MLSsoccer.com kicks off its second annual "What Ever Happened To..." series this week with a look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. We begin with the league's first-ever scoring champion and goal machine "Rocket Roy" Lassiter.
Where He Was Then
Numbers don’t always tell the story in soccer, but in Roy Lassiter’s case, they certainly do: A 1992 graduate of North Carolina State blessed with breakaway speed and ruthless finishing skills, Lassiter bagged 27 goals for Tampa Bay in 1996, an MLS single-season record that still stands.
He potted 36 more in 55 appearances for D.C. United in 1998 and ’99, and his career .58 goals-per-90-minutes average is third-best among the Top 10 scorers in MLS history. He also scored 13 career playoff goals, the third-most all-time.
The figures don’t lie: Lassiter was one of the greatest strikers MLS has ever seen.
Where He Is Now
Though he had no long-term plan to enter coaching after his playing days ended, Lassiter always had a coach’s mentality.
“I was always studying the game, as a player,” he says. “I would see what kind of formation a team was using, how they were coming at us, where we were vulnerable and what danger points the other team had.”
Plan or no plan, that natural inclination led him into youth coaching as his playing days wound down with the A-League’s Virginia Beach Mariners in 2003.
He obtained his B and A licenses, along with his youth national license. He attended symposiums and signed on as director of coaching for the Dripping Springs Soccer Club near Austin, Texas, soaking up ideas and information like a sponge wherever he could find them.
In 2005, he became director of coaching for the Austin United Capital soccer club and, in 2009, he moved to the well-respected Albion SC in San Diego, where he’s currently the director of advancement.
Lassiter hopes to coach professionally one day, and he speaks with palpable passion about his work at Albion, where he oversees the U-11 through U-14 boys and girls teams.
“I’m [running] training every single day, coaching every week, sometimes nine games in one weekend,” the 42-year-old explains. “I’m gaining a lot of experience in teaching. If you can teach at the youth level, you can teach at the older level. I don’t know if that’s the same [or] vice versa.”
He still keeps close tabs on MLS, and he vividly remembers his years in the league, especially the first four in Tampa and D.C. Asked about his record-setting 1996 season, he’s quick to credit his teammates.
“I had a lot of great players around me that helped me get those goals,” he says. “Not only did I have Carlos Valderrama, but I also had Frankie Hejduk and Mike Duhaney. I had Steve Ralston. Actually I think Ralston gave me the most assists [that season].”
Surrounded by comparable talent during his two years in D.C., Lassiter scored 18 goals in both seasons (tying for the league lead in ’99), and the Black-and-Red made US soccer history by winning the 1998 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, the ’98 InterAmerica Cup and MLS Cup ‘99.
“Those two teams were fantastic,” Lassiter says. “We had great players, but we also jelled, we did things together off the field.”
These days, Lassiter is impressed by MLS’ growth both on and off the field. Regarding his own legacy, he says, “I’m proud that I was able to help lay that foundation for young Americans coming through – and hopefully my son one day.”
Lassiter’s son, Ariel, had a role in his dad’s landing at Albion. One afternoon a few years back, Lassiter was coaching Austin United in the Surf Cup in San Diego. Noah Gins, the director of Albion SC, struck up a conversation. Gins was impressed by a player on Lassiter’s club, saying he thought the young man would make a great addition to the team Gins was bringing to Brazil later that year.
The encounter eventually led to Lassiter’s current job and his family’s relocation to the sunny city of Temecula, 40 minutes northeast of San Diego. But there was one detail Gins didn’t learn until some time later, after he and Lassiter had established a rapport in subsequent conversations: The player Gins had his eye on was Lassiter’s son.
Today, Ariel plays for Gins’ team, and he won the U-16 Golden Ball at the 2011 US Youth Soccer National Championships last summer. Now 17, Ariel is on US U-20 coach Tab Ramos’ radar.
“Tab is keeping his eye on him,” says the proud dad. “So hopefully he will get a shot at [making the U20s]. We’ll see what happens down the road.”
What They Said
“Roy was big-time. He had so much pace, and I think he was underrated in terms of his finishing, and the runs that he made. When you have one of the best passers of the ball to ever play [in Valderrama], and you have a forward like Roy, they were a deadly combination. It was fun to watch.”
– Steve Ralston, Lassiter’s teammate in Tampa Bay in 1996
WATCH: Lassiter sets the bar with record-setting 1996 season