May 28, 2024

The weight of her soccer jersey, Tatum Wynalda once told her father, is sometimes too heavy to carry. Yet it’s not so much the shirt as the name that goes with it that’s the problem.

Eric Wynalda was one of the greatest players in U.S. Soccer history, a hall of famer who appeared in three World Cups and still ranks among the top six all-time in goals and assists. That’s a tough act to follow.

“My name is part of the game at this point,” said Tatum, a sophomore at Pepperdine. “It’s been kind of a difficult ride; people find a hard time, almost, differentiating me from my dad. [It’s] a process I’m currently on, just establishing my own identity and showing people that I’m Tatum.

“I’m not just Eric Wynalda’s daughter.”

Former U.S. soccer star Eric Wynalda takes a selfie with his daughter, Pepperdine soccer player Tatum Wynalda.

Former U.S. men’s national team star Eric Wynalda takes a selfie with his daughter, Pepperdine soccer player Tatum Wynalda.

(Courtesy of Eric Wynalda)

That process is off to a good beginning at Pepperdine where, despite starting just two of eight games and splitting her time between forward and the midfield, Wynalda is tied for the team lead with two goals heading into Friday night’s match with fifth-ranked UCLA, the reigning national champion. But the huge shadow cast by her famous father may never fully disappear no matter how successful she is.

Trinity Rodman, the first NWSL player to a sign a million-dollar contract and a starter for the U.S. in this summer’s World Cup, is still asked more often about her father, basketball hall of famer Dennis Rodman, than her own substantial achievements. At least she’s playing at a high level. Brooklyn Beckham, the eldest son of David, was so hindered by his father’s reputation he gave up soccer at age 15 while playing for Arsenal’s academy team.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it’s a burden,” said Wynalda, whose 10 goals over the last two seasons also leads the team. “People are going to make the comparison. I have no control over that. The only thing I have control over is my effort.”

Besides there are benefits to having Eric Wynalda as your father.

“He knows, as you can imagine, more about the game than almost anyone,” she said.

He also knows more than Tatum might have imagined about the strain his success can create for his daughter, the third-oldest of six children. Eric Wynalda played one season in the Bundesliga with Stephan Beckenbauer, son of a legendary player and coach. Despite being a talented player in his own right, Stephan wilted under the legacy of his father, Franz, making just 12 appearances in the top level of German soccer before retiring at 28.

The pressure of trying to live up to his father wasn’t fair to Stephan and Eric Wynalda knows it’s not fair to any of his children, either. So he has gone to great lengths to protect them, at times urging them to play baseball or run track. That didn’t work with Tatum.

“Growing up, soccer was just my life,” she said. “From a very young age, I was like, ‘I’m going to play pro.’ I’m happy with my choice.”

When that was settled, Eric Wynalda tried a different tact, registering Tatum up for a tryout under her middle name, Milan, rather than Wynalda. She easily made the cut, which Eric hoped would prove to everyone — his daughter included — that she was succeeding on merit, not her family name. But the experiment backfired spectacularly when Tatum showed up at the first practice. Since none of the other parents had heard the name Wynalda called at the tryout, they assumed Tatum had failed to make the roster, forcing Eric to use his influence to get his daughter reinstated.

Wynalda’s abilities quickly muffled any further protests though. Playing for SoCal Youth, she was the sixth-leading scorer in the nation in 2020 and made the Elite Clubs National Selection team a year later. When she turned her attention to high school soccer she dominated there, too, recording 48 goals and 20 assists in two seasons with Westlake High, making the All-CIF Southern Section team as a junior.

That kind of talent doesn’t come just from her father though; if anything, her soccer success has been something of a family affair. Her mother, Amy Ward, won four Southern Section soccer titles at Agoura Hills High in the 1980s and played in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament for Cal Lutheran while her uncle Tim — Amy’s twin brother — has coached the Pepperdine women’s team since 1998, leading the team to 21 winning seasons and 12 NCAA tournament appearances.

Family also influenced her college choice. Her stepmom, Amanda, went to law school at Pepperdine and Tatum was a frequent visitor to campus and the school’s soccer field. And while Tatum was highly recruited out of high school, Ward, to stave off any charges of nepotism, made it such that Pepperdine’s contacts with her went through his assistant coaches, a process that ended with her committing to play for the Waves on her uncle’s 50th birthday.

“I did have a lot of choices and a lot of opportunities. I think for me, at the end of the day, I was looking at places that just fit the values that were really important to me,” said Tatum, an integrated marketing and communications major who is also excelling in the classroom, making the WCC commissioner’s honor roll as a freshman. “But it also took me a long time to come to my decision. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m going to Pepperdine.’”

Wynalda finally informed her uncle of her decision by donning a Pepperdine T-shirt, a trick she used again this summer when she pulled on her once-heavy jersey and Facetimed her father from campus to show off her new Pepperdine uniform. Wynalda, who wore No. 20 in high school and No. 28 as a freshman at Pepperdine, had switched to No. 11. Her father’s number.

“I lost it,” an emotional Eric Wynalda said, recalling the video call. “To me 11 is everything. When I tried to watch her play in those first couple of game in the 11, it was really emotional.”

Tatum Wynalda winds up to kick the ball while competing for Pepperdine's soccer team.

Tatum Wynalda winds up to kick the ball while competing for Pepperdine’s soccer team.

(Courtesy of Kennedy Duke / Pepperdine University Athletics)

As it will be Friday night since Eric plans to attend the game at UCLA, likely watching from a dark corner to make sure the only Wynalda in the spotlight is the one on the field, in the familiar No. 11 jersey, a shirt that is becoming lighter and more comfortable by the day.

“This will always be about her making her own name. It’s not about anything that I ever did,” Eric Wynalda said. “She’s very independent and a very strong woman. I couldn’t be more proud of the daughter that she is and the woman’s she becoming.”

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