USMNT deserves your respect and will earn your trust, says Alexi Lalas
No one would fault you for being excited about the United States Men’s National Football Team, especially not Alexi Lalas, who played for the Stars and Stripes in the 1994 World Cup.
This year has been kind to the team. Out of their 21 games this year, they’ve won 16, lost two and tied three. They beat their Mexican rival for the CONCACAF Nations League Championship in June.
Then in August, the Yankees beat Mexico again, this time for the CONCACAF Gold Cup title. They beat Mexico for a third time on November 12, knocking out their rivals at the top of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying table.
Currently, the Americans are second in the standings with 15 points, just one point behind the first-place Canadians and one point ahead of third-place Mexico.
They won the respect of FIFA, which ranked the Yanks 12th among the best teams in the world. And now Lalas thinks it’s time for the Americans to respect the team.
âI think they deserve your respect,â Lalas told FOX TV stations. “And I think at the end of the day they deserve your belief in what they’ve done.”
Alexi Lalas, United States. (Photo by Neal Simpson – PA Images via Getty Images)
Lalas understands why fans would hesitate to embrace this team. The men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, so the most fans can offer is cautious optimism.
âThere is certainly cautious optimism and we have been burned in a way over the last cycle. So I recognize the reluctance in case we get burned again,â Lalas said. “But I think this group is different.”
He said this group plays with a sense of responsibility to make things right. He thinks they deserve your attention already, but he thinks they will earn your trust.
âIt’s just a really interesting group, obviously talented, yes, very young, and yes, very inexperienced,â Lalas said. âBut I think, more importantly, that they have a personality and an identity that I think relates to failing to qualify for the last World Cup. I think they see a way, they see an opportunity to sort of get us back to where we belong and then do great things.
As the CONCACAF ranking shows, the USMNT is doing pretty well in qualifying. But to say that the navigation went well would be incorrect.
Perhaps smooth sailing in the second half of most matches, where the United States has scored most of their points. But the first half of the games were disappointing – many of them ended without a single American goal.
“Yes this team struggles at times and starts out slow,” Lalas said. “But I think (head coach) Gregg Berhalter and his company recognize that part of their strategy is to burn people out and have you later in the game.”
Lalas said this strategy could come back to haunt the Yanks. The competition becomes much tougher once CONCACAF teams start playing against European or South American teams.
âThe problem will be, as you face better competition, if you go there well and it ends up being empty or dry, that could be a problem,â Lalas said. “Because usually it happens at the worst possible time.”
Much like the team, Lalas said Berhalter was young and inexperienced. He is often criticized for his selection and his starting XI on match day.
“Sometimes he takes a lot of bullshit that is unfair and unnecessary. But I think he would be the first person to tell you that he has big shoulders. He can understand that.”
Lalas believes the frustration over his roster changes shows just how deep America’s talent pool has grown.
âWe have had wonderful players, world class players and talented players,â said Lalas. “I think what’s different about this group are the numbers in terms of talent and depth.”
Lalas is watching players like Christian Pulisic, the forward who plays professionally for Chelsea and scored the go-ahead goal against Mexico on November 12.
Salas said everyone sit in their seats and hold their breaths as they step onto the pitch because they know he can do amazing things.
Then there are young midfielders like Weston McKinnie and Tyler Admas. McKinnie scored the second goal in the 2-0 win over Mexico last week.
Matt Turner and Zach Steffen are two âincredible goalies,â Salas said he would be comfortable seeing in the net. Turner plays for the New England Revolution while Steffen is Manchester City’s replacement.
“If there is a questionable position in this American team, it is the No. 9 position – the striker position,” Lalas said.
For years, Jozy Altidore held this role. But since he gave it up, the USMNT has not found a successor. But 19-year-old Ricardo Pepi hinted this fall that he could be the heir.
Pepi burst onto the scene this fall when he gave the go-ahead against Honduras in a qualifying game in September. The following month he scored two more goals against.
“Ricardo Pepi has done a good job, but no one has really taken it in the past two years.”
This story was reported from Atlanta.