Wynalda for US Under 20s: Handle With Care

It went widely unnoticed or cared about, but when Soccer America reported that Eric Wynalda is being given a trial run as an Under-20 National Team assistant coach . . . my head started spinning.  

Would Eric use his brash style, deep history and strong playing experience as a force of good to help groom our promising “next generation” of players?   Or would he lapse into his occasional MLS bashing and venting that would be counterproductive and potentially confusing to new (or nearly new) professional players?

Let’s be clear . . . I like what I know of Eric Wynalda.  By the way, if you don’t know much about him, Yanks Abroad had a great 2 article piece on him not too long ago.   You should check out Part One and Part Two – a great read.

As a player, he got the job done.   Being an early American  to break into the German First Division doesn’t come easy.   His exploits with the National Team are also widely known.   Scoring the first goal in MLS history was also a fitting notch in his belt.   Of course, he was at times known as difficult, fiery (putting it kindly) and often a petulant player.

Wynalda is probably known next for his commentary at ESPN and now Fox Soccer Channel as well as his (almost) off the record commentary.    His statements often rub many people the wrong way  . . . both in soccer terms, and occasionally for just sounding like a jerk.   

In fact, he’s swiped at a veritable who’s who of American Soccer . . .

  • Bruce Arena:  “He can take a team to a certain level, but he has no idea where the next level is. How much does he know about playing in Europe, other than having a hot dog and a beer in the stands?”
  • On Landon Donovan’s trial in Germany: “Last time, he gave up . . .  So let’s see how long this lasts. I’m just as curious as the rest of us.”
  • The unloved (in soccer circles) Jim Rome . . . well, let’s just say Wynalda didn’t have kind words for him.  

Those words for Rome, and many other choice ones are found here – in the tirade that cost Wynalda his ESPN job.   The saga – which included some unfortunate comments about a supporter section flares looking like California (which had massive fires at the time) that led to his dismissal is here.

The thing is – aside from that unfortunate slip about California and the unfortunate dance about how it happened – I love it.   American soccer is a personality free zone most days – and Wynalda offers a brief respite from the boredom.

  • Is Bruce Arena a great manager? Sure.   Is there proof of how he (or most American coaches) can handle the constant pressure, or have the tactical acumen, seen in Europe?
  • Is Landon Donovan a great player?  Absolutely.   Were there reasons to question his commitment to a harder league that MLS . . . history would say yes.   (Hopefully his current great form at Everton is helping put that to rest.)
  • And any true US Soccer fan grins thinking that Jim Rome has been lashed at.

So what’s my concern?   Aside from his commentary, he has a history of being argumentative, disruptive force that bickered with coaches, and the MLS big wigs.

Wynalda suggests he’s learned a lot about himself and how to handle adversity, something that would be clearly of value to the Under 20s.  But it also appears that he houses a deep bitterness toward MLS, calling his move potentially the “biggest mistake” of his career.  

While it will be helpful for young players to join any league with their eyes wide open . . . I hope that they are getting a balanced perspective.   MLS is a good option for much of our U20 player pool.

Eric, please remember, with great power comes great responsibility.   Let’s not poison young minds with negativity of ghosts MLS transgressions of the past.