Real Salt Lake: Chris Wingert, RSL’s expert note-taker
Veteran defender Chris Wingert lacks speed, so he takes cerebral approach to stopping foes.
By Christopher Kamrani
| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Jul 11 2014 01:17 pm
Last Updated Jul 11 2014 11:09 pm
Sandy • There’s a system in which it’s done. It’s throwback, no doubt, because Chris Wingert can’t help but chuckle when he explains his approach to furthering his preparation for each day and upcoming match.
He takes notes.
For the longest time, it was, indeed, in a notebook he carried around with him littered with scribbles of scouting reports, tendencies and crucial can’t-miss information about the next opponent.
Times have changed a smidge. Wingert’s cerebral method has translated to endless amounts of note-taking on his smartphone. When he sees something he can’t forget — or shouldn’t forget — it’s typed and recorded. It’s all about staying one step ahead in a position where one needs to. If not, the end result of 90 minutes can flip — and quick.
"You can try and keep it simple, so you can focus on let’s say five bullet points, or there’s sometimes when I feel like it needs to be more in depth," said Real Salt Lake’s left back. "I still have a calendar at home where I’m writing things down I need to do every day."
Entering his eighth year with RSL and 11th in Major League Soccer, the Long Island-born defender has established an imprint on the club and league by reading the game. In forecasting what move by a Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey comes next, Wingert’s studies prepare him to face off against MLS’ dynamic attackers. Admittedly, he concedes "speed has never really been my thing," so it’s been up to him to dissect angles on speedsters and goal-scorers.
"Chris is incredibly intelligent in that," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said.
"You have to be, positionally, a little smarter and soccer-wise a little bit smarter," added right back Tony Beltran. "Chris is a great example of that. He uses his brain tremendously and he’s able to shut down opponents that way."
It helps that he’s played every position on the field — forward and goalkeeper notwithstanding — at some point in his professional career, so the ins and outs of all the moving parts are somewhat familiar to Wingert. During his first two years in Columbus, he was on the left side of the midfield and eventually shifted to outside back once he made it to Colorado. It’s where he transitioned to in college, but truth is, "I actually don’t like playing defense," Wingert said, smiling. "I’d much rather play midfield."
The summer of 2007 presented more than just positioning and tactics. His time in Colorado was over with and he was being courted both by the L.A. Galaxy — who RSL faces Saturday night in Southern California — and RSL, at the time one of the league’s bottom feeders. Wingert’s best friend, Kyle Martino, urged him to inch toward L.A. The Galaxy had a gaping hole on their back line after Chris Albright tore his ACL that summer. A bidding war began between a club that had penned superstar David Beckham to a ground-breaking signing and lowly RSL.
Wingert chose RSL. Three days later, close friend Kyle Beckerman was traded to RSL. Wingert recalled sitting in a motel in Sugar House that summer when Martino phoned and said the Galaxy were bouncing around L.A. with Beckham’s welcome jubilees. At the time, the decision could’ve been questioned.
All that eventually faded. Beckham and Donovan and a select few survived that era of the Galaxy, but Wingert’s choice solidified the beginning of the turnaround of a franchise that won an MLS Cup title two years later and has been a playoff regular six years running.
"That’s good enough," Wingert said. "Don’t get me wrong. I’m not satisfied with not winning again before I leave. I’m working my but off every day so we can have another chance at that. But I think I’ve been around long enough to appreciate what we’ve had here. And I just don’t mean the success, I mean everything. The difference between us having this incredible stadium and locker room as opposed to when I first came here."
Beltran calls Wingert a "model for any perspective player coming into this league," noting that more than his ability on the field he’s one of the more engaging and personable locker room minds the club has. Unlike some professional athletes who enjoy their privacy, Wingert’s out in the public sphere at nearly every possible turn. Once the boots are put away for good, some have said they wouldn’t be surprised to see Wingert make a seamless transition to broadcasting.
The 32-year-old said he’s up for anything when the time comes, but he’s not there yet.
"I’ll always look back on my time here as a really, really special time," Wingert said. "But I would love to bring one more [title] and say that we’re a [San Antonio] Spurs-like MLS organization."