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Oct 12, 2008

Wynne makes his own name

Marvell Wynne was three years old when he went to a local gymnasium with his mother to watch his friend play indoor soccer. Wynne, a squirming bundle of energy, sat in the bleachers, taking in all the action. Then the coach of one of the teams, the Bananas, approached his mother, April Wynne, and asked if he could borrow his son for the game. Turns out that the team was a player short.

"He had to be talked into it," said April Wynne. "I plied him with Baskin Robbins after the game."

And that is how Marvell Wynne, one of the rising stars of MLS and the national team, was introduced to soccer. It was a match made in heaven. Wynne, who even at a young age used blazing speed to his advantage, was dominant at the youth level. After he scored 15 times in one game, the league limited how many goals a player could score in a single game.

Wynne continued to use his speed and athleticism to earn a scholarship to UCLA, where in 2005, he was named an All-American. He earned a role with the U-20's and would be a standout on the team in the 2005 U-20 World Cup, fueling speculation of a move to Europe. He left the Bruins early and was the first pick in the 2006 MLS Draft, selected by New York. This past summer, though now a member of Toronto FC, he would figure prominently into the Olympic team.

Perhaps it should be no surprise; after all, it is well known that Marvell Wynne has a pretty impressive athletic lineage. His father, Marvell Wynne Sr., was a baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs from 1983 to 1990 and achieved some success in the major leagues. Many in the community expected the son to follow in his father's success on the athletic fields. The pressure was clearly there, but it never came from his father or mother.

"To be honest, the pressure that exists comes only from people outside your family," said Michael Bradley, son of national team coach Bob Bradley and Marvell's teammate during qualifiers. "My mom and dad had a way of supporting me in anything that I did, only encouraging me to find something I loved."

Like Bradley, who also grew up in an athletic household, Marvell never felt the pressure to excel but rather support. It was the game of soccer and not baseball that Marvell loved, and with the support of his mother also came a relationship that would never make the headlines.

While much attention centers on father and son due to their similar athletic achievements, Marvell's mother is the real hero of this story. Her relationship with him grew out of necessity; with the elder Marvell on the road playing baseball, mother and son became close. It was hours spent in the car traveling to practice, late night meals at rest stops and time spent simply being a soccer mom that brought April Wynne and Marvell Wynne close. He calls his mother the "cornerstone of my career."

"I kind of became his best friend," said his mother. "He'd come to me with questions about his friends. He'd always come to me for advice. He trusted me." Even if everyone, from the time he began to make his mark with the youth national team and in college at UCLA, wanted to talk about his father, Marvell knew that April Wynne was a large part of his success story.

"I definitely believe my mom is an unsung hero to the media. In just about every article there would be some sort of reference to my dad [with me as] a 'son of former professional baseball player,'" said Marvell. "Although he did support me as much as my mom did at home, my mom was the one cheering me on the sidelines most of the time."

Now divorced from Marvell's father, April Wynne -- a woman who freely admits that she doesn't yet understand the nuances of this sport -- would become the consummate soccer mom. Saturday morning, usually just a couple hours past midnight, mother and son would pile into the car to make the five-hour drive to his Olympic Development team's practice. The trips from Poway, Calif., to Huntington Beach to play for select teams were often be long and sometimes resulted in a hotel stay on Saturday night. Marvell would sleep the whole ride. It was a labor of love for April, born of her son's passion for soccer.

Most thought he would naturally be a baseball player. At age 6, Marvell gave his father's sport a try, signing up for Little League. He wanted to give the sport one chance, even though it didn't appeal to him. After a few minutes on the diamond, his suspicions were confirmed.

"He was bored," admits April. "He hated it; he was just bored to death. He'd always be goofing off in the outfield."

Pretty soon, it would become, as April puts it, "all soccer, all the time." He would run track in high school for Cornerstone Christian School, but he did so to condition himself for soccer. He even shied away from basketball because the sport discouraged contact and would affect his ability to play physically on the soccer field. According to April, Marvell told her that basketball would make him "wimpier."

Yet, growing up in the shadows of a famous father never was too much for the younger Marvell. He is quick to point out that his father was always there to support him, but it is clear that his mother has a special place in his heart. Though her thankless hours spent driving and cheering him on never made a headline, the efforts of April Wynne have been worth it, on and off the field.

"Marv is definitely an awesome guy," said Alecko Eskandarian, Marvell's former teammate with Toronto and whose father, Andranik Eskandarian, played for the New York Cosmos. "A very nice guy and he has a good head on his shoulders. ... He has done very well to prove himself in MLS and on the international stage, so I think he has a bright future ahead of him."

Kristian R. Dyer is a freelance writer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the associate editor of Blitz magazine and also writes for the New York City daily paper METRO. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com.

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