Union-izing

By on April 9, 2014
Andrew Wenger

Andrew Wenger

Nearly two weeks ago, Andrew Wenger left the field at Philadelphia’s PPL Park hearing nasty words from Union fans after getting a red card as a member of the Montreal Impact.

Funny how things change.

Now the Union’s website features a No. 9 jersey with the words, “Grab your Wenger jersey today!”

It’s an indication of the excitement surrounding Philadelphia’s MLS team about the addition of the former Warwick star, who was acquired in a trade for forward Jack McInerney last Friday.

Even during his trip to the City of Brotherly Love a couple weeks ago, Wenger had no indication that a trade was in the works.

So when Impact Technical Director Matt Jordan phoned him at 8 a.m. to break the news, he was as surprised as anyone. At the time, Wenger was still in bed. Once the shock wore off, his emotions turned to excitement.

“It’s awesome to come home and it’s a great opportunity for me professionally,” Wenger, 23, said. “There’s a little bit of sadness leaving a lot of good friends and friendships in Montreal, but that’s part of the business.”

The phone call to Lititz to let his family know about the trade had to wait, however.

“It was not public knowledge yet, so I was asked to keep it a secret for a little while,” Wenger said. “That’s just how those things work. (I talked to them) once it had become public knowledge. They were over the moon, they were very excited.”

The Union was over the moon in 2010 when they selected McInerney in the first round, seventh overall, in the MLS SuperDraft. He led Philadelphia in scoring in 2012 with eight goals and again last year with 12 tallies, placing him tied for seventh in MLS overall.

But with McInerney scoring only three goals in his last 18 games, the decision was made to swap him for another first-round pick in Wenger, the top overall choice in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. According to philly.com, Union manager John Hackworth has “long admired” Wenger and the team has tried to trade for him on other occasions.

In a statement released by the Union, Hackworth said, “Andrew is a young and talented attacking player who we think is a good fit with our style of play.”

Wenger is on the same page with his new boss.

“I think that’s a very true comment. The team likes to press high and get after the ball and win the ball in higher areas up the field and I think that’s the style of play I like to play in, said Wenger, who played for the Union’s minor league affiliate Reading United prior to his freshman and sophomore seasons at Duke University. “Also going forward, there’s a lot of skillful attacking players that are conducive to helping the team succeed and myself as well.”

He was careful not to compare the Union with the Impact, for whom he holds no ill will.

Unfortunately, though, his career with Montreal never took off liked he’d hoped. After scoring four goals in 23 appearances as a rookie, Wenger had one tally in 24 games in 2013, with eight starts.

“I think Montreal was always very supportive of me and helpful in my development,” he said. “Obviously, my career probably hasn’t gone exactly to plan over the last two and a half years and that’s not really for (the Impact) to blame. It’s just some unfortunate events. Just getting injured at certain times.”

With Philadelphia shipping off McInerney, of course, the goal-scoring production from their top striker for the past two seasons will need to be replaced. At least some of that spotlight will be focused on Wenger.

“I think there’s some expectations, but there’s always expectations when you step on the field and perform to help the team win,” Wenger said. “I don’t think it’s really any different than what I was a part of in Montreal.”

Coming to Philadelphia will give him a fresh start. He caught a flight to town on Monday and began training with his new team the next day.

Asked if had talked with the Union about how they plan to use him, or whether he would start this Saturday when Philadelphia hosts Real Salt Lake at 4 p.m., Wenger said, “I have not spoke to them and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to speculate on that. The manager is always going to make decisions that are best for the team and it’s important just to come into training and work hard and put your best foot forward.”

Although the Wenger-McInerney trade was completed ahead of the Union’s game in Chicago last Saturday, Wenger would not have been available to play regardless. He happened to be serving a mandatory one-game suspension from the red card that he received while making a tackle against Philadelphia midfielder Vincent Nogueira while still playing for the Impact on Saturday, March 29.

Wenger expected that he might get some ribbing about the play from his new teammates.

“Typical locker room banter,” he said.

Did Wenger plan to apologize?

“Oh yeah, it was a pretty tough tackle,” he said.

If Wenger gets his wish, he would be teammates with Nogueira in Philadelphia for a long time. In an article on philly.com, it was reported that Wenger is in the final guaranteed year of his original Generation Adidas contract, although he still has two option years remaining on the deal. That same article noted that Wenger made $120,000 in base salary last year and $220,000 guaranteed.

When Wenger was asked about the contract, he said, “I don’t really need to speculate on something like that, but I think more importantly is what’s going to happen in the next few weeks and going forward. It’s important just to win games in the here and now. I can’t really worry about the future.”

If Wenger remains in Philadelphia in the future, it certainly won’t hurt the growth of the team’s fan base, having a respected athlete playing less than two hours from his hometown.

“I think that could be a positive in some way. I’m not exactly sure if it will have a direct correlation,” he said. “If the team is successful and we’re successful on the field, I think that’s going to bring fans to the game more than anything else.”

There is no shortage of Wenger fans in Lititz, but he seemed to cringe when it was suggested that he was a local hero.

“I wouldn’t call myself a hero,” he said, “but it’s just exciting to be a role model and do anything I can.”

These days, Wenger has a lot of reasons to be excited. That will only build if he helps the Union put together a string of wins in the coming weeks.

“It’s awesome to come home and have a lot of friends here in Philadelphia and the greater Pennsylvania area,” he said. “More importantly, it’s a great situation for me professionally to succeed and do well and help what’s already a great team hopefully win some games.”

Wenger played his last game for Montreal two weeks ago in Philadelphia. Now he's donning a Union jersey.

Wenger played his last game for Montreal two weeks ago in Philadelphia. Now he’s donning a Union jersey. Photos by Matthew Libhart.

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