College: Wenger's unusual evolution to scoring sensation
During junior Andrew Wenger's first two seasons at Duke University, the 20-year-old stood out as a central defender, earning national recognition as a first-team All American selection at the end of 2010.
But with the Blue Devils needing some firepower this year, the versatile and talented Wenger was given a chance to play up front — a move that has panned out superbly, as he currently leads the nation with 15 goals and chipping in seven assists along the way.
It was a move in the works since the start of 2011.
"In the spring, the coaches were giving me a chance to play [up top] and try something different," Wenger told MLSsoccer.com. "We tried that, and they seemed to like it and that's where we are now."
Despite Wenger's success up front, the rest of the Blue Devils team weren't enjoying a strong start to the year. The team dropped four of their first five games of the season.
"We started pretty poorly, had a bunch of young guys that were trying to figure out their role and our roles as a team together and how we fit," Wenger said.
With the departure of key players like Cole Grossman and the transfer of Ryan Finlay to Notre Dame, Duke's younger players needed a few weeks to make the adjustment to the next level — including MLS Academy products Nick Palodichuk (Seattle Sounders Academy) and Nat Eggleston (D.C. United Academy} among the new arrivals.
Since a close 1-0 loss to Virginia back on Sept. 9, Duke has turned things around, going unbeaten in eight straight games — winning seven of those — to recover from the slow start and thrust themselves back on track towards qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
During that run, Wenger's statistics have taken off. He's scored at least one goal or had an assist in those eight games, and posted two hat tricks, including one during a 4-2 win over NC State last weekend. In total, Wenger has more than half of the team's 29 goals, and has been involved in 22 of them.
To the defender-turned-striker, those numbers are of little concern as long as the results on the field are there.
"My goal is just to help Duke win games, and thankfully I've been able to do that," he said. "Whatever I had to do for us to win, I am fine with that."
With the season back on track for Duke, Wenger's play continues to impress. A technically sound and athletic player with good size, he's proven that he can play anywhere on the field. What position he could play at the professional level matters little to him — he just wants to be on the field.
"I don't really care," Wenger said about where he lines up on the pitch. "To be honest, my goal is just to be in the starting XI and play somewhere. Wherever a coach needs me, I can fill in — other than goalie obviously."
For now, the focus remains on the current campaign with the Blue Devils, who face a challenging visit to ACC rival Maryland on Friday night. And while things are better, Wenger noted that there's still room for improvement.
"I think we need to improve defensively," he said. "It's coming along but we still have some mental lapses here and there which we're getting better at also."
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.