Eric Wynalda Exclusive: USMNT Legend Talks Jurgen Klinsmann, MLS and World Cup

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Eric Wynalda Exclusive: USMNT Legend Talks Jurgen Klinsmann, MLS and World Cup
Lennox McLendon/Associated Press

Bleacher Report had a chance to catch up with former United States men's national team forward Eric Wynalda on Friday morning. Wynalda is helping Sony promote its sponsorship of the 2014 World Cup, and he will be in Miami, Florida, tomorrow at one of Sony's events.

During his U.S. career, Wynalda earned 106 caps, played in three World Cups and scored 34 goals (then an all-time record).

Wynalda spoke with Bleacher Report about his experiences with the U.S. in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups and shared his thoughts about the U.S.'s current roster. He also talked about American internationals in Major League Soccer and expressed his opinions about current U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

 

Bleacher Report: You were a part of some of the U.S.'s most memorable World Cup moments. While a lot of time has been spent talking about the U.S. game against Colombia in 1994, your goal against Switzerland four days earlier helped the U.S. earn a vital point to advance to the knockout round. Do you feel like that goal gets the credit it deserves?

Eric Wynalda: I do. It was a momentum goal, if anything. The pressure of hosting a World Cup and getting a result with a [U.S.] team that didn't have a whole lot of experience was our biggest concern. Getting out of there [against Switzerland] with a point was huge. ... The Switzerland game, getting the result, getting that goal, gave a lot of people a boost—gave us the courage that we were going to need to play against Colombia. I think it gets the recognition it deserves—it's a great memory.

 

B/R: There's obviously been a lot of talk about the U.S. roster as the team heads to Brazil. You were part of the team in 1998 that had some similar controversy with the inclusion of David Regis, who became a naturalized citizen only days before the tournament began. Do you see any similarities between the two rosters and the way they developed?

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EW: I think the exclusion of Landon [Donovan] is the biggest story and the fact that Julian Green has come in late—you can see some parallels there and say this looks like the same old, same old. But this decision has nothing to do with Landon Donovan. This is about Jurgen Klinsmann. This is Jurgen Klinsmann saying 'This is my team. I've got a contract for the next four years. I'm going to do it my way.' Landon just happens to be a casualty that we're all going to remember.

 

B/R: Do you think there's anything to be learned from the U.S.'s experience in the 1998 World Cup that the players today could take as they head down to Brazil?

EW: Absolutely. The spirit of the group and the team unity that we did not have in '98 was the reason why we were so unsuccessful. Guys like Alexi Lalas and Marcelo Balboa and Jeff Agoos played in virtually every single qualifier, but they didn't play in the World Cup at all. We tried to switch things too much too fast—it was too much patchwork. I don't think that's the case right now. It seems like we have a really good group of guys that we need to make decisions on—who's going to actually hit the field in the first game. Those guys know what they're doing. The disappointment for me, and guys like Brad Evans—if he doesn't score against Jamaica, I don't know where we are right now—is that it's really a sad thing to see a guy put so much into something and then be devastated that there's no reward.

 

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

B/R: Speaking of the guys who got left off the roster, do you see any similarities between Evans' situation and that of players like Clarence Goodson and Eddie Johnson—who contributed to qualifying—but who are not on the team?

EW: I think if you would ask Klinsmann, he would say it comes down to form. I'm not buying that, actually. I think both of them are the kind of players you're going to need in the World Cup. I understand that Johnson hadn't scored in a long time and didn't do himself any favors by moving to D.C. [United] because his first couple of games he didn't look himself and was learning his new team—it just didn't pan out for him. The sad part is when you go into a World Cup with guys who put so much into it and were a huge and integral part of our success, and then they end up not being able to be a part of the big show. It's never easy.

 

B/R: You've said that Major League Soccer doesn't push American players to be the best they can be. Are you at all worried that so many of the U.S.'s key players are now playing in MLS?

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EW: Yes and no. With players like Clint Dempsey, it's having zero effect on his play. Dempsey is one of those very unique guys who can raise their level on that day. Whether he's playing for Tottenham at Old Trafford and scoring the goal that allows them to win there for the first time in 20 years, or whether he's playing against Real Salt Lake at home with Seattle, he's the same guy. But, he's able to take it up a notch when he needs to, which is a very special quality. Not everybody can do that.

The importance of the games [in MLS] has always been my complaint. If you're playing in April and May in Major League Soccer, that's not comparable to finishing out a season in Europe where every single game is important and in every single game everything is on the line. You don't have a choice [in Europe]. You have to play at the highest level all the time, and I don't think that's always the case in MLS. You see with Ronaldo right now, he's in big trouble because he's pushed it so hard that he really needs a break, and this World Cup couldn't have come at a worse time for that.

 

B/R: This morning, Franck Ribery was ruled out from the World Cup with an injury. You mentioned Ronaldo. Is it maybe an advantage in a World Cup year that [the U.S.'s MLS-based players] aren't broken down from a nine-month season at this point?

EW: There's two sides to it. If you asked Jurgen Klinsmann, he would [say] you risk it and hope they're healthy. If you come into games asking guys to play at a higher level, it's difficult for most guys to take it from [the MLS level] to the speed of Germany and expect to be able to find people who can do it.

 

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

B/R: There was a story that went around yesterday about former U.S. manager Bob Bradley saying Michael Bradley didn't get a look from Arsenal even though he was apparently a transfer target at one point. He said that American players aren't respected in Europe. Do you agree with that?

EW: I think American coaches aren't respected in Europe, and for good reason. When Bob talks about his son, he tends to get a little bitter, so I always take it with a grain of salt.

 

B/R: What did you think of the U.S. effort against Turkey last weekend?

EW: A lot of people were talking about this and saying it showed we're a little frail in the back. Everybody was worried by the opportunities that were created by the Turkish side. I actually wasn't too bothered by it. I just want to remind America that if we're going to have any success in a World Cup, we're going to have to have good goalkeeping. The good news is [we do].

 

B/R: Is there anything you'd like to see out of the team as it heads into its game against Nigeria tomorrow?

EW: It gives us an opportunity to see how we deal with team speed—how we deal with the unpredictability of players who will try the unconventional play. There's a couple of [U.S. players] who've probably never seen that before. It's a perfect team to play prior to Ghana. It's smart of Jurgen Klinsmann to schedule it, and it'll give us a good test. It's a perfect test to see what that speed looks like. If you see it for the first time, you'll miss the tackle. I expect our guys to miss a lot of tackles against Nigeria. But, it's like baseball. If you've gone up there and struck out three times against a 95 mile per hour fastball, you're not going to be fooled by a 96 mile per hour fastball—you know it's coming.

 

B/R: How would you rate Jurgen Klinsmann's performance so far as manager of the U.S.?

EW: Time will tell. We're not judging him on anything he's done up to now. We're judging him on how we do in the World Cup; that's how the world will judge him. I know it's unfair and people want to talk about all the work that's gone into it, but the bottom line is it's three games. And after 270 minutes, we're going to be judged by the world on our performance and where we are as a soccer country.

 

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

B/R: You're managing the Atlanta Silverbacks these days. What are your ultimate coaching ambitions?

EW: It's a rocky road. I work for Fox—I've been really grateful to them for allowing me this opportunity to do both. It's been a great learning experience for me because of the difficulties you have when you coach a lower-division NASL team—just the trials and tribulations we go through. You learn how to manage people, you learn how to manage yourself. It's been a great tool. I've made no mystery, I've interviewed several times and the timing has just never been right. I think [full-time] managing is something that is certainly in my future, I just don't know when.

 

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