At the risk of navel-having, posts like these are exactly why the Atlanta Silverbacks should be trilled to have Eric Wynalda. Without their technical director, this site — one that rarely dives into lower-division United States soccer — wouldn’t care about the Silverbacks’ transition from Brian Haynes, the man whose contract wasn’t renewed at the end of the last North American Soccer League season. Instead, because Wynalda is expanding his technical director role with the league’s spring champions, the Silverbacks are a point of conversation, transcending the relative national anonymity that persistent with most NASL clubs.
As of today, part of the conversation surrounding Wynalda will center on the new experiment Atlanta’s undertaking. Instead of replacing Haynes, the man Wynalda identified to take the reins after his seven-game interim spell two years ago, the Silverbacks are eliminating the head coach’s role entirely, giving Wynalda control of everything from the technical director’s office to the training ground and sidelines.
According to a statement distributed by the team on Tuesday:
Wynalda will handle all team-related decisions, and manage the team during NASL play. While he will still remain in his role as a soccer analyst at Fox Sports 1, the former U.S. Men’s National Team star will manage all of the team’s games and key practices. Wynalda will rely on a group of hand-selected assistants to take the team through early-week recovery and training sessions.
In short, Wynalda has a contract with Fox. Whenever he’s not fulfilling that deal in California, he’ll be with Atlanta. If that means he has time to be at practice, he will. Same for games, but even when he’s not around, he’ll be calling the shots.
This could end up being an experiment in virtual managing, with video cameras set up at practice and games allowing Wynalda to give instructions via Skype. Maybe we can get a Tupac-esque hologram Wynalda projected onto the sidelines at Silverbacks Park, though if Atlanta had that technology, Virtual Eric would have been patrolling the sidelines long ago.
But this move could also ended with Wynalda racking up tens of thousands of dollars in airfare while burning himself out by the end of the 2014 season. While it appears to be the next step in a U.S. legend’s transition from punditry to practice, it may also be a man eat to prove his talents spreading himself too thin.
Regardless, Silverbacks management is ready to take the plunge.
“The organization has tremendous belief in Eric Wynalda’s system of play. Heading into the offseason, we asked ourselves how we could get back to following that system,” Silverbacks chairman Boris Jerkunica said in a statement distributed by the club. “We’ve come to the conclusion of reengineering Eric’s role, and that will include managing the team’s training sessions and games. We believe in Eric’s vision and we consider him to be part of our long-term plans.”
Suffice to say, this isn’t something that would happen in Major League Soccer, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great arrangement for all involved. Wynalda, who has long coveted a job in MLS, gets to flash his coaching potential to whatever extent his Fox contract allows. At the same time, Atlanta gets the talents of somebody whose seen early success with Cal FC and the Silverbacks, has a profile that will draw attention to the second-tier club, and will be on television regularly to implicitly expand the team’s profile.
In the process, Wynalda and the team can spin this as an innovation, even if it’s really just a logical extension of their mutually beneficial relationship.
“We understand as an organization that this appears to be a less conventional approach to running a club, however, we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t expect it to be successful,” Wynalda said. “Our ethics, our principles, our tactics, and our philosophy will not change, and we believe this process is very feasible and has tremendous potential.”
It has the potential to keep the Silverbacks in the news, a place Wynalda frequently finds himself. With today’s appointment, he’s again back in the discussion. How often he keeps Atlanta in our minds will be as important as 2014’s results.