Most soccer fans know Eric Wynalda for his play on three U.S. World Cup teams and Hall of Fame career or his current role as an analyst on Fox Sports' soccer coverage.
But you'll just as likely find him somewhere on the sidelines. It might be watching his daughter play soccer or scouting players or his passion, coaching.
Wynalda has spent the last six months coaching the L.A. Wolves in the rapidly expanding United Premier Soccer League, which began as a "fall-spring" amateur league in Southern California but expanded into Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah and more recently into Florida and the Northeast.
"The good news," he said, "if everything else is deemed grassroots, the UPSL would be the weeds. But that doesn't mean weeds are bad. They're growing so fast."
The Wolves won the UPSL spring championship in late July and will form the basis of the new NASL club, Cal United FC. Wynalda says he is technical director and in talks to become the head coach of Cal United FC.
The Wolves lost in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup to the USL's Orange County SC -- Cal United FC's soon-to-be neighbor -- bringing back memories of Wynalda's run in the 2012 Open Cup with Cal FC, which beat the Portland Timbers to reach the quarterfinals.
"Cal FC is all the beautiful things about the potential of doing something like this," Wynalda said. "The harsh part of reality is the organization, the money it cost, trying to provide a platform for these players. The problem with Cal FC was, we were everywhere, but we didn't have the money."
Wynalda says he spent $14,000 on Cal FC, which jump-started the careers of players like Derby Carrillo and Richard Menjivar, who represented El Salvador at the 2017 Gold Cup. He says the Wolves are much farther along.
"This team is head and shoulders above Cal FC," he said, "mainly because over the course of six months we've been able to work with them, understand them, talk to them."
Wynalda says his job is to put players in a show window for teams to see them, get them ready and push them out the door.
"I don't try to change players," he said. "I try to make them the best at who they are. I keep working with them, helping them understand how this works and get them to trust themselves and be themselves. Everything in our system has been a detriment to them. They've been told what they're not and they're confused."
Influence of his father:
After the Wolves beat California Victory, 2-1, to win the UPSL title, Wynalda dedicated the championship to the memory of his late father, Dave. A lot of memories came rushing back. Wynalda's first childhood team was the Westlake Village Wolves his father had formed, and they wore orange like the UPSL Wolves.
"My dad passed away a year ago and a couple of days," Wynalda said. "My mom shared a letter that he wrote way back when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame but he never shared with me. I hadn't read it until about a month and a half ago. The whole thing was my father's desire for me to get into coaching because he felt that would have been my greatest attribute. Being in management is being able to share my experiences."
Wynalda says it's a coach's job to put players in positions to succeed and then evaluate them on that basis. He attributes that view to Bruce Arena's success with the U.S. national team -- 14 games without a defeat -- since he replaced Jurgen Klinsmann after two games into the Hexagonal.
"We have a lot of guys who needed their roles defined and a little confidence," said Wynalda. "They work hand in hand. If you're out of position, you're insecure and you think too much. You have guys like [Darlington] Nagbe who Jurgen didn't believe in him. Bruce isn't like that. He simply says, 'You've got this, you can do this, you're a good player. Not, you have to do, this, this and this.'"
Bruce vs. Jurgen:
Arena coached Wynalda in the last five games of his national team career, including all three games at the 2000 Gold Cup.
"He keeps it very simple," Wynalda said. "He allows the guys to express themselves and then he puts the puzzle together. Jurgen would say things like, 'Take them out of their comfort zone.' He wanted to challenge them. Those were really obstacles that didn't need to be there. That was the unfortunate part. To be fair, I don't think a lot of guys liked Jurgen. A lot of guys like Bruce. That's a big part of it."
Long before Christian Pulisic, Wynalda was the first American player to star in the Bundesliga, scoring eight goals for Saarbruecken in its first 19 games of the 1992-93 season and earning the nickname the "Bademeister" ("Lifeguard"). Even if he was seven years older when he moved to Germany, Wynalda says Pulisic was a lot more prepared when he left U-17 residency at the age of 16. What impresses him is the 18-year-old Pulisic's demeanor.
"The kid plays for f****** Borussia Dortmund," said Wynalda. "Every day. He goes to a club where there are thousands of fans waiting to just get an autograph before he walks on the field at practice. He understands pressure. He has people at practice let you know every time a ball slips under your foot. Even though he is really young, he's already had that built-in mechanism to deal with pressure."
Next wave in Germany:
Other young Americans, like Weston McKennie at Schalke 04, are knocking on the door at other German clubs. But Wynalda says the competition for spots and the bonuses that are at stake each week makes the difference between what they face in the Bundesliga and their counterparts face MLS enormous.
"If we're honest about," he said, "we have a very American view of success. In our system, we have a kid who goes to college. He has the collegiate experience, he is a good player and he gets 'drafted.' He's 'arrived.' The difference with McKennie is, you've just arrived. The work begins now."