For many casual American soccer fans, former U.S. national team member Alexi Lalas is as recognizable as any current member of the U.S. national team.
Fox has leveraged that celebrity since hiring him away from ESPN as an analyst, and will have him front and center again June 3-26 during its coverage of Copa America Centenario.
That’s fine with Lalas, 45, who said he has enjoyed being kept busy by Fox.
“From a practical standpoint, the light turns on and I talk about soccer,” Lalas said of his transition to a new network. “But it hasn’t been weird. It’s been new. There is a lot of different stuff they have me doing.
“In the last year I’ve done the Women’s World Cup. I’ve done FA Cup. I’ve done Europa League. I’ve done Champions League. I’ve done MLS. I’ve done the FIFA interactive World Cup, which is actually a video game. I’ve done everything. It’s crazy. But the point is they have all of this content they have been using me for.
“It’s great, and it’s because they have gone out and acquired all of this content. So it makes sense. I’ve had a blast in the last year. It’s been fun. Nothing against ESPN. I have to go where the soccer is.”
Said Fox executive producer David Neal: “I honestly think that Alexi feels like he’s had a rebirth as a broadcaster. I think he enjoys working with one of his best friends in the world, [announcer] Rob Stone. The fact those two are that close, you can tell there’s real chemistry on the air.
“He was thrilled doing the Women’s World Cup last summer. He said it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of his professional career. I think those are the kinds of things he’s getting a chance to do with us that help him feel like he’s a kid again. I love his enthusiasm.”
Neal said he believes Lalas is at his best in a studio setting, which was where ESPN had him during the 2014 men’s World Cup.
“It’s not a coincidence that on the World Cup or these big events that I do that I have him in the studio.” Neal said. “That’s where I think he’s best. He’s very good doing games as well, but I want to hear his opinions and see him.
Said Lalas: “I’m a studio rat. It’s where I feel most comfortable. I do. But they’ve had me start to do games . . . It’s just a very different type of performance. I’m getting better at it. I’m getting more comfortable with it. But still my bread and butter is studio. I love to do it. I love to be on camera in that kind of setting.”
Lalas has observed soccer’s rise in the United States over decades now, and believes it only will continue to grow.
“We’re dealing with a generation now that looks at and thinks about soccer as a part of their sports landscape and even more so as part of their cultural landscape,” he said. “I think one of the things, particularly with this generation, that soccer appeals to is the international aspect.
“Whether you’re watching or playing, it’s the same game that’s played all over. We have our own unique American aesthetic and culture, but it’s part of something bigger, and that appeals to a lot of people. So when something soccer-wise comes up and resonates, it’s not as much an aberration or a surprise to people.
“Like Leicester [the surprise English Premier League champion]. That’s a Cinderella, underdog-type thing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s kicking a ball or anything else. We love that type of stuff. The U.S. more than anybody loves that type of story.”