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Playing Against Mexico Is a Kick for Lalas

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Green shirts are shoving white shirts, white shirts are shoving back--"testosterone’s flying,” in the words of Alexi Lalas--and suddenly a Mexican boot lashes out at Lalas, leaving the American defender doubled-over and seeing stars, if not stripes.

“A sole of a foot to my ‘groinal’ area,” Lalas assessed after he was able to straighten up and regain his normal speaking voice. “A full-on assault to my manhood.”

It was a tough way to take one for the team, but Lalas did just that, trying to play peacemaker in an angry scrum in the 35th minute of Sunday’s U.S.-Mexico match in U.S. Cup ’97.

Lalas was interceding on behalf of teammate Cobi Jones, who had just been hammered out of the penalty box by Mexican captain Alberto Garcia Aspe, a blatant foul that drew no whistle, no penalty shot--only howls of dissent from Jones, which quickly attracted a crowd.

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“That’s what happens when you bring boys together,” Lalas said with just a trace of a wince. “Kicking, fighting and spitting.”

And a well-placed kick to Lalas’ groin, courtesy of . . . well, a still-dazed Lalas couldn’t be sure, but television replays indicated it was Enrique Alfaro.

Lalas vowed to find out for certain and then track that man down to the end of World Cup qualifying.

“I’ll put that one in the bank,” Lalas said. “We’ll play them again, when the stakes will have increased.”

Lalas grinned.

“Eventually,” he said, “he’s going to touch the ball a little too far ahead of himself.”

The altercation was typical, Lalas said, of a soccer rivalry that has become the most heated in North America.

“It’s such an intense rivalry, mixed with respect, mixed with . . . loathe,” Lalas said. “I cannot wait to play them again. If I were to play these guys again tomorrow in [World Cup] qualifying, I simply could not wait. I get jacked up just thinking about it.”

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Lalas will get two chances, April 20 at home and Nov. 2 away. The top three finishers in the six-team North American group will qualify for the 1998 World Cup.

Until then, the Americans will be left to dwell on Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at the Rose Bowl, the first domestic U.S. loss to Mexico in 23 years, and one well-struck, below-the-belt attack on Lalas.

“At least,” Lalas allowed, once the searing pain had subsided, “that’s how it should be. Players kicking players, not players kicking cameramen. The way it’s supposed to be.”


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