World Soccer Talk’s Bo McMillan recently sat down with Eric Wynalda, the third all-time leading goal scorer for the United States National Team and current FOX Sports soccer analyst and co-commentator. Wynalda is also the Technical Director of the NASL (US Second Division) Atlanta Silverbacks.
Here’s the transcript of the interview ahead of USA’s game against Ghana:
Bo: How important is the United States’ performance in this World Cup in terms of the popularity of the sport here? How will their performance affect the growth of soccer in the US?
Eric: We are judged every four years on where we are as a soccer nation. Most countries aren’t on this fast track of growth. Most countries have maybe even hit the ceiling already in terms of fan support. But what ends up happening is their countries get excited at the idea of having a wonderful World Cup. For us, we’re always kind of just sitting there waiting to see what happens. I’ve never seen this country this excited about the game. I’ve never seen this kind of fan support. But you’re talking about the casual fan? Americans don’t get it if we don’t win the whole thing. That’s just the mentality. Jurgen’s quote didn’t help, “We’re not going to win the World Cup.” That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to say to the American people, especially the casual fan.
Bo: With the difficult group that we were drawn into, does Klinsmann get a free pass for this World Cup?
Eric: No. No he doesn’t. And he shouldn’t. If you notice, as soon as we saw the draw, his argument was it was that it was unfair for him to be evaluated with his group. So what did he do? He immediately negotiated for four more years, and changed things around quite a bit. He has his people around him now. It is a whole-new look federation. I mean, we all have different opinions on what will make this a successful World Cup. I’ll just tell you this. If we don’t get a win, if we do not win a World Cup game, he will probably be let go.
Bo: With this roster, we have a mixture of veteran players and young talent. Who will need to step up and shoulder more of the weight in this tournament?
Eric: You look at a guy like Graham Zusi who’s a bit older, but playing in his first World Cup. That’s got to be invigorating for him. He’s going to go through a whole slew of emotions. He’s going to run a little faster, he’s going to be a little quicker. We’ll find out in a hurry how good we’re going to be. I actually think this team will play a lot better than expected, especially in that first game. Because, one, we need to. And two, right down the spine, we do have enough experience. Guys like Dempsey, Bradley, and Howard will be the calming voice in the locker room and probably get us through those first 20 minutes.