Thursday May 26th, 2016 10:53AM

Wynalda ready to put Silverbacks on winning path

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
ATLANTA -- Andy Smith only ever had one person in mind to reshape the Atlanta Silverbacks.

For the moment, at least, Smith has his man.

Former U.S. Men's National Team forward and current FOX Soccer analyst Eric Wynalda was introduced to the media on Tuesday as the Silverbacks' interim head coach and advisor -- hoping to provide a boost for Atlanta's struggling professional soccer team.

"This is an amazing opportunity; at first I didn't think it would work, but the more Andy (Smith) talked to me I realized this would fit and that it worked," said Wynalda via teleconference. "I'm excited about the challenge."

The tests facing Wynalda include re-energizing a team that has won just one game in 14 played this season while also helping the Silverbacks to locate a permanent coach before returning to work with FOX in August.

"I will take the month of July (as team coach), possibly the first part of August if necessary, but my intention is to find the right guy who can carry the torch," said Wynalda, who coached his first game with the Silverbacks on Tuesday -- a 2-1 loss to the Carolina RailHawks in Cary, N.C. "I will honor my contract with Fox in August."

Smith hopes to have a long-term consulting agreement in place before that time.

"There was an opportunity to have Eric come in and for him to help us get on track immediately and evaluate our team," Smith said. "(Eric) knows the sport inside out. We definitely want to have a long-term agreement -- I would say a loose agreement, more of a partnership with Eric -- in a consulting way with our team and the coach he brings in to work and to help us find players. After this season there could be opportunities to continue to work together; I think that's what we want to do. ... Moving forward it will be more of a consulting, team advisor position."

Even in the short-term, Wynalda, a 2004 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee and three-time World Cup competitor, already has some very definite ideas for the direction he hopes to take Atlanta, which is currently rooted to the cellar of the North America Soccer League with 14 games remaining in the regular season. That includes a potential target for the head coaching position -- though Wynalda declined to make any names public.

"It's someone I have a great deal of respect for, and I think it's someone perfect for the organization that can continue on the right track," Wynalda said.

The Silverbacks' new coach believes that path starts with some basics both on the field and in the locker room.

"We're going to address the game differently," said Wynalda, who wants to bring a more offensive-minded, possession style of game to a team that has scored just 14 goals in 14 games played this season and yielded a league-worst 30 goals. "Our team hasn't had time to breathe defensively this season.

"What it really comes down to is belief. When you lose, it's hard to have confidence. But I think the guys are embracing a clean slate, and I feel like we're halfway there already."

After leading amateur team, Cal FC, to the fourth round of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup -- including a win over MLS side Portland Timbers --Wynalda believes he is prepared for the challenges ahead in Atlanta.

"The Cal FC experience and getting the most out of them under the circumstances will help me in Atlanta," said Wynalda. "That was a learning experience for me and helped me in what could have been awkward situation (Monday) night, making it a fluid transition when I met the players."

Wynalda already hopes to bring in a few Cal players, including midfield standouts Danny Barrera and Richard Menjivar.

"There's several players I'd love to bring in if it makes sense," Wynalda said. "The other part of that is that you have to evaluate the group and see where there's somewhere to improve. This group, in my opinion positionally, there's not a lot of work to be done in that regard."

Certainly Silverbacks management feels they are headed in the right direction with Wynalda, who replaces the roles previously filled by Silverbacks director of soccer Rodrigo Rios and head coach Alex Pineda Chacón.

"He was at the top of our list," said Smith, who has a long-time relationship with Wynalda. "To be honest with you we thought it was a long shot. We feel very fortunate that we got him. He was the guy. He was our first choice, and we didn't have to look any further which was a good thing."

Now they hope to show it was a good thing for Atlanta soccer.

Atlanta's first home game under Wynalda's leadership will be July 14 vs. the Puerto Rico Islanders at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
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