Alexi Lalas

An icon of American soccer in the 1990s, a central defender whose playing skills were fiercely debated but who drew more publicity to soccer than any other American player of his era. He was a regular in the United States team in its successful runs at the 1994 World Cup and the 1995 Copa America.

Lalas’ stock in trade was his appearance, 6-foot-3 topped by red hair down to his shoulders and a red goatee. The fact that he was also a part-time rock musician contributed to his exotic image. For much of the 1990s, he was the face of American soccer to the general public, the only soccer player whom million of American non-fans could identify.

Lalas first started to come into widespread public notice in 1991, when he was one of the leaders of the team that won the United States’ first Pan-American Games title. By 1993, he had gained a regular starting place in the full national team and scored perhaps his most famous goal, a near-post header from a corner kick in the United States’ 2-0 win over England in Foxboro, Mass. That sort of goal, on a header, became Lalas’ on-the-field trademark and he scored several more in the national team. He also scored a goal with his foot against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup, but that one was called back, perhaps incorrectly, by the referee.

Lalas played 96 full internationals for the United States, scoring nine goals, but was controversially left on the bench at the 1998 World Cup.

After the 1994 World Cup, Lalas signed with Italian club Padova, for whom he played two seasons in the Italian first division, becoming the first American to do so since before World War II. In 1996, he was one of the legion of American players who returned to the United States from European clubs when Major League Soccer began operations, and was assigned by MLS to the New England Revolution. He was traded to the MetroStars in 1998 and to the Kansas City Wizards in 1999. He unexpectedly retired from soccer after the 1999 season, but returned to play the 2001 and 2002 seasons for the Los Angeles Galaxy, and won his only MLS title with Los Angeles in 2002.

Inducted in 2006.