Eric Wynalda: 'Why we've hit this state of stagnation ...'

[INTERVIEW] Former U.S. international Eric Wynalda, who has coached club teams and academy programs in Southern California during much of the past decade, has taken a position with Mexican third division club Murcielagos to assist in its scouting and development of players. In a far-reaching exclusive interview, Wynalda talked about coaching and player development in the USA -- he holds a USSF ‘A’ coaching license -- and national team coach Bob Bradley, whom he played for with the Chicago Fire.

SOCCER AMERICA: You exasperated a lot of coaches during your playing career, yet in the past year you accompanied the U.S. U-20 team to a competition in Guadalajara and interviewed with U.S. Soccer and a few MLS club about joining their coaching staffs. Why do you think you can coach effectively?
ERIC WYNALDA: I’ve looked at coaching in the United States in an objective way. I’m trying to understand why we are where we are and why we’ve hit this state of stagnation. At times it’s confusing why we haven’t grown faster and it interests me. The way that guys like me get torn down is because of this attitude of, "No good player would ever be any good as a coach." It’s like a backwards compliment.

SA: Well, isn’t the perception also that because of your rifts with coaches and outspoken attitude, you’re just not equipped for a job that can be tedious and frustrating?
Coaching is management, which is really what we should call it. I love it when people forward me this stuff about, "Wynalda will never be a coach because he doesn’t have the experience." I want those people to define what they mean by experience. As far as Americans go, there’s only about four or five of us who are qualified about understanding the dynamics of a group, understanding what it takes to win, understanding how to talk to players.

SA: Not many great players have become great coaches, but there are a lot of very good players have been successful coaches. How does this apply to you?
I don’t want to go off and say I was a great player. I really don’t think I was but still had something to offer. But I was a student of the game and I have a soccer brain. I see things that most people don’t see. It’s just because I’m an extremely observant person.

There’s this stigma attached to coaching of "experience." I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why you always have to have coaching experience. If you’ve been through a professional career and you’ve paid attention, you end up pulling a lot of information.

SA: What kind of information?
The French coach, Laurent Blanc, when he started out [as a coach] at Bordeaux, he did what I did when I was a player: He kept a journal. I had different coaches and different styles of play, and I tried to write down the things I wanted to take with me and what I wanted to remind me about a situation that was handled poorly.

SOCCER AMERICA: So what can you do with this information, and your experience? What’s the best environment for you to work in?
Our positional awareness and our ability to recognize players who are special is pretty bad to a certain extent. We would rather have a bunch of guys who are average at everything instead of a guy who’s pretty good at one thing.

I just think there are so many times when we over-think these things and I want us to do better. You go to Mexico and you watch a Mexican practice, and what strikes you about that exercise is that it really comes down to habit. At the end of it all, you have to say, their habits are better than ours.

Think about that. If you go through your list of your five favorite players, those players are really good at one or two things. The reason they are your favorite players is that they’re different, they’re special. The reason you watch David Beckham is that he can cross the damn ball. In our country they probably would have said, "That’s pretty good with the right foot, now let’s try the left." That would have happened a long time ago and David Beckham would have been average with both feet. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to Diego Maradona. That would have been fun.

SOCCER AMERICA: Is this what Peter Nowak is talking about, the presenting of situations that the players have to solve and using repetitions until it’s ingrained in the players’ thinking?
I would say that he’s in a position where all the givens that he grew up with are a form of frustration, where he has to explain A-B-C, when he wants to give his players D-E-F. That’s a really hard thing to do if your expectation of the starting point for each player is not where it should be. That usually generates a lot of frustration with coaches when that path of progression is that much different from what it was for them as a player.

SA: You’ve discussed a lot of aspects of soccer, not just a coaching role, with Bob Bradley. What are your impressions of him and the job he’s doing?
Since I had the opportunity to play for Bob, I have a lot of respect for the way he goes about his business. He’s a thinker, and I like that. I enjoyed playing for him. We’ve always stayed in contact and we exchange ideas all the time about various things.

The fact we sit together and watch games at Home Depot Center, because there’s speculation about him and his job all the time, doesn’t mean he’s ready to take it to another level. Right now, we’re just two guys who talk about soccer. That’s something we both like to do. Whether or not that equates to him thinking I have something to offer at the national team level is completely up to him.

It wouldn’t be right for me to make any assumptions about what Bob’s thinking is, but all of the decisions he makes are for the betterment of our national team.

SA: Did you talk about possibly taking a long-term position with the U-20 team?
: I tried to do that. I want to get involved at the U-20 level, I think that’s the most impressionable age. That was where my interest was and a good place to prepare these guys for the next step and actually give them good advice about, "This is what’s next and this is what you need to be ready for." I really enjoyed that opportunity, to see what the next wave of players looks like, where are they in their careers, and where are their heads.

I was really glad and thankful that Thomas gave me that opportunity. It didn’t amount to anything, at least not yet.

11 comments about "Eric Wynalda: 'Why we've hit this state of stagnation ...'".
  1. Philippe Fontanelli, September 29, 2010 at 8:07 a.m.

