Byline: Scott French Long Beach Press-Telegram
Alexi Lalas ought to be back in Boston, anchoring the New England Revolution's defense, pursuing his dream to bring Major League Soccer's championship to America's best fans.
Instead, he'll lead the New York/New Jersey MetroStars onto the Rose Bowl turf tonight in their '98 league opener. It's not what Lalas envisioned, but America's most recognizable soccer star isn't complaining.
``I'm not happy to have left New England. . . but I'm happy to have gone to New York,'' says the U.S. national team defender, whose Metros take on the Galaxy at 7:30 p.m. ``I have a tremendous amount of respect for Thomas (Rongen, New England's coach). . . and I'm saying this about a person who, in the final analysis, didn't want me on his team.
``I want to play for someone who wants me on his team.''
Enter Alfonso Mondelo. A successful A League coach, Mondelo's assignment is to rebuild the MetroStars, one of MLS's weakest clubs the first two seasons. He's added Lalas and Colombian Jose Palacios to the defense and Argentina's Diego Sonora and Ecuador's Wellington Sanchez into midfield.
The Metros need the new blood. They've gone through three coaches and failed to reach the playoffs last season. Lalas is expected to step into a leadership role.
``Let's be honest, things have not gone well for New York the past couple years,'' says Lalas, who was acquired Feb. 4 in a three-way trade. ``At times, I don't think the team was that good; there were times when maybe some off-field things crept into the situation; and they were very unlucky at times. What this team needs is some good days, some good times. It needs to feel what it's like to win.''
Notes: The Galaxy's Cobi Jones, who strained both groin muscles in last week's opener, is near full strength. The status of Mauricio Cienfuegos (back) won't be determined until today. . . Coach Octavio Zambrano said he would start Steve Jolley in Paul Caligiuri's spot at right back; Caligiuri didn't play well against San Jose. . . Assistant coach Ralph Perez served the MetroStars in that capacity during MLS's first two seasons.