MIAMI, Florida – Former United States DF Alexi Lalas routinely likes to answer questions from fans on social media, so it was very interesting last week when one fan asked who was the toughest Mexican National Team player Lalas ever faced.
Without hesitation, Lalas answered, “Claudio Suarez”. Upon hearing about that response from his old rival, the former Mexico DF offers up a chuckle of appreciation.
“That’s very flattering,” said Suarez in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com. “It was always very hard playing against him, especially on aerial balls. He was so much taller than me and on set pieces I always had to defend him. It was very physical, a lot of pushing and shoving, but those are all things that stay on the field and are memories today.”
While Suarez might have tormented opponents on the field, he exudes a warm personality off the field. The friendly 51-year-old lives in the Los Angeles area where he has a soccer school for young children, while also staying connected to the current game as a commentator for Fox Deportes.
What stands out, though, is how much Suarez cherishes his time as a player, especially with the Mexican National Team, with whom he amassed a Mexico record 178 appearances over his career.
“I never thought I would play so many matches with the national team. It was an honor. I always had the hope of being on the national team when I started under Cesar Luis Menotti. I wanted to play in big tournaments and to be on the national team for so many years, you have to perform consistently and I was able to do that. It’s difficult, it’s exhausting physically, but it was all worth it,” said Suarez.
Suarez enjoyed a decorated career at the international level and was a member of the Mexico teams that won three straights Concacaf Gold Cups in 1993, 1996 and 1998. For Suarez, each of those tournaments holds a distinct memory.
“1993 was when Mexico took a big step forward. We took advantage of playing at home and that final against the U.S. (4-0 win) was one we really enjoyed in front of our fans. 1996 was exciting because we beat Brazil. It was pouring down rain but we were able to adapt and we won. Beating Brazil is always a significant accomplishment. 1998 we played the U.S. again, this time it was a much closer game, we won 1-0 but you could see that the rivalry between Mexico and the U.S. had started to grow,” said Suarez.
Suarez looks back at those three Gold Cup titles as a critical piece in Mexico’s football history.
“That was the start of a great generation. Myself, Ramon Ramirez, Zague, and then later players like Pavel Pardo, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and we also won big tournaments like the 1999 Confederations Cup (Concacaf’s lone FIFA title at the men’s senior level). For me to be a part of that is something I never set out to do, but I’m proud I was able to do it,” concluded Suarez.