Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The US Open Cup, CAL FC, and Eric Wynalda – The Perfect Storm

Article by Pedro Gomes

American Soccer fans are very familiar with Eric Wynalda both for his actions on the field and his opinions off the field. He has been called everything from a visionary, loud-mouth, instigator, activist, and hero. In the past year, he has become more outspoken on topics such as US Soccer player development, switching to MLS to the International Calendar, and managing an MLS team (discussion toward the end of the podcast). Most people don’t see eye to eye on everything that he says but his fearlessness in bringing forth strong opinions on tough topics does help bring the discussion to the table of influential people. And as is always the case with Wynalda, amidst all of the ranting is a core of truth and honesty.

However, Tuesday May 15th marked an interesting day in Wynalda’s quest to prove that his vision for player development can work. On that day a team he helped create, construct, and currently manages won their US Open Cup First Round match against the 2011 PDL Champion, Kitsap Pumas. The same team that gave the Seattle Sounders a good showing in last year’s US Open Cup match-up at Starfire Field. So much of a showing that the Sounders went on to sign their starting keeper, Bryan Meredith, who they had previously drafted and released the year prior.

Cal FC is Eric Wynalda’s vision and commitment to locating and developing local California based talent and giving them an opportunity to shine or a second chance to show their abilities. Eric says, “If we get to August and all of these guys are still playing for me, I did something wrong,” He has former MLS’ers Artur Aghasyan, Mike Randolph, and MLS hopefuls Diego and Danny Barrera. Essentially, by building this team and having them perform well in competitive matches that they may get spotted by bigger clubs and get their professional careers started or back on track, much like Meredith did with the Sounders last year. And yesterday’s victory is a big step toward that goal.

Of course if you follow Eric Wynalda on Twitter or keep up with his commentary, you know that the team’s success not only helps build and develop players in the United States but also showcases his ability to identify talent and manage a team. Wynalda has not been shy about voicing his interest in managing an MLS team or getting a spot on the technical staff somewhere within US Soccer. He expressed interest in managerial positions with Chivas USA and his former MLS team, The Chicago Fire, but was not offered any such position.

One can imagine that, he must be relishing the opportunity to prove his critics wrong in the US Open Cup competition. The current and future success of Cal FC is a living testament to his belief that he can successfully manage a team to victory. If he can continue to get results from a team composed of a hodgepodge of former professionals and highly touted college stand-outs, against opposition with greater resources and talent pools (USL, NASL, MLS) than it would be tough to argue his managerial chops. And don’t think for any second the fact that Cal FC is wearing Chicago Fire jerseys is not a carefully thought dig at his former club that did not offer him a managerial position.

But, before Cal FC and Eric Wynalda can take the field against the Fire or any MLS team they must first face off against the USL Pro side, Wilmington Hammerheads. The Hammerheads also have 3 former MLS talents; Tyler Lassiter, Alex Horwath, and Chukwudi Chijindu. It will be a tough match-up for Cal FC but if they manage to pull out another upset they would advance to the 3rd Round of the competition and square off against their first MLS opponent.

If Cal FC do advance to the 3rd Round and face either Chivas USA or the Chicago Fire, the storylines and the excitement surrounding the televised match would be electric. It would be an occasion in American Soccer that could only be found in the US Open Cup. The Open Cup remains a competition where hard work, determination, and heart can overcome larger resources. It can also offer amateur players a chance to shine and relish on a bigger stage. So, mark your calendars for May 22 and maybe we will witness some more “Magic of the Cup”.

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