A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
An Interview With: Roy Lassiter
MIAMI, FLA.—Roy Lassiter was one of MLS’ deadliest forwards and left the league having scored more times than anyone else. His 27 goals in MLS’ first season is still a single-season record and it was only in 2004 that Jason Kreis surpassed his career goal scoring mark.
Roy was gracious enough to talk to GolNoir from Austin, TX about his career, his views on coaching, what really happened on the night that led to his run in with the law and that memorable airplane celebration.
You grew up in the Raleigh area where, although basketball is probably the main sport, there are several youth soccer programs. What was it about the beautiful game that drew you to soccer and kept you from drifting into other sports?
My next door neighbor was a coach at North Carolina State University and I went to the games. I was actually playing at the Boys Club there in Ralheigh, NC. I played several sports and my first sport was actually baseball and I played basketball a lot as well. So I started playing soccer. I was dribbling around, faster than everybody. I didn’t have a lick of talent but I had the skill to put the ball in the back of the net. I just kept on doing it.
After you came back (from playing professionally in Costa Rica) and started getting some more play with the US National Team, you introduced us to the airplane celebration. Where did THAT come from?
Actually I started doing the airplane when I was at Tampa Bay. “Pibe”, Carlos Valderrama was my roomate and he was also my neighbor. He was probably the biggest professional I’ve ever played with and he wanted us to do certain things and make up stuff. I made up that and he followed me and the rest of the team followed after every goal. It just really made the team comfortable. It was just the spirit that I had and it put some spirit in the team. We never wanted the cheat the game and we respected the game and that’s what it was all about.
After your first season (in MLS after scoring 27 goals), when it seemed that you’d be competing with Brian McBride for a spot alongside Eric Wynalda on the National Team first 11, it seems the critics, led by ESPN’s Seamus Malin started drawing their knives. They labelled you “one dimensional”, “lazy” and “needing service”, negative connotations that stayed with you throughout your MLS career It seemed to me that people were trying to explain away your goal totals. How much did these labels & the general lack of respect bother you and how would you respond to those criticisms.
I would say that it bothered me a lot. They have to understand that each and every player has his role on the soccer field. I’m by no means a lazy player. I worked very hard and I stayed after practice and worked very hard. Those goals don’t come to lazy players. Lazy players don’t get that many goals in one season and I didn’t just do it that season. I did it in another season and I did it in another season and I did it in another season. So I tend to wonder. That’s laziness? I might as well stay lazy if I’m going to keep scoring goals as such. So yeah, I didn’t like it too much.
You once said that a well known National Team Defender called you a nigger during an MLS game. I’m curious how often of an occurence this was during your MLS career and whether that’s an experience common to other Black players?
Um, that was a one time experience. This was a player that was very weak, a very weak defender. We weren’t gonna have it. We took it to the league and they took action because the league did not want that all. No one was going to have that. Everyone heard it and knew it and it not only made myself but several other players on the team upset. The player apologized, end of story, we went on. I know it was in the heat of the game but that’s really crossing the line; that’s really showing me I really HAD you in the game. From there I let it go. There were a few other Black players to whom that happened in the league but the league definitely addressed that and made it known that wasn’t going to continue and I haven’t heard any of that stuff since then.
Speaking of the National Team, you mentioned some of the younger players coming through such as DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan. How excited are you about Eddie Johnson’s start to his international career?
He’s a good friend of mine. I think he’s a very humble player who’s definitely going to make it. I saw him a couple of months ago in Dallas and was saying, “Hey Roy, I just want to be like you, man.” I was like, “Hey, you’re going to be better than me. You need to be better than me.” So, just those comments, like that, from a kid like that, he’s going to go very, very far. I hope he does. I tried to jump in and be his agent, but it didn’t happen (chuckles). But he’s definitely going to go far. He’s a very exciting player to watch on TV and in person.
Why wouldn’t I want to answer that? It helped me, it was a young man’s mistake and I’ve gotten well over it, have grown up since then and it’s a story for me, a story to tell to kids to let them know, hey, I’m not perfect. I had no mentors back then, none whatsoever. I was living with my Mom, my Dad had already moved out, my brother was already in school and I was sitting in the house with a cast on my leg. Then I go out with some friends and they go crazy and they want to go to this other house and I told them I’d drive. I’m sitting with crutches and a cast on my leg. All of a sudden they go into this duplex. They went into this house and I was just there (in the car) and they took this stuff to these guys place and that was it. They got caught and said I was with them and I wasn’t around because I was in Costa Rica.
So people say, “You did this” and “You did that”. If you could see what actually happened, you would say, Man, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
American soccer players often talk about the responsibility to help the sport grow in the US. As one of the more high profile Black players while in MLS did you feel an extra responsibility to help the league grow in the Black American community?
Oh, I sure did. I sure did. Living in DC, hey it’s Chocolate City, man!!! It was up to myself, up to Eddie Pope for us to get out there and give that kind of recognition to our African-American players, give them that type of hope that there is a possibility they can grow & do well in this sport.
They see basketball on TV all the time, baseball, football, they see this all the time, so that’s mentally, what they want to do. They say, hey, we have a lot to offer in this sport, a lot to offer African-Americans in this sport, I want to stick to this because there’s more opportunity here. They don’t think there is opportunity in soccer, the community doesn’t even play soccer.
Then again, they think soccer is very expensive because at the club level it is expensive; 6,7,800 dollars, all the way up to 1000 a year to play. Some parents can’t afford to do that, especially in some of those neighborhoods in Washington where I was going around doing guest speaking and stuff like that.
I think if we get out there and educate them we’ll have them going on the right track as well.
To that end, you filmed a commercial in MLS’ inaugural year in both spanish and english in which you said “I was an All-American but because I wasn’t playing basketball, nobody knows who I am… My name’s Roy, nice to meet you.” Does that lack of recognition and knowledge of your career in the Black-American community frustrate you?
Probably so. But that’s how it was at the time, though and that’s what that commercial was for. It was because of lack of recognition, a lack of knowledge as to who I was, a lack of knowledge as to whether there were any African-Americans playing at all. I think Nike did the commercial for several reason, yes I was the leading goal scorer, yes I was African-American, yes I was on the National Team and now an icon in the Black community and being able to speak both English and Spanish, it was inevitably something Nike wanted to take advantage of. It helped not only the African-American players but the Latin players as well. This sport is here in America and it is for everyone.
The complete interview can be found at http://www.GolNoir.net