by Neil Morris
Those that follow Wynalda via his sundry media megaphones—whether it’s TV, Twitter, video blogs or even his lecture/ diatribe during the National Soccer Coaches Association of America conference in January—know that he also has a coaching itch that he still wants to scratch.
Yesterday, the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League announced the hiring of Wynalda as their interim manager and team adviser following the sacking of head coach Alex Pineda Chacón and director of soccer Rodrigo Rios. The Silverbacks currently sit at the bottom of the NASL table with only one win out of 14 games this season and a startling minus-16 goal differential.
Wynalda, who arrived in Atlanta just yesterday evening to assume his new duties, makes his debut Tuesday evening against the Carolina RailHawks at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. Speaking at the team’s hotel with members of the Triangle media, Wynalda said the decision to take this job wasn’t long in the making. Discussions between the two sides started a couple of days prior to Atlanta’s 3-0 loss in San Antonio on June 30. At first, Wynalda declined the offer to coach the team. But after mulling the opportunity, he asked general manager Andy Smith whether the club would be interested in short-term arrangement that would allow Wynalda to continue his TV gig with FSC and other endeavors.
“This is unconventional, the way we’re doing this,” Wynalda says, “but in the same breath it’s also probably a better way of doing it because this is team that’s in transition.”
The choice of Wynalda to guide the Silverbacks out of the depths benefits from the recent play of Cal FC. The California-based amateur association club that Wynalda coaches recently made a heralded run to the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, along the way defeating USL Pro side Wilmington Hammerheads and, most remarkably, the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field.
Wynalda will continue his work with Cal FC, and in many ways, his new arrangement with Atlanta is just as much an association between the Silverbacks and Cal FC.
“I will continue the work I started with Cal FC, which in my opinion is something that can really help Atlanta,” he says. “So, it’s more of a partnership in the sense that part of my job will be scouting who can make the jump to the next level.”
Wynalda says he is close to signing 22-year-old Cal FC midfielder Danny Barrera for the Silverbacks and will continue to look for other players he believes are ready to ply their trade at a higher division. Indeed, Wynalda, a former U.S. national team star, began his professional playing career with the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks in the old American Professional Soccer League (APSL).
The recognition and evaluation of talent is just one of many assets that the ever-confident Wynalda believes he brings to bear.
“Let’s face it, not everybody’s good at it,” he contends. “I’m not trying to be arrogant, but I’m good at it.”
The interim label attached to Wynalda’s post is quite literal. He intends to coach all the Silverbacks’ matches through mid-August, when he hopes to have a new full-time manager in place. Indeed, Wynalda already has an unnamed candidate in mind. After that, he will return to his Fox Soccer duties, although he hopes to remains a consultant for Atlanta.
Wynalda has made no secret about his desire to manage a club in Major League Soccer, an opportunity that thus far has not been afforded to the outspoken firebrand.
Wynalda believes he knows why.
“I think the number one reason is that I do work in TV, and I’m extremely opinionated and that’s my job,” he says. “If you’re hiring me, your number one concern is, ‘Are you going to say something that’s going to shine a bad light on my organization?’ The difference between me as a commentator and me as a coach is that I don’t care about all that other stuff right now.
“As much as people think this is such a tough job, you don’t realize how much simplicity this brings into my life. I don’t have an opinion about everything else; I don’t care right now. I’m focused on what I’m doing.”
Still, it is reasonable to consider whether this is another step by Wynalda to buttress his coaching résumé in hopes of eventually being given that chance in MLS. While he does not dispute the basis of the observation, he takes pointed issue with the system of coaching development and hiring in America.
“I’m not a big believer in [a coaching résumé],” he states. “Either you can do this or you can’t. All these guys that keep getting recycled through the system, and they can come with a résumé that says, ‘Here’s all the other places where I screwed up, but I promise not to do it here.’ That doesn’t impress me.”
In typical unvarnished fashion, Wynalda cites the failure of the United States men’s U-23 team to qualify for the Summer Olympics in London under the leadership of Caleb Porter, who is also the head coach for the University of Akron.
“Caleb Porter was just given a job to coach a bunch of professionals, which is something he knows nothing about. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he failed and the team failed and that we didn’t qualify for the Olympics. We should be at the Olympics right now, and we’re not because we believe in résumés. Does Caleb Porter do a good job? A fantastic job, and his job is to be a recruiter, and what he’s been phenomenal at is convincing 10 families to send their kids to his university so they can have a successful program. But asking him to stand in front of a bunch of professionals and tell them what to do wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work.”
Among Wynalda’s other ventures is serving as an assistant coach for the San Diego Flash, a PDL club managed by Warren Barton, a former Newscastle standout and Wynalda’s studio partner at Fox Soccer, who Wynalda hopes can come to Atlanta over the coming weeks to host some training sessions.
Wynalda confirms rumors of the Flash’s possible interest in the NASL, although he says that is totally unrelated to his involvement with Atlanta.
“San Diego has expressed interest in going to the next level, whatever that is, and I think they’ve started the ball rolling paperwork-wise to try and figure that out.”
Until the new full-time coach is hired and Fox Soccer again comes calling, Wynalda’s focus is rehabilitating the struggling Silverbacks. He says he has already gone online and watched almost every Atlanta game this season.
“I think this team right now has a confidence problem,” he observes, “and sometimes when the results don’t go your way you get so caught on trying to change things that you forget what you can be. My job is to get out of their way but don’t let them get in their own way. From talking to some [players], I think their roles weren’t really defined and they didn’t know what their jobs were all the time.
“It’s just a matter of instilling a bit of belief in these guys that they can play this game. They can win games, and they’re a good team. They just need to act like one.”