When the MLS got picked up by ESPN in 2006, I was very excited. There is hardly an argument that any US media outlet does sports broadcasting better than the Bristol based studios. If someone was to get soccer right in this country it would be the brilliant producers there.
I do not recall who was playing in the first game. I don't really recall anything about the game. However, I do remember the awful bickering between commentators Tommy Smyth and Eric Wynalda. The two fought over everything and agreed on nothing. It distracted from play and was downright annoying.
ESPN solved the problem by moving Smyth to only international and European league games. They decided to stick with the American commentating American games. This solved the problem in the box during the game, but in the studio before, after and at halftime, an issue still existed...Alexi Lalas.
Lalas is the man who is expected to introduce us to the games, let us know changes that need to be made at half and break it down in hindsight analysis after the final whistle is blown. He does all of this, but with a sense of arrogant jealousy that makes him seem villainous and ultimately untrustworthy.
Lalas played central defense for the US national team from 1991-98. In that time he had 96 caps and was one of the most consistent players on the squad. Much of the explosion in popularity the sport has had in this country had the groundwork laid by his generation. However, he is often not credited with this and makes it known during his commentating today.
The MLS is in its 15th season of play and is still fighting to be considered a legitimate professional league amongst its peers. Even the biggest MLS fan will not argue the quality of the game here is the same as the top leagues in Europe, but the commentator should not be blatantly pointing it out.
Lalas is notorious for being one of the harshest critics of MLS players, officials and organizations. He seems bent on attempting to tear down the league and point out that he had just as much quality out there when he was playing as there is now.
Honestly, he is relatively right. If you take away the "designated players," who have come about from the increase in money since Lalas' days, you have a bunch of college graduates all trying to get a contract that will be enough so they don't have to work a second job.
But as a commentator his editorial position must be concerned with game play only and be respectful to the promotion of the league and US soccer.
The only thing worse than listening to him on the MLS is him on the US national team. Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey are beloved players in this country and abroad. Nearly everyone who understands the game would say they are quality athletes who are great in their own right. That is everyone except Alexi Lalas.
I think he respects them as players and does recognize their contribution to the game in this country, but he also subtly gives off a resentment to the amount of notoriety they have received with at least the same the same (or even less) on field success.
Listening to Alexi Lalas is like reading an article on this Web site. It is highly editorialized, overly critical and often completely unnecessary (just like this article!). But Bleacher Report writers are not professional, not paid and not the voice for an entire league.
I really want to know how people feel about this. Am I correct and we all want his painfully red hair off our TVs? Or am I just being unreasonable and expecting much more than what the league can offer?