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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.”

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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.”

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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.

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Girou is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”

Euro qualifying: Gundogan saves 10-man Germany, Bale earns Wales draw

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Germany played for much of its visit to Estonia with 10 men as Emre Can was sent off for a bad last-man tackle just 14 minutes in, but Ilkay Gundogan‘s second-half brace saw Germany slide through with all three points on a 3-0 win to jump back on top of Group C. The all-important first came on a deflected effort from just outside the box to the right of center, while his second came minutes later with a shot from nearly the same place but just inside the area. Timo Werner added the third with under 20 minutes to go.

Wales secured a 1-1 draw at home against Croatia, but both sides will have greivences with the refereeing. Daniel James was taken out by Dejan Lovren on the edge of the box eight minutes in and likely should have been a penalty kick as the Liverpool defender barged James over without playing the ball. After Nikola Vlasic put Croatia ahead moments later, Gareth Bale would equalize just before halftime one a silky play through the Croatian defense, but a foul in the buildup wasn’t called that would have stopped play before the goalscoring moment.

There were also a pair of scary moments that involved nasty-looking head injuries. James came together with a pair of Croatians in the first half, and while it looked initially like Borna Barisic and Domagoj Vida had taken the brunt of the clash, James appeared to lose consciousness thanks to a knee in the back of his head. Despite the appearance of a clear distressing head injury, James was allowed to continue. Just second after the halftime break, Ethan Ampadu settled under the ball for a header until Bruno Petkovic blasted through his torso from behind, sending the Welsh midfielder to the ground awkwardly, holding his head in agony. Petkovic came in so hard that he earned a yellow card and maybe could have even seen red on another day. Ampadu was not allowed to continue, replaced immediately by Joe Morrell. Also notable in the match, Mateo Kovacic was taken off at halftime after appearing to pick up a muscle problem.

Austria held on for a 1-0 victory over Slovenia to temporarily jump into the lead in Group G, ahead of Poland on goal differential. Hoffenheim defender Stefan Posch scored the game’s only goal, a 21st minute effort off a corner. The back line did the rest, holding the hosts to just two shots on target in Ljubljana.

Poland secured qualification to the finals with a 2-0 win over North Macedonia behind goals from Przemyslaw Frankowski and Arkadiusz Milik, both which came in the final 20 minutes. The first was a messy finish from Chicago Fire winger Frankowski, collecting a flubbed Robert Lewandowski shot and poking it through past goakeeper Stole Dimitrievski. The second goal was much prettier, with the referee playing advantage after Lewandowski was fouled, and Milik delivered a delicious looper into the far corner.

Click here to see a roundup of the action from the early slate of games, including wins by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Russia.

Full Sunday Euro 2020 qualification scoreboard:

Kazakhstan 0-2 Belgium
Belarus 1-2 Netherlands
Cyprus 0-5 Russia
Hungary 1-0 Azerbaijan
Scotland 6-0 San Marino
Estonia 0-3 Germany
Poland 2-0 North Macedonia
Slovenia 0-1 Austria
Wales 1-1 Croatia

Teams who have secured guaranteed Euro 2020 qualification:

Italy
Belgium
Russia
Poland