Around this time last year, retired United States Men’s Soccer legend Eric Wynalda was running for the top job within the sport in the U.S.
Wynalda had given up his television job covering soccer for Fox, his radio show- WTF- no not that, Wynalda Talks Soccer, on Sirius XMFC, while also putting his coaching ambitions on hold.
For an interview ahead of the GotSoccer Candidates Forum last November, I asked Wynalda, why? Why give up so much for a non-paying job at the top of a sprawling organization that had just seen it’s men’s team fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986?
“Some things are too important,” Wynalda said then, adding, “I think my moral compass has brought me to this place more than anything else.”
Now, with the U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer scheduled to speak at the 2018 GotSoccer Convention in November, I caught up with a reflective Wynalda over the phone from his California home.
Having already dropped off his “little ones” at school, family man Wynalda interrupted a rare quiet morning at home with his wife to speak to GotSoccer on a variety of topics from the state of the national team, to his opinions on USMNT General Manager, and former teammate Earnie Stewart, potential candidates for national team coach, and the current crop of USMNT youngsters.
But first, we had to talk about that failed run for President of U.S. Soccer and where and whether Wynalda sees himself in the American soccer landscape moving forward.
‘When we stand back now and reflect on what transpired, “ Wynalda began, “I think there was a lot of emotion involved with the country, as far as searching for direction and I felt that there were some solutions there that would have made, possibly a difference.”
“As much as there seems to be two real groups that are in a continuous fight about how do we do soccer better in this country,” Wynalda explained, “what I realized here, and there are lots of people who will argue with me on this; I think we are getting a lot of things right.”
Wynalda feels that “we do far too much fighting, internal fighting in this country and my objective, “ Wynalda said of his prospective Presidency, “was to try to really to be a glorified mediator.”
So, with almost one year between himself and that run for the top spot in U.S. Soccer, how does the ex-candidate feel about the experience?
“The approach that we took was, to a certain extent, the right one,” Wynalda began thoughtfully. The heat of the campaign trail muddied “the message that we were trying to create,” Wynalda feels, by presenting that message to, “sound more combative than it was.”
“In the end,” Wynalda concludes, “I think we learned a lot, but I also learned a lot. About the inner workings of the sport in this country, and some of the things I thought I knew, I have a better understanding of now.”
“There’s a piece of me,” Wynalda mused, “that considers it a massive mistake and then there is a piece of me that is glad that I went through this process to have a better understanding of what’s next for me in the future.”
Ah, so what is next for Eric Wynalda?
What’s not next is a return to Fox. “I’m not going back to Fox,” the former analyst began. “We mutually decided to part ways,” Wynalda said before noting that, “the next six months are going to be very telling.”
And what will the upcoming half a year tell us? We can’t be sure but it sounds like coaching will be at the heart of Wynalda’s future.
“I think anybody that knows me privately or professionally knows that my heart has always been, deep down, in coaching.”
While working at Fox, Wynalda had coaching and management gigs with the Atlanta Silverbacks and Cal United FC but regrets that because of his full-time status with the network, “I could never really dedicate all of my time to coaching.”
One opportunity to get back on the sidelines fell through with the cancellation of the 2018 NASL season (Wynalda was set to serve as Coach and Technical Director of Cal United as the team moved into the league).
“I’ve tried to throw my hat into the ring several places,” Wynalda admitted, “but I understand politically I have a lot of work to do.”
After that bruising U.S. Soccer Presidential race last fall, Wynalda believes that there are, “a lot of people that might have false perceptions about what I’m about or what my ideology is about, or maybe I’m too controversial or a lot of things along those lines.”
Having played in three World Cups as well as in the Bundesliga and MLS, Wynalda is confident in is his record of recruiting players, scouting players, and building teams and would love a chance to coach again, “before I get too old.”
Wynalda said that he had remained involved in the game through consulting work for teams in the NPSL, the USL, and Major League Soccer.
With that in mind, I asked Wynalda if he thought that his reputation within MLS could be salvaged. “I think it can be repaired,” he said.
“The message has always been, to Don Garber, (MLS Commissioner) is that I’m not the enemy, I’d rather be an asset than an ass.” Long a critic of the league and some of its practices, lack of pro/rel and failure to comply with the so-called FIFA calendar, for example, Wynalda says, “to be perfectly honest I’ve given up on that. I don’t think that I’m going to serve the sport well by continuing to complain.”
Wynalda had a lot to say on a variety of topics concerning soccer in this country, too much for one article, so in the interest of space here are some quick hits.
On his former teammate /USMNT General Manager Earnie Stewart :
“The resume just works.”
“I don’t think the Philadelphia tenure was the best but I think it saw a good learning curve.”
“He was a great teammate, we didn’t particularly get along, we weren’t friends but he’s probably the most reliable teammate that any of us ever had.”
“You’re never going to outwork Earnie Stewart, you’re just not.”
“He might make some mistakes along the way but to answer your question, I think he was a great choice.”
Citing “the political nature of all of this,” Wynalda told me the two men have not spoken since Stewart got the GM job, which he understands, although he admits, “I was disappointed he didn’t call me.”
On the next USMNT coach:
“In my personal opinion, I think Gregg Berhalter is already the coach.” “It’s going to require another two months of waiting (for MLS to wrap up) if Berhalter is the candidate.”
“No one has told me that, I’m speculating at best.”
On Berhalter as potential National Team coach:
“He’s kind of built for this coaching role. He has a good plan, he plays a system that’s understood by his players, he does a pretty good job of translating what he wants to his players and that’s what we want.”
“We need a clear message.”
“The good news with Gregg is he does all the analytical stuff behind the scenes but when it’s time to play there’s a simple message.”
“I think he’s ready for this.”
On Tata Martino for the USMNT:
“He’s very approachable, his players love him.”
“I think the language might be an issue, I wish he spoke English.”
“Let’s face it, if Tata Martino spoke English, perfectly, fluently, he’s already our coach.”
On the young U.S. internationals:
“I wish Tim Weah was in a spot where he could play more because I’ve been very impressed with him and we’ll have to see how Sargent progresses up top.”
“Tyler Adams, and Pulisic and Weston (McKennie), and Kellyn Acosta, you take those four right there and we’re in a good spot, we’re in a really good spot. Those are four very good midfielders with an incredible upside.”
“I like Carter-Vickers, I love Miazga.” “Not to toot my own horn but I’ve been saying Miazga is the best defender that we have and has been for the last three years.”
“Watch some of the plays against Neymar (in the recent USA vs Brazil friendly) and watch Miazga’s feet. As a forward and a player, a former player, he’s just a nightmare. He’s very good and he does not make a whole lot of bad decisions.”
“We still have a left back problem, Yedlin, I’m a fan of.”
“Steffan is great in the nets and we have several other options, as far as the goalkeeping position.”
“I’m excited about this team.”
On speaking at the GotSoccer Convention on November -:
“A lot of people are going to be expecting fire and brimstone but that is not going to be the case I’m done fighting.”