The Atlanta Silverbacks of the second-tier NASL have innovated in a way many thought not possible. They have opted not to hire a Head Coach to replace the terminated Brian Haynes who had been named 2012 NASL Coach of the Year. Instead they are allowing Technical Director Eric Wynalda to continue his work at FOX Sports in Los Angeles while more or less managing the team remotely.
Prior to World Soccer Talk, I was the NASL Communications Director of the league when the original arrangement was made naming Wynalda first as Interim Head Coach, the Team Advisor and then Technical Director. Wynalda managed the team in July and early August of 2012 before the Premier League and Champions League season started on FOX allowing him to spend time in Atlanta and giving the opportunity to identify a permanent Head Coach who would work under him. Brian Haynes was Wynalda’s hand-picked choice, and together they remade a struggling franchise both on the field and the gate into champions who were regularly selling out games.
In his time with the Silverbacks, Wynalda’s influence could be felt in every Atlanta signing as well as the open and exciting style of soccer that showcased young, largely Latino-American talent. No question exists that the FOX Sports analyst is better at unearthing talent than just about anyone in the country. Wynalda’s critiques of US Soccer have been frequent for years and were often dismissed as simply the ramblings of a bitter man. But once Wynalda proved first with Cal FC, an amateur team that made a deep US Open Cup run in 2012, and the Silverbacks, that he was able to find the types of players US Soccer was missing, his critiques took on a new air of credibility.
The big question now is if Wynalda can be as successful without Haynes handling the day-to-day nurturing and development of the talent. During the last two seasons while he was based in LA, Wynalda still often made the trip to Atlanta or to Silverbacks away matches when it did not conflict with his FOX duties. That trend will continue with today’s announcement.
According to the Silverbacks press release
“Whether the 44-year-old California native is in Atlanta with the team or not, he will plan every training session and rely on his assistants to implement a specific system and strategy. Although the Silverbacks’ new philosophy is uncharted territory in soccer and beyond, the organization believes it will be an improved method of doing things.”
FOX losing the Premier League rights to NBC leaves most weekends open for Wynalda to manage the Silverbacks. One weekend that will not be open however is the day of the Champions League Final, May 24, when the Silverbacks travel to Edmonton. Perhaps Wynalda will be set up remotely for FOX’s coverage from Alberta or will miss the Silverbacks game outright?
One way or another, this is the first time the idea of playing without a true day-to-day Head Coach has been tried in the sport. Wynalda’s excellent track record speaks for itself over the past two seasons, but whether this new setup is a bridge too far or not is yet to be determined.