Eric Wynalda is not one to hold back, the former all-time USMNT leading scorer has always spoken up and stood his ground. At times swept under the rug by the media as a “loon”, Wynalda is not a YouTuber or crazy pundit, he has firsthand knowledge of the federation both as a player and commentator.
It was Eric Wynalda who in a way “broke” the story some of the established media failed to unravel at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, that there were issues between USMNT star Gio Reyna and coach Gregg Berhalter. When at one moment he had to “retract” some comments, only one month later has he been vindicated in some way by the scandal that has rocked the federation for the last week.
Sitting down with Bolavip one can hear in Eric Wynalda’s voice the desire to change things for the federation he represented in three World Cups and 106 times. Passionate as always, “Waldo” is always insightful on what is happening at US Soccer and their “stay the course” complacency. That still has never stopped Eric Wynalda from speaking his mind and shaking the establishment.
On the Berhalter/ Reyna fiasco
On November 26th, 2022, Eric Wynalda spoke up on what was seen as an inconsistency in the US World Cup camp, on one hand Gio Reyna was an unused sub in their important opening match against Wales where the team drew 1-1, succumbing to a late penalty kick. Gregg Berhalter told the media that Reyna was still coming back to match fitness, that was completely thrown out when Gio Reyna himself told the media that he was “good to go”.
The red flag would take center stage when Wynalda stated at the time, "Gio Reyna is out of the lineup right now, which has been a massive controversy within the team. Even his own teammates are wanting him on the field and there seems to be some internal strife with the manager, Gregg Berhalter".
"I don't know how much I should comment on that, but I've been trying to console Gio's father, Claudio, for the last couple of hours and days with everything going on." Now looking back on those statements Wynalda clarifies it was him consoling a friend and teammate in Claudio Reyna.
Today the USMNT striker looks back on the whole situation, “I want to be very clear, what I said prior to all of this (the scandal), one was completely factual… I was witnessing a really good player (Gio Reyna) for some reason wasn’t on the field. I have tried to clear this up before, a lot of people are struggling with the English language, and they don’t understand the difference between pointing out when someone is lying and calling (Gregg Berhalter) a liar… My comment was very short and brief, and it didn’t reveal anything we already didn’t know.
The only thing that was revealing about it was there was a rift between the two (Reyna and Berhalter) and seemingly it had been resolved, which was all factual.”
Wynalda doubles down that on the Twitterverse many had raised questions as to why Gio Reyna was not playing and why the mainstream media was not reporting it, “(The media) were staying away from the situation either because they didn’t know the situation, or they were not willing to comment on it because they were asked not to by the federation. Which is a common occurrence in our country. We have a PR department at US Soccer that when something bad happens they start an immediate coverup and I didn’t participate in that cover up.”
Wynalda also pointed out that while the situation between the grownups (Claudio and Gregg) may be a mess it has been Gio Reyna who has stayed professional. “Gio was very professional about the whole situation, Gio basically said, ‘the coach doesn’t owe me an explanation for not playing me, he’s the coach, he makes the decisions on who plays and who doesn’t.’”
“The right hand was not talking to the left hand, and it became somewhat of a problem, any time you are untruthful with the media and the media does its job it comes back to bite you… This is not the first time a coach has been untruthful with the media about something he may be trying to do or hide or omit… but on this occasion (Berhalter) choose to go the wrong way and am sorry it was bad (team) management. If anybody doesn’t see it that way, then they have an agenda or they are willing to forgive a coach that is doing something he shouldn’t have done.”
Player’s perception of the whole situation
When asked about what the player perception could be of the Reyna and Berhalter situation among the team leaders (Pulisic, Adams, Ream, McKennie, Turner) Wynalda took a long-term view on what the locker room might be thinking:
“Only the players know how they feel and know what their trust levels are with this coach. It is very difficult to have relationships with players who are no longer going to talk to you and share information with you. Because they don’t believe that information is sacred, that’s the way these things work.
It’s more important to understand a human being and what that person is all about than what their skillset is and how they can help a team. I have always said that the national team is a forced friendship, because it’s a bunch of egos and players who have a really high opinion of themselves and getting them to buy into a team structure and understanding that their role as an individual is always secondary to the collective effort."
