Eric Wynalda on coaching, his new challenge, Bruce vs. Jurgen, and Pulisic

By Paul Kennedy

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."

Coaching philosophy:
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."

USMNT turnaround:
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."

Christian Pulisic:
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."

14 comments about "Eric Wynalda on coaching, his new challenge, Bruce vs. Jurgen, and Pulisic".
  1. Joe Linzner, August 12, 2017 at 10:45 a.m.

    agreed! however, there is this "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." That is the view Arena perpetuates. In contrast, "The difference with McKennie is, you've just arrived. The work begins now." This is the view Klinsmann tried to instill. Understandably being told(or shown) you aren't quiet as arrived as you think is most certainly anti American.
    Back in 19hunnert and froze to death when I was coaching a HS team I was asked by a teacher who was assisting and overseeing, privately asked me which player(s) had the potential to become a decent soccer player. Thinking he was honest about keeping that private I told him. I saw only one player who showed sufficient skill to even attempt to go further. Unfortunately, that somehow reached the notice of the players as well as their parents. Of course that resulted in indignation and personal threats and eventually resulted in my recusal.
    Keep in mind, when trying to explain to these players that depending on field position using different sides of the foot helps in getting a shot on frame. When asked to use the outside of the foot from a ball at rest they could not do it at all without a hop skip and jump. I too am a naturalized citizen from a German speaking nation and how could I be so arrogant as to assess Americans. PS. Many were college bound and invariably I was told they would play for their colleges. In reality, not a single player ever played for their colleges, not even intramurally. Perhaps pick-up games, yet even there I would say, not very often.

  2. frank schoon, August 12, 2017 at 1:06 p.m.

    Joe, I feel your pain...I remember at the end of high school season at the banquet , I stated that some of the player weren't going to make Varsity, next season. Parents got upset. I just called a spade a spade without naming anyone individually. When I became the new coach of a team, one of the backs lost playing time with the new season. The father was very upset and asked why is son lost his starting position and some playing time. I told him he was slow. He was slow physically, all right, but also mentally in the sense that he never anticipated or moved quicker which I didn't bring up for I thought the former reason was enough. The father was so upset at me for telling the truth, and not that he disagreed with me but that I brought it up...go figure....

  3. stewart hayes, August 12, 2017 at 4:38 p.m.

    Once I told a goalkeeper he had 'hands' because the ball would bounce out of his hands. The father heard about it and was very upset since his son was also a football receiver with 'good hands'. Well I decided it was far better to say 'bobbling the ball is a sign of bad hands and it will hurt you and the team. Don't let it become a habit. You can learn to catch the ball cleanly.' A better prediction of the high school players future would be to say college bound players should be able to juggle the ball 1000 times and serve 5 corners into the goal in a row without the ball touching the ground with both feet etc... That have probably would have eliminated everyone the high school team in question.

  4. Michael Green, August 13, 2017 at 1:14 a.m.

    Hi Coaches,
    I can not imagine that there is a coach who has not offered valid feedback that was not not well received. As a longtime coach in soccer and several sports, one constant is that kids overestimate their skill level. In an apparent contradiction, they also often demonstrate a lack of confidence in game situations, even with some of the most skilled athletes.
    Joe, thanks for coaching. Parents don't hold your German speaking heritage against you. Its just that many people don't like anything or anyone that reminds them that they do not measure up to what is often an artificial and misplaced standard. They might select your German speaking heritage as a convenient target, but it is not the issue.
    If something relating to coaching goes wrong between me and an athlete or parent, I try to learn from it and improve as a coach.
    Most of my mistakes have come from speaking words that were less then well measured. Which of course tempts me to delete this post, but I bravely march forward.

  5. John James, August 13, 2017 at 12:37 p.m.

    Frank, your problem was this: Who the hell gives negative feedback and criticism to players at an end of the year banquet! A banquet is a time to celebrate and reflect on the good things that happened in a season.

    Americans can take criticism. What they can't take is a complete lack of tact by mannerless individual.

  6. frank schoon replied, August 13, 2017 at 2:35 p.m.

    John, good point. It has been close to 30years ago, so I don't remember all the details but somehow the discussion came up about the Varsity team for next year and what its capabilities were. And therefore, I don't shy away from giving an honest opinion that covered the future capabilities of the Varsity team. In that case you maybe right, but Europeans tend to be more direct, honest, in their assessments of soccer and that is perhaps why Klinsmann was seen with his critical evaluation, unfavorable,at times. I suppose this is why PC is has become what it is today, with 'Snowflakes' waiting in the wings to take it a step further...

  7. Andrew Kear, August 14, 2017 at 9:04 a.m.

    Arena makes Klinsmann look like an oaf.

  8. frank schoon replied, August 14, 2017 at 9:20 a.m.

    Andrew, perhaps Arena is better juggler than Klinsmann, LOL

  9. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, August 14, 2017 at 9:57 a.m.

    How so? His results are better that's for sure.

  10. Jo river, August 14, 2017 at 4:38 p.m.

    I played collegiate futbol in 1967-72 and was taught the game by an East German refugee...Lou Martin.
    I know the game...and as soon as I saw Nagbe (and Greene) I could not understand why Jurgen could not start them. Anyway...Green is still being by passed...instead we play Altidore who won't and can't run. He is great against weak opponents but disappears completely against tough sides who run. We need guys who can run, run, and matter how talented. It is the only way we can compete against the top teams. Eric can inspire players to rise above their own beliefs...I am for Wynalda replacing Arena when he leaves

  11. David Mont replied, August 14, 2017 at 6:47 p.m.

    What has Green ever done? There is a reason why he sits on the bench for his club team.

  12. William Freedon, August 14, 2017 at 7:08 p.m.

    Green was signed by Bayern Munich and stayed with them for several years. He was highly regarded for his potential by Pep Guardiola, as well as Jurgen. He scored a goal at the World Cup, and performed well at several friendlies for the USMNT. Yes, he needs to perform with his new club in the upcoming season, but he's definitely one to keep an eye on for future national team duty. A lot of people resent him as the "reason" Landon was left off the World Cup squad, but that's nonsense. Landon was left off because Jurgen resented his attitude. That was Jurgen's failing - putting personal feelings above smart decision making. If anyone should have been left off the WC squad to make room for Landon it was Wondolowski. I would have much preferred Landon in front of the Belgian goal with the ball at his feet in the closing minutes than Jurgen's "pet" Wondo.

  13. don Lamb replied, August 15, 2017 at 10:15 a.m.

    Despite his miss, Wondo earned his spot on that team. Brad Davis........

  14. Fire Paul Gardner Now, August 15, 2017 at 10:21 a.m.

    Haven't understood the fascination with Green. He's had a few decent moments for USMNT but generally hasn't really done anything at club level. He's 22 now so there is still some time but I think people really overrated the fact he was at Bayern. Yes, that's nice but it was with their fourth division reserve team. A few years before Green was there Saer Sene was BM II's leading scorer and that guy was one of the worst strikers I've ever seen in MLS.

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