May 30, 2012

Eric Wynalda, Cal FC and and F.U. to U.S. Soccer

Jason Davis has a great piece on what he is calling the Eric Wynalda Eff You Tour which makes its next, and possibly final, stop at Jeld-Wyn Field in Portland tonight for a U.S. Open Cup Third Round Match.  To be sure, Wynalda wants to win (as do his players) in part because that is what winners want to do--win soccer matches and Wynalda, if nothing else, has a winner's attitude.

Wynalda, who abandoned a promising career in Germany in the mid-1990's to return to the U.S. to help build MLS, has been slighted by the league pretty much since retiring.  Wynalda has been pretty clear that he doesn't think he should have to climb the ladder of being an assistant coach on an NASL or USL-PRO team, and he has a pretty good case, the success of former (barely) players like Jason Kreis, Ben Olsen, and even Jay Heaps (whose hiring really got Wynalda fired up) and Wynalda's comparative success on par or superior to those men.

But part of Wynalda's charm (or problem depending on your point of view) is that he says exactly what is on his mind.  Such a forthright attitude is great as a color commentator on Fox Soccer, but it may have proven intensely detrimental in a relatively small American Soccer community, who members are tight and act in some ways like a good old boy network.  There is no doubt that Wynalda has talent, has the smarts and apparently has the ability to put together in less than a couple of months a team that has a real chance of beating Portland Timbers in the one-off format of the U.S. Open Cup (just ask the six MLS teams that lost last night) and make the deepest run of an amateur side in a long time.  But is Wynalda right and the rest of the U.S. Soccer establishment wrong?  Well, the truth is probably, like most cases, somewhere in the middle.  U.S. Soccer Federation is a bit too insular and to a lesser extent so is MLS.  U.S. Soccer and MLS need a bomb thrower in their midst sometimes and rightfully so.  But is Wynalda's abrasive approach too much?  Yeah, it probably is.  Wynalda is in a tough spot, he has created this persona that has burned a lot of bridges.  I don't think he should apologize, but by the same token, maybe dialing it back a bit may help.

But tonight's match is made all the more delicious given that history between Wynalda and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson who engaged in a rather notable Twitter battle.  If Cal FC wins over Portland---imagine what will happen.  In a side note, the question will be how serious Portland take this match.  Will Paulson order/request coach John Spencer to field a mostly first team squad to teach Wynalda lesson?  Will Spencer, an outspoken man himself, do that when Portland's MLS season is far from stellar?

Surely, if Wynalda wins tonight not only will he be able to say "told you so" to Paulson, but maybe, just maybe MLS will start taking Wynalda a little more seriously.  If not, a win for Cal FC will be a great big Eff You to MLS.

The question for Eric Wynalda will be---which one is more important to him?

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