One morning in 1986, a 17-year-old Eric Wynalda was playing for his club team when he was approached by then-UCLA head coach Sigi Schmid, who was also in charge of selecting the state select youth team in California.
“I’ll see you at the state tryouts,” Schmid told Wynalda after his match.
Confused, Wynalda told Schmid that he hadn’t even been selected to his district team.
“You just did,” Schmid replied. “I’m the state team coach.”
Thus an outcast in southern California turned a corner and started a career that would lead him to be one of the top US National Team players and an integral player in the early years of Major League Soccer.
“I don’t have a career without Sigi Schmid,” Wynalda said on Monday. “I would have never been a soccer player if he didn’t show up on a Saturday morning in Simi Valley in 1986 and sit in a lawn chair and watch me play.”
Now, in addition to his role as an analyst at Fox Soccer, Wynalda manages Cal FC. The upstart US Adult Soccer Association team was originally formed in February, and has become the talk of the US Open Cup after becoming the first USASA team to top an MLS opponent when they ousted the Portland Timbers 1-0 last week to advance to the fourth round where they will meet the Sounders FC tonight at 7 pm Pacific at Starfire.
With Cal FC, he is utilizing one of the pillars that he picked up from Schmid along the way.
“If there was any lesson I ever learned from Sigi Schmid it is to trust your instincts, never give up on people and never stop looking. Because they’re out there,” Wynalda said.
That is how he ended up with players like Danny Barrerra and Artur Aghasyan who have keyed Cal FC to wins over the Kitsap Pumas, Wilmington Hammerheads and Portland Timbers to reach the fourth round.
He has taken a group of misfits and cast-offs and gotten them to fight together toward one common goal – proving they belong.
“Believing in them is one part of it, but the fact that they believe in themselves now is probably the coolest part about all of this,” Wynalda said, knowing that the same opportunity came to him years earlier because of the individual who will man the other coaching box at Starfire Stadium.
The match will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer, while also streaming online at SoundersFC.com.