Exclusive Interview with Chris Wingert
Chris Wingert leaping for a header while playing for MLS club Real Salt Lake. Photo courtesy of Bryan Byerly.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Chris Wingert who currently plays for Real Salt Lake in MLS. Chris comes from Babylon and has had a terrific career thus far that includes winning the 2003 Herrmann Trophy as the best college player in the country while at St John’s University to winning MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake in 2009, and playing for the U.S. Men’s national team in 2009 against Sweden.
SLI: What were your early experiences like growing up on Long Island as a soccer player? What do you feel were the positive aspects of your development as a young player on Long Island and in what ways do you think it could have been better?
CW: Growing up on long island I had some great soccer experiences. There were some great trainers who really helped me develop as a player (Tom Bouklas in particular). There was also some very good competition. Some of the best players in the country played on Long Island in our age group (Jordan Cila, Carlo Espinosa, Carlos Mendes, Chris Aloisi, etc.). I don’t think the soccer environment was lacking at all, it was about as good as I could ask for.
SLI: What advice would you give to young players on Long Island or in other parts of the country in terms of what they should do to develop as soccer players?
CW: When you are young, I believe the most important thing to develop is your technique. As you start to get a little older then tactics should come into play, and finally strength and speed can be worked on as well. Technical ability should be the primary focus though, in my opinion.
SLI: What ways did playing college soccer help you to develop as a player? Do you feel at this point that top young players should play college soccer even if it doesn’t allow them to begin their professional career at the same age as players in other countries typically start theirs?
CW: College soccer helped me tremendously. Some players, who are my age, were already prepared to make the jump straight to the pros when we were coming out of high school (i.e. Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman). I was not one of those guys. Playing college soccer really helped me learn how to prepare, both mentally and physically, for the next level. It was an essential part of my development as a player. I think deciding whether a high school player should play in college or go straight to the pros has to be determined on an individual basis. Some players are ready, some players aren't.
SLI: What do you feel is the best way for the U.S to develop its young talent?
CW: U.S. Soccer and the MLS are doing a good job of identifying talent, and that is one of the keys in helping us continuing to develop as a soccer nation. Having youth teams that are associated with MLS Clubs (and some residency programs) are also great ways to help develop our young players. We are still a ways away from being one of the top countries in the world, but there have been some great strides made in the past ten years.
SLI: What do you think about so many of the top U.S. players going to European clubs and how do you think this affects their development? What is the overall impact upon U.S. Soccer in a positive or negative way?
CW: I think it’s great that some of our top players are going over to play for big clubs in Europe. If they are getting significant playing time with their club, then most likely it is helping their development as an individual. Outside of the top few leagues in Europe, I think the level in MLS is just as high if not higher but, the more Americans we have playing at top European clubs the better.
SLI: Would you like the opportunity to play abroad if it’s offered to you or would you prefer to finish out your playing days with Real Salt Lake?
CW: If the situation was right, I would love to go play in Europe. I have never been out of contract with MLS so it would have been tough for me to try and make a move overseas. I’m 29 years old now, and I love playing for RSL so I doubt I will be going overseas to play, but you never know.
SLI: What is it about RSL that allowed you to find your niche as a player and become a consistent starting player on one of the top MLS teams?
CW: Every club is different, and every coach has their own opinion on players. When I started my career in Columbus with the Crew, I had a great two years. I started pretty consistently and thought I would be there for a long time. When I was traded to Colorado, things did not work out too well and I was looking for a new opportunity. Jason Kreis and Robin Fraser (the coaches at RSL at the time) both had a lot of confidence in me, and they allowed me to earn a spot playing as an outside back. It’s not my favorite position, but I was happy that I was having some success and our team was doing well. Since then we have continued to grow as a club, and I love playing for RSL. I would be happy to continue playing here for years to come.
SLI: What do you have to do in order to perform consistently from game to game and keep your place as a starting player in MLS?
CW: Just keep working hard. Preparation and hard work are definitely the foundation for any success that I’ve had.
SLI: Tell us a little bit about the experience of winning the MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake.
CW: Winning the MLS Cup in '09 was an incredible experience, and one of the best feelings there is in life. Whenever you win the final game of the season and that is your ultimate goal as a team, then it's a great accomplishment. I hope to win at least one more before I’m finished.
SLI: Tell us about your experiences with RSL in last year’s CONCACAF Champions League. What do you think MLS needs to do so that its teams can compete with the best in the world?
CW: Obviously our priority was to win the tournament, and we came up a bit short, which was incredibly disappointing, but our run was special for a few reasons. First, I think that us having some success in the tournament helped the average soccer fan in the US to realize what a big deal winning the CCL is. Second, we got to face the top teams in the region and really see how good we are in comparison. Finally, it helped to further cement our club as one of the best in North America.
SLI: Tell us a little bit about your experience with the U.S. men’s national team. What was the whole experience like in comparison to what you do with Real Salt Lake?
CW: Having a chance to play for the U.S. men’s national team was the greatest individual feeling (as opposed to winning a team championship) that I’ve had. It was nice to win the game, and great to get my first cap. Hopefully, it’s not my last. I’m certainly doing all I can to get another chance to play for the national team.
SLI: What would you like to do once your days as an active player are over?
CW: I’m not sure what I want to do after I retire. Hopefully, I won’t have to decide for a while. I would like to stay involved with the sport in some capacity, possibly coaching or broadcasting.