    It seems that outspoken Wynalda got humbled. He got beaten up and was discarded too long by the "good old boys" the so called establishment for some of his remarks spoken from his heart. He is now a puppy just like the rest and afraid to "rock the boat". Maybe Arena's "shut up" threat worked on him. Strange dictatrship in US Soccer! You can criticize the US President and politicians but it is taboo to speak up against the good old boys circle! One more bites the dust!

  2. Paul Lorinczi, September 29, 2010 at 8:35 a.m.

    Antonio -I see him maturing, not becoming a puppy. For a nation that struggles with scoring goals from forwards, seems US Soccer could use one of their leading scorers to help with development. if he has the heart, he should be given the chance to contribute.

  3. Bubba McBubba, September 29, 2010 at 11:35 a.m.

    For such a self-reportedly observant guy, he sure didn't see Harksey creeping around...

  4. Tom Symonds, September 29, 2010 at 11:46 a.m.

    Good interview. I think Eric hit the nail on the head regarding US soccer when he said, "I was a student of the game and I have a soccer brain." When you look at our youth system, you see the first thing we work on are skills...the perfect place to start. But from skills, we move directly into formations. What we don't teach in American soccer is "how to play", that is, we don't teach the concepts of Movement, Tempo, Space, etc. Instead, we believe that heart and passion will carry the know, "give me 110%" and "there's no 'i' in team" (although there is 'i' in WIN). Since we don't teach the concepts of Movement, Tempo, Space, our American style can largely be described as "entropic", lots of energy expended but little work actually accomplished. If you don't believe me, just go and watch youth soccer, college soccer, even MLS. Every once in a while in the Chaos Theory the various forces criss-cross at the same time and place and you will get a wonderful positive (like the US beating Spain at the Confederations Cup). But those are isolated successes. Most of US soccer remains disorganized and aimless. We hope for success (even though history shows us that Hope is not a sustainable winning strategy), but we don't teach for success. Where are the soccer brains in US soccer?

  5. Bill Anderson, September 29, 2010 at 12:29 p.m.

    Wynalda may become a great coach or wash out in three weeks. He has to go to Mexico to find out. Why? Because US Soccer is a putrid swamp of self-serving "yes" men who could care less about any fresh perspectives. Boycott US Soccer!

  6. Mark Grody, September 29, 2010 at 1:42 p.m.

    Eric Wynalda is coaching in Mexico for the same reason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar coached on a Native American reservation and Rick Barry is just a radio announcer.

    People whose interpersonal skills were miniscule in comparison to their playing ability don't get coaching gigs so easily.

    Wynalda wasn't as good as those two were in basketball, but he really was a very good player who did see the game very well. Ask Terry or Harkes.

  7. David Huff, September 29, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.

    @ Bill Anderson, concur 100% as to MLS and USSF, from now on my viewpoint will be on Americans abroad and the international/club scene in Europe, Latin America and other places of interest. No more tickets or merchandise from MLS/USSF until they change their ways. For Wynalda's and perhaps our youth's future sake I hope he does well in Mexico.

  8. Karl Ortmertl, September 29, 2010 at 3:29 p.m.

    Soccer in every country is a microcosm of its society. That's one of the things that makes international soccer so interesting. US soccer is a bunch of soccer moms carting their kids off to soccer practice every day. These practices are dull, lifeless and homogenized - pretty much like the rest of our society which produces nothing anymore. Kids develop an individual style playing each other on the streets, not with some disinterested dullard watching over them. The same with our schools and the rest of society. Eric dares to be an individual in a society that promotes the brain dead. Too bad for Eric and the rest of us, but this ain't gonna be fixed any time soon.

  9. Hector Lizarraga, September 29, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.

    Wynalda is one of my favorites. I agree 100% that we are very bad at indentifying 'special players'. I see this in my club and in soccer in my area OH/KY. There are alot of talented special players here.....that coaches routinely overlook. If they do take any interest, it is usually to squash any creativity they have and indoctrinate them a bunch of nonsense about, 'speed of play, one-touch patterns, positional compactness, don't dribble.....blah blah blah. US coaches are more worried about proving what great coaches they are rather that nurturing blossoming talent. No youth player is a 'product'. What US Soccer needs are new eyes that can see the talent we already have in the US. The US Soccer 'industry' good 'ol boys need to retire or die off and let a new breed usher in a new generation of players and coaches more attuned to the "beautiful" game not the 'organized' game.

  10. Kevin Leahy, September 29, 2010 at 7:45 p.m.

    I am not sure how to take all of his comments! I do believe that we passover players that have something special. I wonder how many coaches today that would give Gerd Mueller a second look? I know, that is old school! The fact that Beckham has an awesome right foot should not keep us from encouraging him to use his left when called for. How many players unbalance themselves to use their strong foot only to miss the oppurtunity completely. Some people might question how hard he has worked to deserve the chance ahead of someone who has already been in the trenches. Would you turn over your national team or your MLS team to someone with very little experience. Jason Kreis is the only guy I know that got a chance like that in this country. If he were running a franchise, would he hire someone without experience?

  11. Mark N, October 1, 2010 at 11:19 a.m.

    He's not humbled - he just wasn't drunk this time. The more I read about Wynalda, the more I like him. Hopefully he is successful in Mexico and elsewhere and comes back eventually with some staying power.

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