Eric Wynalda. I’ve already written about him and his free kick against Switzerland, but he bears mentioning again. Growing up in the 90’s following soccer in the US, especially in California, Wynalda holds a special place in my heart and early memories of fandom. He is the scorer of the first MLS goal, the national team’s leading goal scorer until Donovan broke his record in 2008, and the perfect character for a Paul Thomas Anderson film.
In the same way that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that American lives do not contain second acts, P. T. Anderson’s narrator in Magnolia asserts, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” Wynalda was marketed as the bad boy of American soccer (complete with a fantastic early 90’s mullet), especially after an impetuous red card at the 1990 World Cup against Czechoslovakia, and has struggled to distance himself from that image. I read an interview where he described that red card as a “world-scale [?] nightmare” and something that still haunted him almost a decade later. As a pundit, Wynalda is the self-described “Charles Barkley of soccer.” The role of opinionated ex-pro willing to stir the pot works well enough for television, but doesn’t seem to be as popular with the power brokers within MLS and USSF; it’s no secret that he wants to be one of the guys in charge rather than talking about the guys in the charge. One suspects that his honest and forthright views didn’t help him during his interviews for the position of manager with Chivas USA or the Chicago Fire. It’s not hard to picture Wynalda after hearing his application had been rejected as another character singing along to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” in Magnolia.
Perhaps it will never work out for Wynalda to become a top level manager. If that’s the case, I think he could fall back on an acting career and star in his own P. T. Anderson directed biopic. He displays some serious acting chops in Reebok’s “Other Careers” ads, also featuring Ryan Giggs, Dennis Bergkamp, Peter Schmeichel, and Andy Cole. You can easily picture him selling a used car to Barry in Punch Drunk Love. Andy Cole, with his wooden delivery, is the worst actor of the bunch, but I think the rest acquit themselves quite well. Wynalda’s spot feels very much like an Anderson film already.
Of course, there is also the compelling story line of US Men’s National Team and DC United’s captain, John Harkes, having an affair with Wynalda’s wife in the lead up to the 1998 World Cup. Harkes was removed from the team – against Wynalda’s wishes – and missed the US’s embarrassing performances in France that summer. It would be easy to make a Boogie Nights reference here, but let’s rise above that, shall we?
Incidentally, I was at Spartan Stadium when DC United came to town and beat the San Jose Clash 4-0; I rushed to the front pre-match to get John Harkes’ autograph. He obliged, and, as he was signing my programme, I told him I was sorry to hear he wasn’t going to France with the rest of the National Team. He jerked his head up, and it felt like time stopped as he stared at me. At the time nobody knew why he had been dropped (there were rumors about breaking curfew before a game, but that didn’t seem like a good enough reason to leave the team’s captain home), and I had wanted to tell him that I was on his side, that Steve Sampson -the USMNT coach at the time – was an idiot, that he was making a huge mistake, but I couldn’t quite the read the look he was giving me. It stopped me dead in my tracks. Then there was an exhale, and time restarted. “Me too,” he said.