After two seasons of mostly bad luck on the field, the Atlanta Silverbacks needed something to break their way to put the team on a path toward the playoffs instead of just losses, ties and moral victories.
Enter Eric Wynalda.
About a week of discussion and the right timing have allowed the Silverbacks to bring in the World Cup veteran as an interim coach and to pick a permanent replacement to send the team in a winning direction. He will get a quick baptism by fire with a game tonight against the Carolina RailHawks after a 3-0 loss Saturday under previous head coach Alex Pineda Chacon.
"It's an amazing opportunity," Wynalda said. "The truth of it is when Andy (Smith, Silverbacks general manager) called the first time, I didn't think it was going to work. As much as I wanted to be a part of Atlanta, we needed cooperation from many different entities."
Wynalda formerly served as a commentator with ESPN and is now with Fox Soccer. The agreement with Atlanta is to serve as coach for the month of July and maybe into August, but his main task will be to find a permanent replacement.
"I'm very close to introducing somebody; there's one in particular," Wynalda said. "It someone I have a great deal of respect for, someone who is perfect for the organization. So when we get to August, I will be honoring my contract with Fox.
"My intention is to find the right guy who can carry the torch and continue a winning way of doing things."
After some slight travel delays on Monday, Wynalda has since spent his time talking to the players and coaches with the idea of re-energizing the team in a hurry.
"I can feel the excitement in the players," he said. "I'm really looking forward to tonight's game. I get to revisit with some of the players I was already familiar with, have lunch, go to the game. I get to coach against one of my friends (Colin Clarke), so I'm excited about that as well."
Smith said that the trend in the U.S. of ex-players making great coaches was part of the process that led the team to Wynalda.
"We did an evaluation to look at some of the most successful," Smith said. "You look at the NASL and you have (Minnesota Stars FC coach) Manny Lagos, who is an ex-player. In MLS you have (Real Salt Lake's Jason) Kreis, (D.C. United's Ben) Olsen, (Houston Dynamo's Dominic) Kinnear. For us, Eric's right in there so it makes sense."
Wynalda set the all-time mark for goals (34) on the international level in the U.S., a record he held until Landon Donovan broke it in 2008. He plans to bring the same attack mentality to the team, and the lineup will "be reflective of a very offensive style," he said. "That'll be the first part (of rebuilding the team) — belief system, confidence."
One of Wynalda's top priorities is to clean the slate. Everything that has happened this year is in the past. It's time for a new beginning.
"My message to them was you need for forget about it and address the game at hand," Wynalda said. "You can kind of see the tension releasing in their shoulders. This will be a good thing. I went through that a few times."
Earlier this year, Wynalda put his name on the coaching map when he led amateur team Cal FC of the United States Adult Soccer Association to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. Before losing to the Seattle Sounders, Cal FC knocked off the Wilmington Hammerheads of USL Pro and the Portland Timbers of MLS.
"It really was a massive learning experience for me," he said. "People will talk all the time about the challenges of what are called the lower leagues. You try running a bunch of amateurs from all over the place. It was like herding cats. It was a learning experience for learning what makes each guy tick."
Wynalda hasn't made any player changes yet, but a couple of players from Cal FC are on his radar — midfielders Danny Barrera and Richie Menjivar.
"This would be a great opportunity for (Danny)," Wynalda said. "I think we're close (to signing him). ... Danny is a guy who can bring some quality to the attack.
"Richie was also impressive in the Cal FC run. He would be a great addition as well."