MLS clubs won’t enter the 2017 US Open Cup for months to come, but a proven giant-killer may already be taking aim.
Retired US national team and MLS legend Eric Wynalda was announced as the new head coach of amateur side LA Wolves FC on Friday, marking a return to coaching for one of the Open Cup’s chief perpetrators of upsets in recent years.
Wolves FC compete in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), a regional competition on the fourth tier of the North American soccer pyramid comprised of nearly 50 teams from five Western states. Taking their name from the 1960s club that once competed in the old North American Soccer League, Wynalda’s new team went a perfect 16-0 in league play last year and have advanced to the third round of Open Cup qualifying, which resumes across the country next month.
“The decision to return to coaching wasn’t one that I made quickly, so it was a matter of finding the right opportunity at the right time. LA Wolves FC is a club on the rise,” said Wynalda in a club release. “It has the right kind of leadership at the top, and creates nothing but opportunities for players looking to find a way to climb up the ladder.
“The club has all the hallmarks of future success, and with a shot to make a deep run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2017, the trajectory for LA Wolves FC is through the roof right now. There’s much to do, and believe me, the work has already begun.”
Wynalda, who works full-time as a television and radio analyst for FOX Soccer and SiriusXM, last coached at the professional level with the NASL’s now-defunct Atlanta Silverbacks from 2012 to 2014. There he helped mold under-the-radar talents like Kwadwo Poku, Mark Bloom and Chris Klute and engineered Open Cup ambushes of Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids en route to the quarterfinals of the 2014 tournament.
Before Atlanta, Wynalda also oversaw arguably the biggest upset of the Open Cup’s modern era, when he led Cal FC, a motley crew of overlooked players from Southern California, to a stunning upset of the Portland Timbers at their own stadium in the third round of the 2012 edition.
A star striker with the San Jose Clash, Miami Fusion, New England Revolution and Chicago Fire in MLS’ early years, Wynalda scored the first goal in league history on April 6, 1996 and led the USMNT attack at the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups.