Thursday, June 24, 2010

Alexi Lalas for President

Forgive me for another swooning post about the World Cup. No, I'm not even going to gush about the US win over Algeria yesterday. Although I could. And I'm not ruling out a little love later on.

But meanwhile, I'm here to confess: I have a fan-crush on Alexi Lalas. This is not because he's "hott" or something juvenile like that. After all, he's five years younger than me, married, and has two kids. Not that I've been checking Wikipedia for his personal information or anything.

No, I just think he's very very good at what he does. Game after game after game--and they are adding up now, aren't they? how many games have we watched?? [rubbing bleary eyes with fists]--as I was saying, game after game, Lalas comes on camera with incisive, witty, compelling analysis.

He's frank and funny:
When commenting on the horrible theatrics an Ivory Coast player pulled to get Kaka a second yellow card, Lalas remarked scornfully: "He should know that when you get elbowed in the ribs and then you put your hands to your face, everyone can see that it's a dive, and it wasn't even a good dive!"

He's entirely fair-minded, but cheerfully biased when occasion demands:
When asked to "put a period" on the French after they had flushed themselves down the group-play toilet, Lalas replied: "Period?! Au revoir! Bye bye!"

He can see several sides to an issue:
When South Africa failed to qualify, he mused: "As for my human side, I would have liked to see South Africa go through, but in my soccer heart, I know this is the right thing. And I can't WAIT to see Mexico play Argentina."

[Pardon the quotes-from-memory here; perfect accuracy not guaranteed.]

Most of all, he's always right. His comments are acute, interesting, helpful, and bold. He's an advocate for the game at its best, and he's not afraid to tell it like it is. *contented sigh*

In fact, all of us over here chez Rienstra have been impressed with ESPN's coverage of the World Cup overall. The super-fab, Africa-groovy graphics; the totally professional camera work; the refreshing lack of overwrought human-interest drama pieces (*cough cough* Olympics *cough cough*); and the excellent analysis--nicely done, people. Thanks for having the good sense to hire a couple British-accented play-by-play callers, understated and elegant. And thanks for the well chosen, rotating, international group of "studio analysts": Jurgen Klinsmann (German) serves beautifully as the wise, fatherly voice. Ruud Gullit (Dutch) called the US-England draw and gets extra credit for introducing everyone to "If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much." Roberto Martinez (Spanish) is good, Shaun Bartlett (South African) is good. Even the two regular-guy anchors, Bob Ley and Mike Tirico, do all right. They stay out of the way and get right down to the actual game. All these guys--and yes, they're all guys, but I'll fuss about that some other time--handle themselves well and deliver good content about soccer. Thank you, gentlemen, for not stating the obvious, blathering on self-indulgently, or acting as if every dramatic moment constitutes the apocalypse and/or the climax of human history. Most of all, thanks for not being boring.

But back to Alexi Lalas. After that incredible win over Algeria--in which our boys nearly killed us with anxiety and tortured us with about 25 variations on almost, then finally put that glorious goal away in the 91st minute--after it was all over, you could hear the emotion in Lalas's voiceover as he summed up the game. He praised Altidore and DeMerit lest they become unsung heroes in the wake of Donovan's well-deserved glory train. And then, when the producers shifted camera from post-game hooplah to a shot of Lalas and what's-his-name in the press box, you could see: Lalas's gingery locks a little mussed, his eyes a little red-rimmed. Awwwww....

Other reasons to love Lalas:
  • He's from Michigan! Yup, played high school soccer and hockey in Birmingham.
  • His mom is a writer and poet.
  • He went to Rutgers and played soccer and hockey there (during my own grad school years there, no less--if only I'd known!).
  • He was a defender, which tends to dissolve any diva tendencies a player might have, even though Lalas did score some crucial goals in his days.
  • He is a pleasant-enough looking fellow, but no pretty boy. In fact, as this photo of him as an MLS player demonstrates, at one stage in his life at least, he might accurately have been described as "a total goober."

Sorry I can't identify exactly when this photo was taken; I got it from some blog. Photos of Lalas during his wild ginger days turn up on the internet on a few "weird soccer hair" listings. Just last fall, in fact, The Sun ran a photo of Lalas from who-knows-when as no. 1 in their "Top Ten Football Beards" feature.

But having survived a goober period is all in his favor, in my view.

So, Alexi, here's to the beautiful linguistic art of sports commentary, done very well. And never mind the part about running for President. True, I'd love to hear you lay into Congress. But no. Please stay right where you are.

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