CARSON, Calif. – Alexi Lalas presided over a period in LA Galaxy history that was arguably as formative of any other time in the club’s existence.
Hired as general manager on April 17, 2006, Lalas was brought into the fold to replace longtime-GM Doug Hamilton, who had passed earlier in the year. During his time as general manager, the Galaxy were transformed as he made a number of important decisions including signing the first Homegrown Player in MLS history in 16-year-old Tristan Bowen, rebranding the club and signing international superstar David Beckham.
On the eight-year anniversary of Lalas’ appointment as the club’s general manager, the former U.S. international and current ESPN soccer analyst speaks to the LA Galaxy Insider about his time in the front office.
LA GALAXY INSIDER: What were your emotions heading into that first season when you were appointed as General Manager of the Galaxy?
LALAS: On one hand, I was coming back to be a part of a club that I love, but I was also taking the place of a legendary figure in regards to managing the Galaxy, but also a friend and a champion in Doug Hamilton. I looked at (the general manager position) as a responsibility and certainly an opportunity. I had been in San Jose where the Earthquakes were in the process of moving to Houston and in New York when the team was sold to Red Bulls, so it was a lot of emotions, but I was proud. From the moment that I got to the Galaxy, I wanted to make sure that the players had a respect and an understanding of what the men and women in the front office did and vice versa. As a player, often times, you’re insulated from business that was going on and I tried to open that up and I’m proud of that. The players were able to understand the way that the members of the front office worked their ass off, if nothing else, I’m glad that I exposed them to a side that they are often not privy to.
INSIDER: You took over as GM after a club tragedy and a tumultuous season. What were your responsibilities as the GM?
LALAS: My responsibilities were making sure that the product on the field was good and monetizing that product off the field. The business part of it, I immersed myself in which is what I had done in the previous three years or so as I learned the business of selling soccer. I knew that Doug had put a solid group of people in place who every day woke up and sold the Galaxy and I found them to be not only competent, but also some of the best people that I ever worked with. In terms of the product on the field, we were coming off a strange year as the team won an MLS Cup with what wasn’t the strongest Galaxy team in history. It was just a period of tremendous transition for the club, and an even more incredible transition was to happen more than a year later with the rebranding and the arrival of David Beckham.
INSIDER: You mention the rebrand. What was your role in that process that saw the Galaxy’s original logo be changed to the one that we see today?
LALAS: It is still today one of my proudest moments. The time and effort that went into making that successful is something that I will never forget. I think that the logo still stands up through time. We spent a tremendous amount of time and energy to make sure that it helped make what was already a good brand even better. I think that we did that. We wanted to capitalize on the arrival of David Beckham and what it meant not just for the Galaxy but also for MLS and for soccer. We knew that it was going to be monumental. I spent a lot of time on that with (then-AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke) and (then-AEG Chief Marketing Officer) Shawn Hunter and working with different people to tweak it.
INSIDER: With the arrival of Beckham to the team, there were many voices in the room discussing how the crest would look. How did you make your idea move to the forefront?
LALAS: We wanted our logo to have a respect to the past, but also a nod to the future. I learned a tremendous amount going through it and the attention to detail that we had and the stories behind the quasars. What I think is a wonderful simplicity without losing any of the boldness that we came up with. It was a long process and I think the logo holds up today, but we knew that we’d have a moment in time to turn the already-powerful Galaxy brand internationally relevant. I think we did that because with our rebrand and with the signing of David Beckham, when people thought of MLS—and I would argue that they still do this—they think of the LA Galaxy.
INSIDER: Now moving to David Beckham’s arrival with the club in 2007. When his arrival started to become a reality, how did you prepare to deal with the buzz that would ensue?
LALAS: I don’t think that anything prepares you for the hurricane that is David Beckham. Whether it’s the players or those in the front office, none of us had ever been through something like that. We had to learn as we went along. It meant that, at times, we made mistakes, but I also think that the Galaxy having gone through that tumultuous period on and off the field was almost essential in terms of the growth of the organization. I’m not going to tell you that it was fun and certainly there were casualties along the way, including myself, but when I look at it from a distance I’m still proud of the work that everyone in the front office did and the players. While the team wasn’t successful which was part of my responsibility and I accept that, I also think that having gone through that the Galaxy have benefited from that challenge.
INSIDER: Is there one specific thing that you look back upon and say to yourself, ‘I would do this differently?’
LALAS: Sure. When it came to the leadership of the Galaxy, I probably would have gone in different directions at times, but it’s easy to look back. You’re in a position of leadership, but you also have some bosses and I love Tim Leiweke, who gave me my opportunity and ultimately fired me. He’s not always easy to work with, but he does create an environment where you have to perform and I like that. (In the GM position) you have to be willing to accommodate and to a certain extent bend, and at times maybe I bent too easily. You also have to understand that I started this at 33 years old. I was very young and inexperienced, and I had a crash course in the soccer business. I made mistakes along the way, but I don’t regret it at all.
INSIDER: You mention leadership changes. What was your relationship with Ruud Gullit who took over for Frank Yallop and was ultimately relived from his duties on the same day that you were on Aug. 11, 2008?
LALAS: You talked about regrets. When we were fired, there was no shame in that. It happens to everybody. When that happened and Bruce Arena came in and Tim focused his attention on the Galaxy, it’s almost as if the Galaxy took (the club) back. Under my watch, I was responsible for letting it go. This isn’t a knock on David Beckham or anything like that, but the reality of the situation is that there were too many people involved in making decisions at the Galaxy. I let it happen and that was my responsibility and my fault. I’m glad that when we came out the other side, that can’t be the way that the Galaxy is run and I don’t think that it’s been run that way ever since.
INSIDER: Do you think that in the end there were just too many voices in team leadership for the club to be successful?
LALAS: Ultimately, you want to make it work and you want to accommodate and you want to give people the benefit of the doubt, so you bend over backwards to try and make things work. Like I said, I was still young and inexperienced, and when I needed to be more assertive and put my foot down I didn’t. That’s to be expected to a certain extent. It was part of the learning and the growing process.
INSIDER: Are you better as a person for having gone through the experience of serving as general manager of the Galaxy?
LALAS: One hundred percent. I don’t regret a day of it. I don’t regret being with any of the teams that I was a part of, and getting fired opened up a new world to me in terms of television which I tremendously enjoy. I do think that by being given this experience and the lessons that I learned I’m a better person for having gone through that. And it would be interesting to someday go back to leading a different club with that experience and lessons learned and see how different it could be.