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U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Q&A: Eric Wynalda

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PST is vetting the candidates to succeed Sunil Gulati as president of the United States Soccer Federation. This post speaks with Eric Wynalda, the broadcaster, coach, and fourth-leading scorer in USMNT history, about his candidacy. His web site is EricWynalda.org.

Sharp, candid, and clearly passionate about the game, Eric Wynalda will slip into a very serious state when he’s striking a particular chord that means a lot to his vision for U.S. Soccer.

While Wynalda is confident he’s the right person to fix what ails the federation, he seems just as concerned about the wrong person not getting the gig when American soccer is at its most vulnerable. It’s not paranoia, but he’s engrossed in the notion.

“(Change) certainly has become a buzzword,” Wynalda told ProSoccerTalk on Tuesday. “I don’t get offended but I certainly don’t appreciate it when certain people who are engaging these conversations start talking about how they’re going to make the soccer better.

“It’s not possible for them to execute what they’re talking about from their inability to understand what exactly soccer is. My biggest problem, I guess, with all of this is we have engaged the business of soccer. We’ve turned it into an industry. In order to understand the soccer business, you need to be a soccer mind. That’s the best way I can represent what I’m bringing to the table.”

Wynalda spoke of fixing “four or five” key parts of the federation, with functional youth soccer as a bedrock. From a broadcaster standpoint, he thinks the USSF isn’t getting a good enough deal on their properties, naming its deal with Soccer United Marketing as an example. In some cases, he says the policies and agreements were “inappropriate.” In others, they are “appalling” to him.

He worries about business being a bigger guide to the administration than soccer, and how it affects the youth game. When asked about Hope Solo’s assertion that her candidacy has shown her that the USSF is actually in far worse shape than she suspected, Wynalda takes a long pause to consider whether he agrees with her.

“Certain parts of this are a lot worse than I thought,” Wynalda said. “The fragmentation of the youth organizations is pretty bad and it does have its direct effect on our kids and our families. To look at it and say, ‘Wow that’s messed up’ is one thing but to go through the process that we’ve all as candidates have gone through, to listen to people and try to come up with solutions, it’s a daunting endeavor.

“The best part about it is I really feel that myself and my team, in the 501 space, or the marketing space, or the soccer people … it was really cool to dive into the bylaws, the problems, and start coming up with real solutions.”

[ MORE: Man Utd extends Mata deal ]

Wynalda with the USMNT in a 2-0 win over Guatemala in 1996 (Jamie Squire/ALLSPORT).

And while he let loose with a few buzzy quotes fit for the hits and SEO that drives media, Wynalda says he’s most concerned with the soccer stuff: sorting out the youth side, the professional angle, and getting the ailing USMNT and USWNT programs off the mat.

This is where Wynalda’s pistons really started to fire in a near unbreakable string of words.

“The hesitation or concern might be that the next president will do things exactly the way our old president did,” he says. “That’s a trust question for people who are going to be voting. They may have had their issues, or maybe they felt that they are somewhat disenfranchised.

“Every decision that is made has to be about the game, not the person. That’s why it’s imperative that our next president understands the game, and the importance of this sport. That’s been a concern of mine for many years. I’ve gone through this process and unfortunately recognized that I was right.

“A lot of these decisions were made in inappropriate way. It has put us down a path that isn’t impossible to change our course, but we’ve gone too far into the woods. We need to figure out a way to find the road. It might take a while.

“It might take the ability to hack down some trees and forge your own way, to be a president who’s willing to make hard decisions to get us back on track because we have gone a little bit too far down the wrong path. But at the end of the day when you make your decisions collectively with your board, you have to make it with the best interests of the game. That’s gotta be recognized by our voters right now.

“They are going to vote. And they are going to have concerns, but they need to vote for the person that they believe will always have the interest of the sport — not the business — the sport. You take care of the product, the business takes care of itself. You fail to produce a product, which is what has happened here, the business will fail.”

[ MORE: Wenger reacts to Swansea City’s upset of Arsenal ]

Wynalda seems to bristle a bit at the idea that USSF has been a business force. He says the federation’s decision not to open up its television rights for bidding has hampered the bottom line, and that awarding that asset to SUM was one of the aforementioned “appalling” qualities.

He says his 16 years in broadcasting, kickstarted at the 2002 World Cup, has led him to the perfect position to become U.S. president (“I’m not a glorified accountant,” he bites. “I understand this space better than most”).

Wynalda at the 2007 MLS SuperDraft (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/MLS)

Wynalda seems to credit many of his fellow candidates, though there’s a clear feeling that anyone linked to the current crew — Carlos Cordeiro and Kathy Carter specifically — has almost as much to answer to as to offer.

“We’ve seen corruption in the game. We’ve seen collusion in the game. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, but you take a look at it and say, ‘How do we make this better? And how do we engage and recreate the policies that leads us as an organization to better serve our members?'”

Wynalda believes he’s the man for the job, and whether he you like his takes or not, he talks like a man who’d walk the country to convince a single voter that his vision will work. Maybe he’s just figured out politics — that’s quite possible in a process like this — or maybe that obsession is the right way to drive the bus.

If he’s convinced enough voters to name him as the next president, that may show that what people can’t know about Wynalda, his status as a leader, is one less worry as U.S. Soccer enters the most important chapter of its story since it won World Cup hosting and kickstarted Major League Soccer some 20-plus years ago.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

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Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.