FOX Sports’ lead soccer analyst and member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame talks about how the 1994 World Cup changed his life, expectations for the 2018 World Cup
We’re less than a month away from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, which will begin June 14 on FOX. This also means we’re that much closer to witnessing how the World Cup can change the trajectory of a player’s life. Alexi Lalas, FOX Sports’ studio analyst who will be covering FOX Sports’ first men’s World Cup presentation, can testify to the impact the biggest sporting event in the world can have on a person.
“I am living proof of that,” said Alexi, who was the first soccer analyst nominated for a Sports Emmy in the “Outstanding Sports Personality – Studio Analyst” category. “Somebody’s going to be touched by the soccer gods this summer, and his life is going to completely change forevermore.”
Read on for more of Alexi’s thoughts about this year’s World Cup, including the teams and players he expects to thrive, how he views his career path, what he’s looking forward to experiencing in Russia, and more.
You’ve been a lead studio analyst for 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups, but this will be your first time being a FOX Sports studio analyst for a men’s World Cup. How is this time around different from your previous World Cup studio experiences?
Well, in terms of preparation, there’s not a lot that’s different. You have your 32 teams and you’re knee-deep in history and perspective to give you nuance and layers to talk about. The fact that it’s FOX’s first men’s World Cup doesn’t increase the pressure – it’s just a responsibility and an honor. We want to surpass previous networks’ coverage of the game and the event, and we want to do it the FOX way.
What do you mean by the “FOX way”?
We’re given license to be different and disruptive. When I’m covering a World Cup, regardless of whom I’m doing it for, I recognize that the people that I’m speaking to run the gamut in terms of experience and knowledge when it comes to the game. And when it comes to a World Cup, you’re going to have people who know very little about the game. We want to make sure that it’s accessible, interesting, informative and entertaining. We take what we do very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.
How do you view your role in FOX’s coverage of the World Cup?
We are characters in this performance. Sometimes when you say that, people will cringe. But I’ve always considered myself a performer and an entertainer. In no way does that mean that I can’t be competitive, passionate, genuine or truthful in the things that I’m saying. But there’s a recognition that we’re trying to make sure people want to watch what we’re doing, hear what we’re saying in the context of the biggest party in the world. We’re inviting people to that party, but once you get people into the building, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to stay. So it’s up to us as hosts to make sure that the party is something they never want to leave.
How has the World Cup changed the most since 1994, when you played with the U.S. Men’s National Team?
One of the reasons why I’m talking to you today is because of the summer of 1994. I lived the power of what a World Cup can do to an individual – it changed my life forever, for the good, and provided me incredible opportunities. I remind myself of it and am incredibly blessed to have gone through that moment that summer. That power of the game has grown exponentially, especially when you have the world watching with the ability to instantly have information, stories and videos at your fingertips. The viral nature of sports is a huge difference. On the field, analytics and the science behind the sport have changed things, even the way we televise it.
What do you make of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s absence?
It’s obviously a talking point; we’re not going to shove it into a corner. But I think if there’s any country in the world that has the ability to celebrate a men’s World Cup without its team in it, it’s the U.S. because of our incredible diversity and our affiliations and connections to teams all over the world. I think it’s going to be fun to see how many people in the U.S. gravitate to different teams and what attracts them to those teams. Is it a star player, a uniform, a backstory? Whatever it ends up being, there’s something that’s going to pull everybody in, and people are going to support teams they wouldn’t have under normal circumstances. And that’s going to be fun to see.
Which team or player will surprise us this year?
You can’t go wrong with Germany, the defending champions. The upper echelon is Germany, Brazil, Spain and any team that has [Lionel] Messi on it – this Argentina team. Right below that, you’ve got Belgium, Portugal, France and maybe England. Then you’re going to have incredible stories like Iceland, a country with 330,000 people at the World Cup. And you have a team like Egypt back after multiple decades being away, led by one of the great players in the world in Mo Salah. For me, that’s going to be really interesting. We talk about stars driving this, and certainly you’re going to have your “Big 3” of Neymar, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But I think Salah’s really going to come into this conversation because of what he’s doing now with Liverpool. Can he translate into something big on the World Cup stage, with what everybody recognizes is a team not as strong as Germany or Argentina? Inevitably, somebody and some team is going to do something incredible and wonderful to jump up into our consciousness, and somebody’s life is going to be changed.
Will this be your first time to Russia? If so, what are you excited to see or do there?
This is one of the few places I haven’t been to, so I’m really excited. As a kid growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I remember what Russia represented back then. I’m fascinated to see this country through the lens of the World Cup, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the country, its people and its culture.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins June 14, 2018, and ends with the final in Moscow on July 15, 2018. All games will be live on FOX, FS1 and FOX Sports GO.