World Cup

Mission accomplished, 26 years later: Soccer analyst Lalas scores Rutgers diploma

Alexi Lalas with his father, Demetrius Lalas. (Photo courtesy of Alexi Lalas)
Alexi Lalas with his father, Demetrius Lalas.
(Photo courtesy of Alexi Lalas)

ESPN soccer analyst Alexi Lalas detests unfinished business.

So when he left Rutgers University after the fall semester in 1991 to train fulltime for six months with the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team in preparation for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, he knew he’d be back.

Lalas understood the importance of getting his college degree from his parents – Wayne State University professor Demetrius Lalas and writer Anne Harding Woodworth – and how it would please them if he returned to school to earn it.

But what the then young U.S. international soccer prospect didn’t anticipate was how long it would take him to graduate.

“I looked at it as I was going to be out of school for six months. But I left and never came back,” Lalas said of his decision to join the U.S. Olympics soccer team in 1991.

Alexi Lalas’ career highlights:
· Defender for the 1992 US Olympics soccer team
· Played 96 matches for the US Men’s National team from 1990-98, including all four matches in the 1994 World Cup
· On the US Men’s National Team’s 1998 World Cup roster
· National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2006
· GM of New York and San Jose Major League Soccer teams
· President, GM LA Galaxy, at the helm when LA signed David Beckham in 2007
· Inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, the first soccer player to be so honored

On Sunday, 26 years after he enrolled as a student at Rutgers University, Lalas graduated with the class of 2014. He earned a degree in English and a minor in music.

“I am incredibly proud to graduate. But I am even more proud to graduate from Rutgers University,” said Lalas. “They took a chance on me many years ago. Now, I’m glad that I’m a graduate of the university.”

The delay didn’t make the process easier for Lalas.

After several attempts and denials by the university on his requests to get back to school, Lalas found a new champion in former Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti, who was a fellow classmate and student-athlete in the early 1990s. Online curricula has changed the face of non-resident education at Rutgers and other universities, and Pernetti helped Lalas work out a program.

In mid-2013, Lalas re-enrolled with an ambitious workload. He completed 12 classes with 36 credits within a year.

With graduation behind him, Lalas is now focused on his next project: the 2014 FIFA World Cup (June 12 – July 13). Lalas will spend five weeks in Brazil as one of the lead studio analysts for ESPN’s comprehensive coverage of the world’s most popular sports event.

As part of ESPN’s presentation, Lalas will share insights from his years playing football professionally and for his country, as a team executive for three pro teams, and now as a proud college graduate.

Video produced by Chris Alexopoulos

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