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Fire20: Where’s Waldo?

From baggy kits to hot takes: a reflection on Eric Wynalda’s time in Chicago

Mutiny v Fire X

Welcome to Fire20, our weekly series celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club by making deep dives into the team’s history. This week we look back at Eric Wynalda’s time in Fire Red.

The subject of today’s Fire20 is a person than many of, if not all of you, may know. Perhaps it wasn’t for his time in a Chicago Fire kit, but for the countless hours that he has spent giving surface-level, poorly thought-out takes about the game of soccer. This person, of course, is Eric Wynalda.

The one-time American international was a bit of a journeyman during his professional career. Wynalda had played in seemingly every league in the United States, the lower-divisions of Germany and Liga MX before 2001 when arrived in Chicago.

He also happened to spend time with the New England Revolution. Ya know, that team the Fire square off against on Saturday. So today, let’s take a look at the long, storied career of Eric Wynalda, and celebrate the season he spent at Soldier Field.

*record scratch noise*

Before we start on his time with the Fire, let’s take a look at one of the cooler things Eric Wynalda can put his name on. In 1996, while playing for the San Jose Clash, he scored the first ever MLS goal—in style.

Wynalda cut past a defender back onto his right foot, curled the ball through two others and beat the keeper at the far post to give the Clash a 1-0 lead over D.C. United. He then proceeded to take off his shirt in celebration, get mobbed by his teammates and leave the game with a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

(Side note: 1990s MLS jerseys were the best. Anyone know where I can get my hands on one?)

Anyways, let’s move on.

In 2001, Wynalda came to the Fire after making just 11 appearance for the Revolution in all competitions. He played in 21 regular season games with the Fire, scoring 10 goals and recording 5 assists, and appeared in five MLS cup playoff games recording 4 goals and 1 assist in Chicago’s run to the conference finals.

Yet Wynalda’s time with the Fire was much more memorable than a few stats in the history book. He was a member of the team that drubbed Kansas City in record-setting fashion, and scored a memorable 99th minute winner against Dallas.

More importantly was Wynalda’s contribution to building the winning mentality that the club developed right off the bat. He joined the club when it was in only its fourth year of existence, and was a strong leader for young players (like DaMarcus Beasley) who carried on with the team once he departed. I’m not quite sure what it was about “Waldo,” but he had a steadying presence for a guy that never stayed at one club for long.

Finally, let’s take a look at one other aspect of Wynalda’s career that was speculated about on this very site. In 2011, when the Fire were in search of a new coach, a Hot Time in Old Town writer threw around the idea of having the one-time player take the job. He weighed the pros and cons, and ultimately decided that though Wynalda may stir the pot a bit, he didn’t bring any quality coaching experience to the job.

Wynalda was recently named the head coach of fourth-division side L.A. Wolves FC. The Wolves, who posted a perfect 16-0 record last season, are a participating team in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup, something that was attractive to the former Fire man.

“The club has all the hallmarks of future success, and with a shot to make a deep run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2017, the trajectory for L.A. Wolves FC is through the roof right now,” Wynalda said in a club release. “There’s much to do, and believe me, the work has already begun.”

Just think how fun it would be, if the Wolves make it to the third round and drew the Fire.