Commerce City, Colo. – One of the first moves Eric Wynalda made when he took the reins of the Atlanta Silverbacks in June was promoting defender Chris Klute from the Reserves to the NASL club’s first team.
After seeing just three minutes in Wynalda’s first game at the helm, the 22-year-old never left the field again, playing the full 90 minutes in the next 11 games. Last week, he was loaned to the Colorado Rapids.
“The opportunity that Chris got with Atlanta was one where we gave him the confidence to play in the sense that we believed in his ability, but we wanted to get him better at what he was already very good at and we allowed him to play to his strength,” Wynalda told ColoradoRapids.com by phone on Monday.
The three-time U.S. World Cup forward and former MLS all-star has had a good year finding and developing talent, and Klute is the first of his players from Atlanta to move up to MLS.
Wynalda coached first-year side Cal FC, an amateur team from Southern California, through a Cinderella run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The fifth division side took out teams higher on the ladder, capped by an upset of the Portland Timbers, before losing to the Seattle Sounders in the Round of 16.
That success led Atlanta Silverbacks General Manager Andy Smith to offer Wynalda the coaching job three months ago.
Wynalda said saw Klute practicing with the reserve team one time and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t playing on the first team.
“He made an immediate impression on me,” Wynalda said. “For whatever reason, it was extremely easy for me to see that he was talented and needed an opportunity, and he grabbed it with both hands.”
The Silverbacks used Klute primarily at left back, but he also played on right side and even saw minutes at center back.
“The biggest thing that stands out is that he likes to defend,” Wynalda said. “He absolutely enjoys it, and you don’t see that very often in a young player.”
Wynalda sees a bit of himself in Klute in the way their careers began, and is hopeful the young defender can also have a successful pro career.
“What we discovered in Chris is that a lot of people were spending way too much time telling him what he was doing wrong, or what they wanted him to do better,” Wynalda said. “I think we simplified it for Chris. We allowed him enjoy the game again, and allowed him to find himself. We were obviously extremely impressed with his athleticism and his abilities, but also his attitude and overall enthusiasm for playing.”
In the end, it was Klute’s soccer ability that convinced Wynalda that that the former U.S. U-17 defender should be playing.
“Chris has tremendous speed,” he said. “He’s got great feet for a big guy, very good vision, and an unbelievable engine – he can run for 90 minutes and doesn’t seem to be bothered. His link-up play is very good, but his strongest attribute is the fact that he doesn’t get beat very often.”
Wynalda has high hopes that Klute, and even compares him to one of the best defenders to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team and Major League Soccer.
“I think he’s going to continue to impress,” Wynalda added. “When you start comparing him to players, there’s a lot of Eddie Pope in him. But Chris Klute is faster than Eddie Pope. I’m looking forward to his future.”