By Eric Wynalda’s estimation, he’s been close to landing a head coaching job in Major League Soccer about a half-dozen times, only for teams to go in other directions when it came down to it.
But contrary to the reports floating around, however, he says he didn’t come close this past week. He never felt he was a true candidate for the lead job with the New York Red Bulls, he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday.
Wynalda says he had several sitdowns on both coasts with both RBNY sporting director Jerome de Bontin and Red Bull head of global soccer Gérard Houllier, and roles within the club were discussed – but he never felt he had a shot at the head-coaching gig.
And not surprisingly, it looks like RBNY will again go for a foreigner. Meanwhile, two new MLS head coaches were hired this week, two others finally arrived in their new cities and another looks closer to identifying its man.
Wynalda’s made no secret of the fact that he wants into the MLS coaching fraternity. So you’d figure that it was a tough week for the guy. But maybe not.
“It’s not angry Eric anymore,” he says. “I’m not like that.”
The first real breakout star of the US national team and former MLS legend recognizes that he’s burned countless bridges over the years. And to say he has a bit of a reputation for rubbing people the wrong way is to suggest that Steven Spielberg got an Oscar nomination or two during his career.
But instead of shouting at the wall after seeing one foreign-schooled coach after another march into the league, Wynalda has gone the way of the Buddha.
“I’m not bitter about anything,” he continues. “Watching some of these positions being filled, it’s not fun watching certain franchises learn the hard way.”
Wynalda’s learned the hard way, too. He spent years railing against the MLS establishment, both as a player and as a pundit, and admits he’s been terrible at playing politics. He also admits his own mouth has been his worst enemy. And he’s highly aware that he’s been blacklisted in some circles, by his own doing.
But somewhere along the way, he also realized that if he just put the work in, he could change the way people think about him – if not repair his reputation, at least prove he’s got it where it counts in being a leader and a teacher.
And that’s what he’s done. Wynalda’s achievements in 2012 were fantastic by any measure, as he led his Cal FC team of cast-offs and undiscovered talent to a magical run in the US Open Cup, including an upset of the Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field. He parlayed that into an interim head-coaching job with the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks, who were underachieving horrifically and rebounded under the former national team star.
He also continued to scout for Mexican third-division side Murciélagos, and in the process has identified oodles of young Latin-American talent in Southern California, some of whom have already made it to the pro ranks.
“At a certain point, I put my head down and went to work,” he explains. “I’m really enjoying what I’m doing. People think I thumb my nose at the establishment. That’s true to some degree, but I think Cal FC and Atlanta allowed me to fall in love with the game all over again, and for the right reasons.”
This season, he’ll return to Atlanta as the club’s technical director, he reports. And he wants to be clear: He’s not waiting by the phone for a job in MLS. He’s happy doing what he’s doing which, in addition to his myriad roles, also includes weekend TV work with Fox Soccer in Los Angeles. But if the right job came along, he says he’d be a fool not to get excited.
“If it comes to pass that there’s an opening somewhere,” he says, reiterating what he’s said ad nausea over the past 12 months, “I can assure people that I’m ready.”
That includes taking on the main knock on him. He’s mystified by what his critics are still saying about a lack of experience. Just this week, the always outspoken Wynalda engaged in one of his notoriously heated Twitter exchanges with several well-known members of the American soccer media over that very topic.
“People keep talking about ‘experience,’” he explains. “I really want to know what people’s definition of that is. It’s become a confusing word for me. I’m trying to use what I know.”
For now, he’ll keep doing that. And though he repeats he’s not bitter, there is one coaching change that still rankles at him: the one in his own backyard.
“I’m not trying to be arrogant here, but I’ll be honest,” he boldly states. “I could fix Chivas USA. I know that with every fiber of my being that I could make that a winning franchise.”
After a brief pause, he adds: “I would need a year or two.”
Maybe Wynalda really has changed.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.