. From our standpoint, we - and not only the fans of the Earthquakes but the fans of MLS we would love to have Landon back and I would love to see Landon continue to be a part of this league on and off the field. Also, being a former player, I recognize the fact that players need to challenge themselves and they also need different experiences on and off the field and I would never stand in the way of players gaining that experience and going over and challenging themselves. I don't know what Landon is going to decide. Obviously, to lose a player of Landon's ability will be difficult from an on the field and off the field perspective, but it is our responsibility to go out there and at least attempt to replace him, and I know that will be very, very difficult. But, I believe that come that first game next year, whether Landon Donovan is or isn't a part of this team, we will still have an entertaining brand of soccer, we will have a team that people will be excited about and ultimately will pay money to see."
Lalas, on whether the Earthquakes and the league should do more to keep Landon Donovan in the United States: "I can't speak for Landon. I don't know whether his desire in regards to Major League Soccer is to stay in San Jose or to stay in MLS. I certainly believe that everything that gone on has affected our team and the individuals going forward. Especially this past year coming off a championship and then having a difficult and dark cloud over this organization for the past year. I'm proud of the way our team and individual players have responded. This is the reality and yes, we would have loved everything to be perfect on and off the field for the team, but it wasn't and I am sure that it had an effect on the team, including Landon. That is the reality of the situation."
Lalas, on whether the same uncertainly will effect the team next year: "You are right, it could. We could be in the same situation. Our players are unfortunately at this point used to dealing with it. It is not even close to what you want, it is not perfect or ideal. But it is MLS and it is the Earthquakes at this point. It is up to me to try to do everything in my power to give them what they need to be able to do their job, with the understanding that there are limitations and it is a business and going forward there will be times where it is difficult. But, they are paid money to play soccer and now having been on the other side of it, I remind them of it everyday. Play as long as you possibly can and enjoy those two hours of the day when you are working because it is incredible, and the other side of it can be difficult at times."
Lalas, on the make-up of the team next year: "There are going to be some changes. Some of our making, and other ones like a situation with Landon or Dwayne De Rosario, who is out of contract and wants to test the waters. We wish them well. There are going to be some changes that we want to make, tactical changes. It will be a combination of myself, Dominic and John sitting down. Our first challenge is obviously coming up with the expansion draft and we will have to make some decisions going forward there. Once that is over, identifying players and going out and making some trades and making some moves and finding some younger players and finding some new players around the world. That is part of our responsibility."