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First San Jose head coach Laurie Calloway ran a tight ship

Wynalda recalls it as “never a healthy relationship.”

Laurie Calloway

This week is the 25th anniversary of the first Major League Soccer games, and among the memories of the first game and debut season comes memories of the first MLS head coach in San Jose, Laurie Calloway.

Calloway was an English defender who moved to the United States in the mid-1970s to play in the NASL. His first team — the San Jose Earthquakes — made an indelible mark on him, as he remained in the U.S. and had plenty of history with the local community and various incarnations of the Quakes afterwards.

Fast forward two decades, and Calloway, who had gone on to coach around the American West in a variety of settings, including the indoor version of the Earthquakes, was installed as the first head coach of the San Jose Clash in 1996.

But the Englishman’s methods were not popular with all of his players.

Forward Eric Wynalda, who admittedly garnered a reputation as an outspoken, fiery persona in American soccer over the years, said he frequently butted heads with Calloway in the Clash’s debut season.

“He once said, because I love to play golf and he said, ‘OK, no golf three days before and three days after I game.’ And all of us kind of looked at each other and were, ‘Great, that’s seven days. So there’s no golf allowed on this team,’” Wynalda told reporters on a conference call last week to commemorate the league’s first-ever game, in which he scored the winner.

As the big star on San Jose’s roster, alongside Nigerian international Michael Emenalo, Wynalda said the expectations for him with the league were different than the other players and that led to friction with Calloway.

“I think Laurie was put in a tough spot. If I was to go back and – what the league was trying to do, you know, and what we were trying to promote made me a part-time employee for the San Jose Clash, and his frustration with that and our fights were pretty intense. So we would have our arguments, but I think that it was so hard for him,” he said.

“For example, we were doing some promotions for the league, and he was having a hard time managing the group because there was so much going on on my end, that I had to take a red-eye flight to Tampa to do a photo shoot, and he demanded that I was the first guy to go. I did the shoot. It only lasted like about an hour, but I was on a plane three hours later and I was making my way back to San Jose because he didn’t want me to miss training.

“Now, you spend 12 hours on a plane, and I arrived, and Francisco Maturrano, our assistant coach, picked me up at the airport. And I said, ‘What are you picking me up for? I thought my wife was picking me up.’ And then I said, ‘Why are you in your gear and why do you have a bag for me?’ And Laurie wanted me to go run the stairs at Spartan Stadium because I had missed practice, and I ended up pulling my groin and I missed two weeks,” Wynalda explained.

While Wynalda hinted there were more stories where that came from, with the benefit of time the player seemed to understand why Calloway was so hard on his team.

“It was this push-and-pull of him really not being able to — getting so angry at the circumstances that I couldn’t be with the team as much as he wanted me; that we ended up fighting all the time, about everything, and it was never a healthy relationship.

“And again, these are times when I just wanted our team to be better. We would have three-and-a-half hour long practices, and I would just – being me, I would say, ‘Coach, you have to stop it. You have to stop it. Guys are dying out here. We haven’t even eaten anything.’ But in his nervousness and anxiety of how he was going to make our team better, he ended up making it really difficult on our guys. I was the only one willing to step up and fight him on those things. It became a problem.”

San Jose native Tim Martin, voted 1996 Clash Defender of the Year, had some professional experience before joining up with the start-up Clash, and noted that Calloway’s pregame ritual, of sequestering players in a hotel the night before a game, was unusual in his experience.

“We were secluded,” Martin recalled in a feature on the Earthquakes’ website this week. “Coach Laurie Calloway had us stay in a hotel. There was a little more anticipation because we were away from our families. I remember it was hard because if you’re married or you have a girlfriend, you usually spend time together before a game, but this time we were by ourselves. We were basically sequestered.”

Calloway helped San Jose qualify for the playoffs, with the final seed in the West, in 1996, but after winning their postseason opener against the LA Galaxy, the bitter rivals came back and won the next two, when the format was best out of three games.

But the 1997 season did not even go that well, as continued friction with Wynalda and a poor record led to Calloway being fired in June of that season, the Clash failing to reach the playoffs in their second season.

Calloway continued to coach, and while he’s now retired in his mid-70s, said to be living in Central California, he had stints with one of the best amateur teams in the country, the Des Moines Menace, and historic lower-division pro club Rochester (Raging) Rhinos before his retirement.

While an urban legend claims Wynalda paid for an airplane to fly a banner message over Spartan Stadium, in talking to reporters he denied that was the case.

“For the record, I do know who put that banner over the stadium, and it was not me,” Wynalda said. “So let’s just set the record straight. When somebody hired a plane and flew a banner over saying that ‘the Clash should fire their coach,’ meaning Laurie Calloway, that was not me, but I will save that for the book.”

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