The time: 6:00pm CST
The date: 01/06/18
The venue: AAC Eagles Clubhouse, Chicago, Illinois
The AAC Eagles have been around since forever, in US soccer terms. You can learn plenty more about them and their storied history by reading this piece. For now all you need to know is that they have a lovely clubhouse, and a super impressive trophy room. But we’re not here to lavish praise upon one of the mainstays of amateur soccer in Chicago. No siree! We are here to hear words of wisdom from the Great White Hope for the future of American soccer, Eric Wynalda.
If, like me, you find yourself living in something of a Twitter echo chamber, you could be forgiven for thinking the forthcoming USSF election is little more than a confirmation of the holiest of hollies. Mr. Wynalda has vociferous support online, to the point where some have taken to labeling him “Trumpian”. I’m not sure that is fair on either the man, or the majority of his followers, many of him see him as just the most high profile proponent for change within the sport’s governance.
So I took this opportunity to judge for myself. And now you are obliged to sit through my rambling thoughts on that evening.
The evening was put on by the Illinois State Soccer Association, and on a purely personal note, I am delighted to see this agency begin to move toward a more inclusive and proactive mode of operation. That said, following the fallout from the ENYSA's seemingly undemocratic declaration of support for Kathy Carter, I am a little disappointed that the ISSA seem to have put their weight behind Wynalda with little or no regress to their membership. If I am wrong on this front, I am happy to be corrected.
(Correction: Per the ISSA, the Board consists of league leaders who unanimously voted to back Wynalda)
Proceedings kicked of with Mr Chicago Soccer, Peter Wilt, using the platform to tell us more about his fledgling NISA league plan. This is not the time to discuss that particular topic, and I didn’t feel that Saturday night was a particularly fitting moment either. Still, it happened.
When we got to hear Mr Wynalda, he came across as very personable, secure, and genuine. Of course, that West Coast glitz can only go so far in covering up any fallibilities, and as this process progresses, I would like to think he will face stiffer questioning than that which came from the floor tonight.
The audience was a curious mix of elderly white-haired Eastern European gents who were part of AAC’s committee, bearded football hipsters (including a couple from Columbus, more on that shortly), and a couple of soccer moms. It was immediately apparent by the standing ovation
Mr. Wynalda received for merely walking to the microphone that this was going to be little more than a soft play pen for the former US international.
Questions ranged from the obligatory pro/rel setup, through youth and development, to the US Open Cup, and of course, the sorry situation with the Columbus Crew. All standard questions by this stage for any candidate, and all handled with aplomb on the night. What struck me, and perhaps this simply wasn’t the platform, was that many answers lacked substance, and were invariably skewed to the best interests of the men’s national side. I understand that the wounds of the previous World Cup campaign are still very much raw, and that as figurehead of the sport, the team receives a certain amount of attention. But Mr. Wynalda runs the risk of appearing elitist if he continues to focus on the USMNT and all that ails MLS.
There is a promise to align the US soccer calendar with the “international calendar” (whatever that is) but no discussion of the problems caused by weather extremes. There was much talk about pro/rel, of course. And no necessity for MLS to align themselves with it. But little consideration of how it may be implemented, time wise. Unless you consider “I think it is fair to say that if someone has a 10 year plan, they don’t have a plan at all” to be an indication of sorts.
At one point, one of the AAC old boys took to the floor, and bemoaned the lack of support the USSF has given, historically, to the amateur game. He regaled us with tales of his successes over the years, and I don’t think anyone could have been failed to be impressed (although I doubt it came across well on the live feed). Quite what was expected of Mr. Wynalda at this point is unclear, but he was at least able to make a firm promise at this juncture, the abolition of the $2 registration fee for individual players. It may not be much, financially, but it was hugely symbolic of his desire to make the organisation of soccer more about soccer, and less about organisation.
As the soundbites and catchphrases began to wind down, Mr. Wynalda turned his attention to all things MLS, and in particular the Columbus Crew. There had been some hearty drinking taking place before things got underway, so cometh the hour, some of the representatives weren’t perhaps at their fighting best. But the passion was clear for all to see. For Mr. Wynalda, this is low hanging fruit. Every man and his dog knows that what has gone on with this franchise is symptomatic of much that is wrong in US soccer, and US sport. So whilst his promises of “we won’t let it happen” may lack substance and evolution, that was what those involved wanted to hear at the time.
With one last standing ovation, and a series of hugs reminiscent of the end of a Jerry Springer show, that was that. A successful event if you are already sold on Mr Wynalda’s platform. And a frustrating one if you’re not. He certainly knows his platform, and his audience. I would hope, for all concerned, that he and others are subjected to more scrutiny as the race draws to a close. Personally, I am yet to hear anyone else I like more. But such is the cloak and dagger nature of this election, and yes, such is my echo chamber, that I am far from well versed on all candidates. His vision is certainly popular. Is it going to be successful? I guess we’ll find out. Quite what the purpose of this whole event was remains unclear. I doubt many in the room hold a vote. And since the state association that was hosting the event has already declared for Mr. Wynalda, would his time not be better served prospecting elsewhere?
If you are of a mind to watch the whole thing, and find critical errors in this reprisal, then the whole event can be viewed here. https://www.facebook.com/wynalda4ussf/posts/188290448464689