Despite growing up as a New Yorker and spending last season with expansion side New York City FC, Chris Wingert has called Real Salt Lake home for what will now be his ninth season with the club.
The MLS veteran struggled to find his way in the league after initially being drafted by the Columbus Crew in 2004. After playing numerous positions and looking for an opportunity to find consistent time on the field, Wingert landed with RSL three years later.
Wingert has made more than 200 appearances for the Western Conference side since then, so it was naturally the first team he called when he found out that NYCFC no longer required his services.
“When I realized that New York City was going to move me, they were great in kind of letting me make the decision where I wanted to go,” Wingert told SBI. “The timing was a little bit tough because it was so late and a lot of teams had their rosters set or were at least close to setting their rosters. I had to look around a bit and see what kind of interest there was from different teams.
“For me, all along I knew if it was possible that this is definitely where I wanted to be. I called general manager Craig Waibel and Jeff Cassar right away and told them that I’d love to be back if they’d like to have me. They expressed their interest and said that if they could find a roster spot that they’d love for me to come back.”
Wingert’s choice to return to Salt Lake wasn’t only a perfect fit for him, though. Head coach Cassar agrees that the defender still offers a lot for this organization, particularly when it comes to helping out some of the younger, less experienced players.
“Obviously Chris is very happy to be back, and our team is very lucky to have him back as well,” Cassar told SBI. “Not only is he somebody that has contributed greatly on the field for us in the past, but he has done a tremendous job off the field. He reads the game very well and can really break things down for the other players, which is very useful to have on our team.”
Jamison Olave and Aaron Maund are currently tabbed as the club’s regular-season starters in the center, while Tony Beltran and Demar Phillips will man the wingback positions. Wingert will more than likely be used on a substitute basis in 2016, but his versatility is something that can be very useful for RSL, particularly for a back line that had numerous injuries last season.
Regardless of his role, though, Wingert is eager to help his old team in any way that he can.
“I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be playing, but we’re trying to figure that out,” Wingert said. “I’ve had a few discussions with Jeff (Cassar) and the staff, and right from the start I think we’re on the same page. They know that I can play some different spots along the back line, really anywhere back there and I’m more than happy to do that.”
“I kind of expressed to them that I’m happy with playing wherever they want me to play,” Wingert said. “I just want to be on the field, so hopefully it’s a win-win for both of us that I can fill some holes or needs that they are looking to patch up. In the mean time, it helps me get on the field and get a lot of minutes.
“So far in the preseason I’ve been playing some different spots and I think we’re trying to figure out what’s best for the team and whatever that means I am all for it. I just want to be on the field.”
Wingert has always seen himself as a massive competitor, which is why he continues to push heavily for a starting gig. The 33-year old realizes that, with another full MLS season under his belt in 2015, it will only become more and more difficult to stay match fit as the season progresses.
The odds may be not be in his favor as much anymore, but it’s a challenge that Wingert welcomes with open arms.
“My biggest personal goal at this point is get fit and stay healthy for the entire season,” Wingert said. “I’m always working on that, trying to take care of my body as I get another year older. My body feels great after playing 30 games last season in New York, and I really hope that I can play another 30 games this year.
“I really enjoy making myself the best I can be, which is why I try to take such good care of my body. I’ve always been a pretty fit guy, so hopefully I can stay healthy throughout the year. I really look at all this as a challenge for our team, and I’m a small part of that.”