Eric Wynalda USMNT Legend
One of my favorite players growing up was Eric Wynalda. I actually got to play a few minutes with him, while I was still in high school, before he exploded onto the scene in a big way. I remember the day he came back from playing against the Soviet Union in Paolo Alto to our club team game and did wind sprints after the game. I was just a high school kid at the time but it’s funny to me that even soccer journalists today don’t remember and/or don’t realize truly how good he was.
To me, Wynalda is the first American player to really dominate as a striker in a tier 1, top soccer country’s top professional soccer league. Eric Wynalda was the leading goal-scorer in the Bundesliga going into the winter break in just his first season in Germany. He was a verified soccer super-star in Germany and probably USA’s first true and undeniable world-class offensive player.
In his career he played more 1st Bundesliga games than he played games in any other league, including MLS. He played 54 Bundesliga games and scored 13 Bundesliga and cup goals. He also played 36 2nd Bundesliga games and scored 14 2nd division goals in Germany. He was also the main striker for the USA, the US National Team’s leading scorer for maybe more than a decade, and scored an incredible free kick goal vs Switzerland that was needed for the USA to make it to the second round of the World Cup for the first time in history in 1994.
People may say, so what Dempsey and McBride did better than that in England, but this was in 1992 which was a full 2 years before the World Cup was played in the USA and at a time when almost no Americans were playing in Europe at all. I was playing 5th division in Switzerland and training in the 1st division, with then future Tottenham Hotspur head coach Christian Gross, and others like John Harkes had been playing well in England, Caliguiri had signed in Germany but had not dominated like Wynalda had, and players like Meola and Ramos were playing and/or on trial in England. That was about it.
There were others here and there but it wasn’t common at all for an American to be playing any level of competitive soccer in Europe at that time. Americans were looked upon as 2nd and 3rd, even 4th class soccer players by Europeans at that time and it made it all the harder just to get a tryout with a European team. This soccer discrimination towards Americans in the early 1990’s and later makes Wynalda’s achievements so much more than just playing in Europe. He was one of the main pioneers of American soccer. In fact I got my first and 2nd professional soccer agents and European playing opportunities only because Europeans saw how good Wynalda was and because of Eric Wynalda they started to scout American players through ads in the Soccer America newspaper. These Swiss and German agents actually told me that this was why they started to scout the United States for players, just because of Eric Wynalda.
As I remember, Eric Wynalda was so good that he eventually became a target for ruthless German defenders and had his leg badly broken by a thugish German defender named Ulrich Borowka. Just Google him to see what a dirty player he was. The injury almost ended Wynalda’s career and certainly hurt Wynalda’s momentum. We all know that Wynalda was the leading American goal scorer before Landon Donovan, but Wynalda did much more that was not able to be seen since he was playing in Germany before the Internet existed. Wynalda’s story is a great one for die-hard soccer fans and every young up and coming soccer player in the USA, including Cristian Pulisic, owes Eric Wynalda a debt of gratitude.