Eric Wynalda is coming to Atlanta. Yes, THAT Eric Wynalda.
It’s almost fitting in a way. We’ve been teased for so long, told over and over again that “we’re going in the right direction,” or “we’re committed to winning.”
But the Silverbacks’ grotesque record over the last season and a half has made soccer purists here in Atlanta wince, vomit and finally turn their backs on them.
After alienating casual and moderately interested soccer fans in the Atlanta community, even season-ticket holders were walking away from this team, one of the worst in the history of 2nd-tier soccer in the United States.
When the team was reborn in late 2010 with the promise of learning from past mistakes, it came as a surprise to many (this writer not included) when the old guard of Boris Jerkunica, Michael Oki, Rodrigo Rios and Alex Pineda Chacon were left in charge of reinvigorating a dead franchise. They said all the right things, talked about finding young, local talent to develop and promised to listen to the fans. They even brought in Jose Manuel Abundis to coach the team, at the behest of many in the local Latino community.
What followed was one of the biggest farces laid upon this community, an abhorrent 4-4-20 record, with a -38 goal differential. In addition, instead of finding and developing that local talent, the signings of multiple former MLS players was another broken promise, despite a wealth of young, hungry players playing right in their own stadium with the Reserves team of the NPSL.
Fast forward to 2012. New coach. New uniforms. New marquee players. Same result. 8 points from 14 matches. You’d think that a team would have to TRY to be this bad, and at times I really thing that’s what they are doing.
Selling the hosting rights to the U.S. Open Cup match against the Seattle Sounders was the first domino. The dissent was already becoming apparent in the front office and on the field.
Michael Oki, Jerkunica’s right-hand man for many years, finally had enough and resigned. But the losing continued.
Many will point to the ridiculous amount of cards as a sign of indiscipline, but when you break it down, a lot of it is due to frustration. When you take players like Reinaldo Navia and Danilo Turcios, players who have played at the highest level in their careers, and continue to lose week after week, well it’s apparent how frustrated they are.
Pineda Chacon had to go. With that much talent on the field and for these results to continue, it is quite mind-blowing.
Furthermore, the fact that not one, but TWO players from the Reserves were signed in the last few weeks is quite the indictment on Rodrigo Rios and his ability to find talent. Willis and Klute joining the first team in the middle of the season without releasing any players makes it pretty apparent who has the real eye for talent in Atlanta.
Finally, following Saturday’s laughable 3-0 loss to the expansion San Antonio Scorpions, the pieces fell into place and something could be done.
Am I expecting miracles and a quick turnaround from Wynalda? No. Could he steer this team towards the playoffs? Absolutely. The Silverbacks are only 9 points out of the final playoff spot with 14 games left to play.
But take today’s announcement for what it is: An embarrassing indictment of the failures of this organization to put the right people in charge, to make the right decisions, and most importantly, put a good product on the field for the fans.
I’m not comfortable reading Wynalda’s title of “Interim Head Coach” followed by the words “will handle all team-related decisions effective immediately, and that will include finding a permanent head coach for the club.”
The Atlanta Silverbacks have painted themselves into the proverbial corner and are now throwing their hands up asking for help. I just hope and pray that for the sake of soccer here in Atlanta that Mr. Wynalda can avoid all of the nonsense and politics that seem to be rife with this organization.
History has told me to feel otherwise, but as of this morning, I am hopeful once again. Cautiously hopeful, if you would say.