Tatum Wynalda was a 5-year-old playing AYSO football for the ‘Galloping Unicorns’ – with the purple ribbon in her hair – when she made a promise to her Hall of Famer father.
After scoring one of his eight goals that afternoon, the mini Wynalda ran up to his family sitting behind the goal, grabbed his famous dad by the face and said, “I’m going to be so much better than you never were.”
“He was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cute.’ “Tatum said. “Over the years he was like, ‘You’re not kidding.’ ”
When it comes to American football, you can’t aim much higher.
American Football Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda played in three World Cups, retired with the most goals in U.S. Men’s National Team history and scored the first ever goal of Major League Soccer.
But the 18-year-old Westlake High senior wasn’t afraid to play in those pioneering footsteps.
“He’s what I want to be when I grow up,” Tatum said. “I admire him so much. … He’s played at the professional level and he’s played at the international level, both of which are big goals for me.
“He took the same path that I hope to reach. So I have big shoes to put on.
So far, The Star’s Women’s Soccer Player of the Year has more than lived up to the name on the back of her shirt.
In the two seasons since the collapse of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy allowed her to play high school football, Wynalda has been Ventura County’s top forward.
As a senior, the Marmonte League’s most valuable player led Westlake – his father’s alma mater – to the league title with 28 goals and nine assists.
In a January showdown of the unbeaten Marmonte League, Wynalda scored a goal and an assist to lift Westlake to a 2-1 win over Oaks Christian for a decisive victory in a memorable league run.
“She’s a game-changer,” Oaks Christian head coach Sebastian Alvarado said of Wynalda. “At any time during a match, she can change the outcome. She’s fearless, competitive, and can single-handedly take control of a match.
Wynalda ended his two-year high school career scoring 48 goals and setting up 20 more in just 32 matches.
“When I see her play, there are certain things she does, little movements, that are identical to the way I play,” Eric said. “She’s a better version of me.”
Many have seen the resemblance.
“People say I have the Wynalda walk, the swagger,” Tatum said. “We had referees who refereed both my dad and me and said, ‘You’re the same. ”
Sue Wynalda saw her son in the way her granddaughter put her hands on her hips after being the victim of a bad tackle.
“Something is going to happen now,” Sue was saying in the stands at Westlake High. “I know that look.”
More than anything, Tatum inherited her father’s love for their sport, which motivates her to work on her game.
“I think the biggest thing is just his passion,” Tatum said. “He really, really understands the game like no one I’ve ever met. And every time someone compares me to him, it’s like the biggest compliment in the world for me, as a football player.
That passion fuels morning runs, late-night ice baths, and the manic self-study that keeps her in tip-top shape.
“She studies herself,” Eric said. “It’s something I’ve done a lot.
“She is very aware of what she looks like when she runs. … She has power in those first three, four steps. She has the ability to maintain control at full speed. She seems so fluid because she works so hard at it.
They work together, often breaking down a match ball by ball, move by move and blow by blow after the final whistle.
“He understands the amount of work and the amount of blood and sweat and tears that go into it,” Tatum said. “And after a game, he’s the first person I call. We literally go through every stage of the game. We analyze it together, we talk about it, and he tells me what I can do better.
The game is steeped in both sides of Tatum’s family.
His mother Amy Ward won four CIF-South Section championships at Agoura High, before playing at San Diego State and Cal Lutheran University.
“People say I look a lot like my mom,” Tatum said. “She was a great passer. She was also a great athlete.”
Her uncle Tim Ward, Amy’s twin brother, has been Pepperdine’s head coach since 1998.
Starting this summer, Ward will coach Wynalda. She signed on to play for Pepperdine last year.
“I have to prove my place and earn my place,” Tatum said. “The most exciting thing for me is that I’m going to be in an environment where everyone is working just as hard. I’m going to put it all in every practice, every practice.
She will continue to work day in and day out to fulfill the promise she made to her father as a 5-year-old goalscoring phenom with a purple ribbon in her hair.
“You can train an athlete, but you have to be born with that fire,” Tatum said, “and we were both born with that fire.”
The Second Star County Women’s Soccer Team
- Ainsley Gove, Oak Park
- Charlotte Wilfert, The Queen
- Jennifer Bill, Moor Park
- Abby Seawright, Oaks Christian
- Anneliese Wong, Camarillo
- Aliya Baez, Fillmore
- Alexis Kehoe, Nordhoff
- Ava Vincent, Agoura
- Leilani Armenta, St. Bonaventure
- Jazzy Moreno, Ventura
- Kayla Kolesar, Grace Brothers
- Ivy Williams, Thousand Oaks
- Macie BairdOak Park
- Berkley Mape, Oaks Christian
- Madeline Martinez, Grace Brothers
- Calista Banihashemi, Westlake
- Natalie Ruiz, Hueneme
- Janessah Gonzalez, Santa Clara
- Emma Naftzger, Westlake