Long-known as one of the trailblazers of American soccer, Eric Wynalda is now charting a new course with Mexican club Murcielagos where he is helping young American players get a shot at playing professionally.
Wynalda was hired as the club's Director of International Development in late September and has been tasked with scouting kids from all over the US in hopes of unearthing players with potential who might have been overlooked by others in their young careers.
The former national team star is reveling in his new position but adds that scouting is something he has been doing already for years.
"Scouting is something that I have basically been doing for years with MLS for different coaches," Wynalda recently told YA. "I'm not afraid to tell them exactly what I think of a player. In the end, for me, I just want to work in the game. It's part of me. I had been offered jobs in Germany but my situation with my kids precluded me from doing that. This job lets me help some young players achieve their dream."
Murcielagos currently plays in Mexica's third flight of soccer, otherwise known as the Segunda Division. The club is located in the region of Sinaloa, an area that has produced players such as Jared Borgetti and Omar Bravo both of whom went on to star for the Mexican national team.
Wynalda recalls that it was a chance meeting with the club's president that ultimately led to his hiring.
"By total coincidence I was introduced to [Murcielagos President] Miguel Favela," he said. "We exchanged viewpoints and soon enough I started working as a consultant. We continued that relationship for months and I would fly down there every once and a while to help. Finally we just decided that it made sense to work together. I think we are creating a better opportunity for kids who otherwise would get passed over. We are essentially speeding up the process. I am the eyes and ears of America for this team so it is very fun and exciting for me."
The former striker's work week entails a lot of time in front of the television catching games across the pond in Europe and then setting out across his native California several times a week to watch more matches.
On top of that, Wynalda spends considerable time communicating with his network of scouts, reviewing videos or studying a player on YouTube plus traveling to Mexico twice a month to watch some of Murcielagos' matches.
"My typical work week involves watching a lot of soccer," noted Wynalda. "On the weekends I'm watching La Liga, Bundesliga, EPL and Serie A and then going out locally to catch about two or three games a week. Then every other weekend I go down to Mexico to watch our games. I have a network of about 40 ex-pros who are my eyes and ears everywhere in the US. I've got guys in Texas, Colorado, New Jersey… You name it. I'm also always reviewing DVDs of players and looking at their YouTube videos."
Across the American soccer landscape, Wynalda has been known as a polarizing figure for his propensity to always state his mind.
That is something that has ruffled the feathers of many within US Soccer who target the Fullerton, California native as a troublemaker.
Naturally, the youth players who boast tons of talent but have already been cast aside by their coaches for a supposed bad attitude are the ones that have a soft spot in Wynalda's heart.
"I'm astonished sometimes to learn that some of the players I've found have never been given a chance because everyone says they have a bad attitude," assessed Wynalda. "I'll hear other coaches say, ‘I like this player, but he's a horrible kid!' Those are my favorite types of kids to work with because no one has ever given them a chance. Everyone has given up on them! That's my mindset."
Poor attitude or not, across the board when it comes to scouting a player, Wynalda says he just needs a few minutes before he knows whether or not a player has the ability to compete professionally.
"I really only need about five minutes before I know whether a kid has the goods or not. Sometimes just 20 seconds," he opined.
When pressed as to whether there is player out there that he has been watching who he thinks can be one of the top players in short time, Wynalda alluded to a midfielder who just capped off his junior season in college soccer.
"There's a kid at University of California-Santa Barbara who I believe in three years time could play for the US in the next World Cup," he stated. "He's that talented."
Wynalda's aim is to find players like the aforementioned Gaucho who are hungry to be developed appropriately with technique and fundamentals, rather than shouldering a burden of constantly playing in tournaments where the only goal is to win a trophy.
The former Vfl Bochum man insists that a shift is necessary within the US to keep coaches from running young players into the ground.
"For a lot of kids in the US, it can take a while for the silver spoon to fall out," he elaborated. "The kids I'm looking at are used to fighting for scraps. When you look at our current system in the US and wondering why we aren't developing, to me it has to do with over-coaching. It's a horrible epidemic. Coaches are always trying to justify their experience but in the end, more people are ruining it than making it better and it's hard for people like me to just sit back and watch this happen.
"I shouldn't have to apologize for knowing this stuff. Honestly, kids just want to come to practice and play and we have to keep them motivated and not burnt out."
In the end, what motivates Wynalda every day in his new venture with Murcielagos is to enable dreams to happen for young players.
What soccer gave to Wynalda as a youth is something he remembers daily and to be able to provide the same opportunity to a new generation of players who might not be as advantaged as some of their counterparts is what he finds most rewarding.
"My job is to find talent so they can be showcased to play at another level," concluded Wynalda. "We won't be patient. That doesn't exist. And when we do move on a player, the best feeling in the world to me is to look a kid in the eye and say, ‘You have talent. Congratulations kid. You're going to get a pro contract.'"