When the focus turns on Gregg Berhalter, Wynalda states the general feeling among much of the fanbase, “I would argue that it would be extremely difficult for Gregg Berhalter to continue when he can no longer have real conversations with his players.”
Gregg Berhalter and the media
If there was one thing that defined Gregg Berhalter’s time as USMNT coach so far is his willingness to hang himself by going on podcasts, conferences, and interviews where he talks about players he has not selected in depth, opening himself up to more scrutiny by fans and media. It happened on more than one occasion, Eric Wynalda has coached five teams in his post playing career and admits that sometimes silence is the best way to go.
“That is a big problem in this (federation), (when reviewing managers overtalking) this is just BS, it’s a deflection or an opportunity to be smarter than the everyone else in the room. This is why guys with a great PowerPoint presentation usually convince the people who usually hire these kinds of jobs to think ‘Wow that was impressive’. In my opinion (the national team) job is not as complex as Gregg Berhalter has made it, and the reason he goes on a stage goes or on these long descriptions of why certain players didn’t make it and others did is because he’s selling something. No other reason, he is selling himself and his idea and his process and his system, and he needs to have everybody understand it, that is total BS. Anybody who wants to buy into that, and there are members of our media who go ‘wow this guy is smart’, this job is not complicated, the game is simple and the coach is complicated and he is a perfect example of that.”
The structure of US Soccer and the absence of his generation
If one takes a look at the current coaches in place for the US Soccer men’s program, there will be glaring omissions. Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Tony Meola, Cobi Jones, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey are nowhere near youth coaching for the USMYNT. Those players have been the backbone of the major achievements of this country yet for many reasons they are absent from places of real power or change in the country, usually reduced to pundit roles on streaming or television networks.
Instead, Jason Kreis, Gonzalo Segares, Tom Heinemann, and Michael Nsien lead the formation and culture of the youth national teams, with questionable credentials. Wynalda has all but given up hope that many of those US Soccer greats have a place in the program, “(US Soccer) don’t like the truth, they like everybody to fall in line, if you really watch the history or pay attention to the people that we hire, they hire yes men. They hire people who aren’t going to challenge or buck the system, we have to stay with the narrative, and this is not the best way to do things. If someone finds a better way the immediate response is, “This guy has an idea, get him out of here.”
Wynalda places the blame on the lack of his generation not being a part of the structure on Earnie Stewart and Brian McBride. “The people working in coaching at US Soccer now are not indicative of our best people” the former San Jose Clash player states bluntly.
When it comes to building culture the historic greats of the USMNT are not present and for Wynalda there is a reason for that, “Our generation comes with a lot of baggage, that’s mainly the problem, the bitterness that we have is that we were treated like absolute shit when it comes to what these players are going through now, the silver spoon that they have… It is very difficult for those in power positions to understand where we are coming from, that we were bitter for being treated so poorly but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the capacity to not make the same mistakes twice.”
“But that was never entertained a lot of us were put in the media where they knew we would be critical and they knew we would be bitter and now they have a reason not to hire us or trust us to follow their narrative, which is living the lie that this is all great and dandy, this is all wonderful (at US Soccer).”
When Wynalda mentions bitterness, it comes from poor installations when they were playing or being forced to drop personal sponsorships, that meant a lot of money to said player, in favor of the unified sponsor US Soccer had at that time, mostly cleat deals. There were also two major labor disputes with Wynalda’s generation alone during the 1998 cycle, one prior to the Copa America in 1995 and before qualification in 1997.
When Eric Wynalda ran for US Soccer President to many it was little more than a publicity stunt, he states that his intentions were to try and get elected to address fundamental issues of soccer in the United States and once he had paved the way for true change hand off the presidency to a more qualified person who can handle all the aspects outside of the soccer field that the position entitles.
Whether you agree with Eric Wynalda or not one thing is for certain he is a voice of change and a voice that while disrupting the norm still wants what the federation and fans ultimately want, for US Soccer to be successful and for that he should be heard.