Las Vegas Lights FC Head Coach Eric Wynalda was nearing the end of his playing career when in 2001 he was traded to the Chicago Fire from the New England Revolution, but his time under Head Coach Bob Bradley was key to the philosophy he has carried with him into the coaching ranks.
“Bob had done such a good job of putting that together that there was a lesson within,” Wynalda said in conversation with former Fire teammate Jesse Marsch and assistant coach Daryl Shore on Forward Madison FC’s Just Coffee with the Mingos. “I remember the first thing Bob said to me was, ‘Look, just shut the hell up and learn from these guys.’ And you would think a guy that’s played 100 times for his country and all this stuff wouldn’t need to be told that, but I really, really enjoyed that.
“I came into a team where I needed to manage my body – because I could hardly play – but it wasn’t that I would go to bed at night because my team lost as so much, ‘God, I hope I’m able to practice tomorrow. I really hope that my body’s going to co-operate and I get to be part of something I love so much.’
“How does that affect me now? I manage my guys. I make sure that they understand that this is the greatest job in the world and there’s so many ways to screw it up, where you abuse your body or don’t get adequate rest, or drink too much, or you party too much, or you think you’re a bigger player than you are. … I try to be a constant reminder that this time is short, enjoy every second of it, and if you love the game then make sure you take care of the one thing you need to have to play it, and that’s your body.”
Las Vegas Light FC Head Coach Eric Wynalda addresses his team during preseason practice at Cashman Field earlier this spring. | Photo courtesy Las Vegas Lights FC
The hour-long conversation between the three former colleagues – which also included questions from Forward Madison fans via Zoom chat – dug into numerous different topics, including Wynalda’s time as a broadcaster before his proper dive into coaching full-time. Now in his second season with Lights FC, the U.S. Men’s National team legend admitted that there were concessions he made in order to take the job in Las Vegas, but he believes the club is now well-positioned to give the city and its fans an exciting and competitive on-field product to go alongside the show put on by Lights FC’s front office and marketing department.
“We’re still embracing our identity and some of the crazy stuff that goes along with Brett Lashbrook our owner and some of the things he likes to do, but we’ve been able to really focus on the soccer side of things,” said Wynalda. “But we’ve really gotten to a point now where I feel like the club – because we’ve been able to put a really good product on the field now – everyone can be proud of it, and that really is the goal, for us to build a club that people can come watch the games and not just have fun going crazy but also have a lot of pride in being associated with a football club that tries to do things right.”
Las Vegas Lights FC Eric Wynalda has worked to accentuate to his players to enjoy every second of the opportunity they have as professionals. | Photo courtesy Las Vegas Lights FC
Wynalda also believes stepping away from the media side of the game and into coaching day-in and day-out has been a good thing for him personally, crediting Marsch with providing the prod he needed to embrace the opportunity to help players achieve their full potential.
“It’s the work,” he said. “It’s the work and rolling up your sleeves every day with a young, impressionable kid who can be so much better if they’re armed with the right information. It’s easy to sit in a booth or on a headset and criticize everybody and say, ‘well, I would have done it differently,’ and not until I really took Jesse’s advice and said, ‘alright, well what can I do? What do I want to do, and how can I implement that?’, that’s really when my life got better to a certain extent.”