He wasn't a flashy type of forward. He wasn't famous for his huge celebrations, nor was he any great threat to any scoring records, and his international career was restricted to two USMNT caps in 2004. But John Wolyniec always had an uncanny way of scoring his goals at the right time for the MetroStars and yes, even for the New York Red Bulls. And in the past two seasons Wolyniec has been making his magic work as the manager of the Red Bulls' USL team, NYRB II.
As a player for both the MetroStars and New York Red Bulls, Woly was a blue-collar forward. He worked hard, and found ways to put his foot out to deflect a pass into the net, or to make the crucial run to connect a cross to goal. He seemed to conjure goals out of nothing more than determination. It was a magical talent.
Understated and under-celebrated as his work may have been for the twice-named team he made his name with, he scored one of the most awesome goals in the club's history.
It happened at Giants Stadium. The NFL lines were down on the field turf and Amado Guevara was on the Metros 47-yard line, lining up a set piece. Guevara took the free kick, the ball sailed toward the Columbus end-zone; Woly tracked the ball in the air, and volleyed it home with one touch: a late, late overtime winner to send every home fan to their feet. The crowd went bananas.
It was one of many goals from Wolyniec that made you think "how did he do that?"; one of many goals he seemed to find to rescue a point or turn a draw into a win. He never stopped battling for the prize, never stopped working for the win.
That knack for scoring goals when least expected has always been "Woly Magic" to me.
Now Woly Magic has new meaning. As NYRB II's head coach for the last two seasons, Wolyniec has conjured one of USL's all-time great teams out of roster that changes almost every week. The II team was competitive in 2015; in 2016, it has been exceptional.
The incredible regular-seaoson run has seen Woly conjure wins with a mix of the club's top prospects - Brandon Allen, Derick Etienne Jr., Aaron Long, Junior Flemmings, Speedy Williams, Dan Metzger, Vincent Bezecourt, Ryan Meara - and emerging Academy talent, mixing in the occasional starter from the MLS squad looking for minutes and match fitness.
It is a challenge to manage the diverse ambitions and expectations of a player pool that mixes high-schoolers with young pros and veterans. To forge one of the winningest teams in USL history along the way is an incredible feat. And all the while, Wolyniec has stayed recognizably himself: humble, determined, and relentless. NYRB II is a team that bears many of the hallmarks of his playing career: no one expected it to be quite this good, but it is and we're loving every minute of it.
The moment that perhaps best showcased the team Woly has built and the tactical understanding he has developed came just last week: the USL Eastern Conference playoff win over a rough and tough opponent in the Rochester Rhinos. NYRB II shrugged off the agony of imminent defeat, pressed forward in the dying minutes of the game, and won a penalty to even the scores with just a minute of extra time left to play. And then the II team went on to clinch victory in the shootout.
It was the eighth time Wolyniec had locked horns with Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley, and the first time he had seen his team victorious against Rochester. Lilley, one of the most successful lower-league coaches in US soccer, praised the NYRB II boss. "John knows what he's doing. He's had players in and out, last year and this year, and for them to show that composure, even down 3-2," said Lilley, "Once we tied it the first time, they kept pressing and got a goal before the half, I thought in the second half they had some good chances that they created after we tied it 2-2. He kept his guys on the prize."
RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch sees Wolyniec creating a different sort of pressure: pressure on the first team roster.
"They have had a great year and it's been fun to watch, all of us within the club from players to the coaching staff are happy and proud for them," said Marsch, "There are a lot of candidates on the USL team that will be a part of the pre-season trips and the roster for next year. That's the purpose to have a USL team: to put guys into our program and respond.
This is going to be tough on us as because we have a pool of quality players here and that's something we are very proud of. I have said John should win USL Coach of the Year and I can't see any other candidates as the USL team has been dominant. They look like the first team - and we want it to look like Red Bulls football - and John has looked great doing it.
John has grown a lot as a coach since I've been here in the two years and that's what happens when you run your own team. He's balanced that out really well and he has really matured; we've seen him do quite well in many ways."
A legend on the pitch, Woly has already got a legendary season on the sidelines under his belt, against Louisville City in the USL Eastern Conference final on October 16. Woly Magic is for real. It would be great to see him and his players cap this season with USL Cup, especially since the job Wolyniec is doing for NYRB II cannot have gone unnoticed. He is rapidly making his case for a shot at coaching on a bigger stage, and it surely won't be long before his name starts to appear whenever there are MLS vacancies to be filled.
Until then, let's enjoy the Woly Magic at RBNY while it lasts.