Our latest honoree, Marcelo Balboa, brought more than a proclivity for bicycle kicks to the Nats when he was at his peak. Balboa offered a melding of styles in his heyday. He combined Tony Meola’s high-contrast mullet with a two-pronged, Lalas-style, attack of hairdo and facial hair. Let’s be honest, Balboa would be on this list for his hair or mustache alone. That’s probably the finest mustache that has ever pulled on a US jersey. He rolled up at Italia 90 and showed the Italians the proper way to wear a mullet, and then what does he do? He shows up at USA 94 with the back of his hair a good 12-15 inches longer than before. Amazing!
Did you know? During the 1999 MLS season, Marcelo Balboa was banned from taking any shots on goal that were not overhead kicks.
This entry in our series is basically just to serve as a reminder that Brad Friedel did, in fact, once have hair. Friedel is significant in the history of US Soccer hair because he served as goalkeeper during a time of great transition for the Federation. During his tenure, the USSF’s position on goalkeeper hair followed Friedel’s hairline from hirsute (Tony Meola) to bald (Kasey Keller, et al). Thus US Soccer Federation bylaw 128.3 (aka “Friedel’s Law”) bears Brad’s name. This law states that no keeper for the USA will have more than 50% of their head covered with hair.
We can see the results of Friedel’s Law in the careers of Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, and Brad Guzan. Casualties of this law include Troy Perkins, Mark Dodd, and Kevin Hartman.
Did you know? Norwegian-American Espen Baardsen changed his allegiance from USA to Norway upon learning of Friedel’s Law.
More than anything, the World Cup is a showcase for crazy hair. Players from across the globe break out the new dos for the sporting world’s biggest event. Whether it’s Ronaldo in 2002, Beckham at pretty much every tournament he’s played in, or the entire Romanian team in 1998, it always makes for interesting viewing.
The 2002 World Cup was a particularly loaded event in the hair department, and Clint Mathis came prepared with a mohawk. It seemed to come out of nowhere, as we’d never seen any evidence that he was adventurous in the hair department. I know it’s not a novel haircut, and there were a lot of mohicans and faux-hicans at the tournament, but Mathis’ hair holds a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s just a reminder of the USA’s performance that year, or Mathis’ excellent goal against South Korea. Maybe it’s a symbol of that magical year when Mathis was the best player in the country, seemingly scoring at will. Doesn’t matter. Great haircut. Great performance. Great tournament.
Former USA defender/rhythm guitarist Alexi Lalas works his way onto our list with his two-pronged attack–flowing ginger mane coupled with a wispy goatee. Lalas would be a candidate with either one, so the combination of the two made him a lock. He’s a natural successor to our first inductee, Tony Meola, because like Meola, he was arguably the most recognizable US player of his era. Everyone knew who Alexi Lalas was. I had a friend (long red hair and beard) who took a trip to Ecuador in the late 90s, and everywhere he went the locals shouted, “Lalas! Lalas!” Now, I know Alexi was a solid defender and all, but really it comes down to the hair. No one was shouting “Wynalda! Wynalda!” at me when I went to Germany.
We’re gonna start this series off with a no-brainer. Antonio Micheal Meola was the standard-bearer of soccer hair for kids across the nation in the early 1990s. At his peak, he was one of two players the average kid on the playground could name (Pele being the other…Tatu ran a distant third), and I believe that this was almost entirely due to his extravagant mane. The key to Meola’s hair is contrast–the difference in length between the buzzed/spiked top and the flowing back. It’s not a normal hairdo that’s a bit longer in the back. It’s almost completely shorn in front and a good 12 inches long at the business end. That’s nearly a 24 to 1 ratio. Chew on that for a minute.
For this reason, Meola served as inspiration to youth soccer teams everywhere. You couldn’t simply grow out your hair for a month and then shave the front and call yourself a soccer player. It took time and dedication. And for that dedication, we salute Tony Meola today.
Fun fact: Did you know that before Tony Meola was an off-Broadway actor, he was a place kicker for the New York Jets? And before that, he moonlighted as a goalkeeper for the United States soccer team for much of the 90s!