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Wenger makes Impact playing for the Union
Yes, the 2009 Warwick grad was a little nervous in his debut with the hometown Philadelphia Union.
“I was pretty anxious,” acknowledged Wenger, who was acquired in a trade with the Montreal Impact on Friday, April 4. “If you saw my first touch of the game, it was pretty donkey. I actually gave the ball away and then fouled (RealSaltLake’s) Javier Morales … but it’s good to get that one out of the way.”
Things definitely got better.
How much so?
Well, the Sons of Ben chanted his name not once, but two separate occasions in the second half.
“That was pretty (darn) cool,” Wenger smiled.
The Union’s fan group had good reason &tstr; Wenger’s goal in the 55th minute erased a 1-0 deficit against SaltLake. Then later, he deftly dodged a RSL defender with the ball, carried it into the box and set up a potential go-ahead scoring opportunity. Ultimately, the Union &tstr; thanks to a game-tying tally from Maurice Edu in the 90th minute &tstr; and RealSaltLake finished in a 2-2 tie.
“Look, you score a goal in your debut in front of your new home crowd and I think that’s fantastic,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “He shows you the qualities of how hard he works, that he can hold the ball up, that he can get in the box, that he can make a good run.”
Approximately 10 to 15 family members and friends were in the stands at PPL to witness Wenger’s first goal with the Union.
“This is my third year in the league and I only recently played here because the other two times I was injured or something happened. So it’s kinda like the boy that cried wolf,” Wenger smiled. “Even though I got traded, they still weren’t sure that I was going to play today.”
Saturday’s game was the start of a busy stretch for the Union (1-1-4), in which they will play three games in nine days. Following a tilt at the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, they return to PPLPark this Saturday to host the Houston Dynamo at 4 p.m.
For Wenger, though, his life has been a blur ever since being traded for Jack McInerney. In addition to starting workouts with his new team, there have been photo shots and an appearance on Comcast SportsNet’s Philly Sports Talk. On Sunday, Wenger was at Angelo’s Soccer Corner in Lancaster greeting fans and signing autographs.
“Whirlwind,” Wenger said. “There’s just been a lot going on, trying to figure how we’re going to play, how things are working, but it’s been good so far.”
After sitting out the Union’s 2-2 tie vs. Chicago on April 5, serving a one-game suspension from a red card that he received while playing for the Impact in Philadelphia, Wenger was in the starting lineup last Saturday against SaltLake. In fact, he remained on the field until coming out in the 86th minute.
“You never exactly find out you’re going to start until just before,” Wenger said, “but I had a good idea (coming to the park).”
He also had a good idea of what to do with the ball in the 15th minute of the game, looking to pull the Union even from a 1-0 hole when he kicked the ball off the top of the crossbar behind SaltLake keeper Jeff Attinella.
“I knew there was a chance (when it left my foot),” Wenger recalled. “I just found myself in behind and (Attinella) was probably five yards off his line. I just tried to get something out of it. Maybe it’s six inches lower, maybe it’s not.”
SaltLake took a 1-0 lead when Luke Mulholland converted in the 6th minute on a rebound of Alvaro Saborio’s penalty kick attempt.
It remained that way going to the locker room, where Hackworth made a couple halftime tactical changes to get more offense. Finally, in the 55th minute, Vincent Nogueira carried the ball down the right wing and passed the ball across the box to Wenger, who controlled the ball with his chest and kicked it past Attinella for the game-tying goal.
“I was just kinda playing the ball and that’s the best way to play it,” Wenger said. “That’s a pretty (darn) good pass and good vision to see the space. And Attinella came out and I just slipped it by him.”
It was the first goal that SaltLake had allowed in 290 minutes of play, coming of back-to-back shutouts of Toronto FC and Sporting KC. Wenger’s goal was also key in helping him earn his stripes with the Union.
“That’s fantastic,” Wenger said. “I can do it now. I don’t have that question hanging over my head for a couple of weeks of, ‘When’s it going to happen?’”
A short time later, the Union was back on offense and Wenger showed his play-making skills while trying to set up a teammate for the go-ahead goal. The play was unsuccessful, but Wenger’s effort didn’t go unnoticed by the Sons of Ben, who again chanted his name.
Both Hackworth and three-time Olympic champ Heather Mitts, a sideline reporter with Channel 6 Sports, also appreciated Wenger’s hard work.
“I think (Andrew)’s got a new lease and I think the fact that he knows that we really believe in him and qualities that he brings (is important),” Hackworth said, “and it’s going to be really important for him to be here and play the way he did today.”
Mitts added, “I’m very impressed. There’s a lot of pressure coming to Philly trying to get your first goal and he was able to do that.”
Wenger, however, downplayed the notion that he took some of the pressure off his shoulders.
“I think there’s pressure to score every game whether you wear the No. 9 on your back or (not),” he said. “That’s the job, so you have to breathe for 30 minutes and then we’ll get ready for Wednesday.
Philadelphia heads into its game against the New York Red Bulls knowing they at least salvaged a point thanks to Edu’s late goal.
Asked if he viewed it as good to come away with a point from the late goal, or whether it was a missed opportunity for three points in the standings, Wenger said, “I don’t know yet. I’m still thinking about it. That’s going to take a little while to decide. We’ve had some good performances here, but we still haven’t gotten 90 minutes together and that’s still the goal. So we’re disappointed but I think we’re also encouraged by the fight that we showed.”
Wenger, personally, should feel encouraged by the start that he got to his Philadelphia career. He is clearly having fun playing for his hometown team.
“It’s fantastic,” he said, “especially to come home and be able to help the team out and do what I could today.”
Bruce Morgan is the sports editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4451.