Eric Wynalda joined Paul Pabst and Andrew Perloff in the latest edition of The Leisuremen podcast and had plenty of intriguing things to say about his decision to run for U.S. Soccer Fedration (USSF) president.
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Following the USMNT’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Wynalda, 48, has thrown his hat into the ring to challenge incumbent USSF boss Sunil Gulati and plans on having the likes of Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Julie Foudy involved if he succeeds in February’s presidential election.
The former USMNT star is a current analyst with Fox Sports and is the coach of the LA Wolves in the United Premier Soccer League, but he has big plans to shake up U.S. Soccer from the top down.
Speaking to the guys, Wynalda revealed that this is something he has been thinking about for quite some time.
“I’ve been feeling this way for about 6-8 years. This wasn’t just about something that happened on a Tuesday night in Trinidad,” Wynalda said. “The problem we are having right now, in our country, is that we are completely all over the place. It is so fragmented and people don’t see that. All they see is that final product of our team trying to qualify for the World Cup. We don’t make it and then everyone is screaming at the reins.
“Everybody wants change and wants to get better but nobody really has a solution and that’s where it gets frustrating from a guy on the outside looking in. Then you come to the realization that this is a leadership problem. This is a problem which starts literally with one man. The reason I threw my hat in the ring is 1) I know I can win this election because it is more of a culture problem than anything and 2) I have a plan. Those are the two things Mr. Gulati has really never understood completely.”
You can listen to the interview in full by clicking play above, but below are some key points Wynalda made about the problems facing U.S. Soccer and how he hopes to fix them.
Wynalda took aim at claims that “incredible growth” has occurred across the U.S. Soccer realm in the past decade
“When you really look and dig down at the professional level and see what’s going on a tiers 1, 2 and 3, it is the most disorganized professional outfit on the planet. Then you try to look at the youth organizations who are trying to develop the next superstars and they are even more fragmented than the pros. While we sit back and celebrate all this growth, it is almost that we have to remind people that cancer grows organically too.
“If you don’t have a vision and don’t have a means of getting everybody understanding exactly what their function is within the system, it is not going to work. We are celebrating it right now but the truth is it needs a lot of change, in a hurry, if soccer is going to make sense in this country because we are almost growing out of control. We have become a weed. We talk about grassroots but we have a lot of weeds. This is not the way it is supposed to be.”
Wynalda believes the talent is there for the U.S. to create plenty more players of Christian Pulisic’s caliber
“Is there talent? Absolutely. Absolutely. I would argue that there are 100 more Christian Pulisic’s out there. That is quite the statement. I’m coming from practice right now with a bunch of amateur guys that we discovered an 18-year-old Mexican-American boy in a Sunday league two weeks ago and he’s probably going to be the best guy on my team this year. These are the kind of things that are misunderstood.
“I went on the podium the other day and said we don’t have time for a president who has one foot in New York and one foot in Switzerland, we need a president that has boots on the ground now and starts solving some of the problems. That talent is out there. We just have to find them and make sure we take care of that.”
On how you can create a better type of player for the U.S. without centralizing youth development
“Germany are the size of Oklahoma, so we have different challenges. What I’ve argued is that if you take Iceland as a model and what they’ve been able to accomplish in a very short space of time, just by getting organized, it is a lot easier to organize yourself if you are the size of Rhode Island. We are a massive country and just as our accents change as we move across the country, so does the personality of our players.
“I’m a huge proponent of allowing Dallas to be Dallas. Miami to be Miami. New York to be New York. And the kids in Southern California or LA, the city kids, they’ve got to have that raw attitude. We have to have all of those personalities but we do a bad job with that because when we centralize it, when we think they all have to be thinking the same, that’s when someone isn’t thinking. That’s why we don’t have a personality or have an identity when we play.”
Wynalda intends to change perception some may have on him from his “hot takes” on TV, include former U.S. stars
“I am usually, when it comes to my family or the real world problems, I am the guy that you are going to give the penalty kick to because when the world is swirling around me I’m able to make really solid decisions in moments of pressure. It is going to take people a while to understand and it’s going to take 6-8 months from now when people say, ‘this guy does know what he’s doing and he’s not the guy I thought he was’ and I need to make that happen.”
“One of the things I’ve offered is the structure of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Right now there is only about three of four guys running the whole deal. There is some branch out but we don’t have enough people making soccer decisions. On our board we have guys running hedge funds, the Clinton Foundation etc. but we don’t have real soccer people solving real soccer problems. Landon Donovan would be great. Timmy [Howard] would be great. Julie Foudy would be great. These are people who need to be at the table and given roles within our structure that they can be passionate about and bring their expertise to and will allow us to address these issues appropriately. Right now it’s hard.”
Wynalda will soon be on the campaign trail, visiting Utah, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Seattle, northern California and Phoenix, among others, to try and “find out what the problem is” in each city and state
“I am going to need guys like Landon, guys like Brian McBride in my corner and a guy I can bounce different ideas off of and he will come back with maybe a different look. As opposed to a politician who would say ‘how can we manipulate this? How do we control this? How do we benefit from this?’ because that’s what we have got right now.”
Wynalda revealed that Lionel Messi’s best friend plays for his team in Southern California and he would look to ask for Messi’s opinion and other stars to try and help U.S. Soccer progress
“That is my network by the way. These are the people I talk to and the people I want to bring into my outer circle. I need to know what someone like Zinedine Zidane thinks about what is going on over here. We can get to Ronaldo. I can sit with someone like Franz Beckenbauer and he can give me the whole background, the whole picture. I don’t know how expensive that bottle of wine is going to be… but we’re going to solve something. There’s a huge world out there that at times we have stayed away from. We have created our own model and unfortunately a couple of Tuesday’s ago we were reminded that our model doesn’t work and it needs drastic change.”
On what it would mean if Wynalda did become the next president of U.S. Soccer
“If I do, all that means is soccer has won. And that soccer will succeed in this country and progress. I’m hoping for that and I need support and I need people to understand my message. I have a lot of time to get that message across and maybe reintroduce myself to people who maybe think I am somebody else.”