SANDY, Utah — The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were among the most horrific single-day events in the history of the country. Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy for the generation before, nearly everyone remembers where they were when they first heard the news, and the soccer community is no exception.
For Real Salt Lake, the attacks struck close to home – literally – for one player in particular. Defender Chris Wingert, a native New Yorker, was in college at St. John's University in Queens, N.Y., at the time.
“The campus is kind of raised up a bit, so you can see across the skyline and when I heard about the first plane hitting I was in class, and I didn’t think it was terrorism," Wingert recalled this past week. "And I went down after class, and was in the bookstore, and they shut down really quick and everybody was frantic. The school was closed, and I didn’t really know what was going on.
“Come to find out what had happened, and then I looked across and it was just black smoke everywhere. It was pretty frantic, especially because cell phones weren’t working because everyone was trying to call.”
Like many from the New York metro area, Wingert still struggles with the forever-changed skyline in Manhattan.
“I have a huge painting up in my room that I’ve had for a while now, and it’s a picture from the Brooklyn Bridge that still has the Twin Towers up,” Wingert said. “So it is weird going home to New York. I usually fly into JFK, and we usually pass it. So it is a little bit strange.”
Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis was halfway across the country on that day 10 years ago, yet he still remembers it clearly.
“We were actually at training,” said Kreis, who was a star striker with the Dallas Burn at the time. “We were getting ready to train. I didn’t know anything about it until I got to where we were doing our training, warming up on a bike and saw it on the TV. And I just continued to watch, and watch, and watch.”
The youngest RSL player, Luis Gil, was just seven at the time, but still has a memory of the horrific events and despite his youth, he offers some words of wisdom.
“I was just getting ready for school and saw the news about it,” explained Gil. “It’s something we’ve got to remember, but we’ve also get past it. It was a tragic day – a lot of lives were lost, but it’s something we’ve got to move on from now, and go forward.”
Part of that healing process is the spirit of community that arose from the ashes of the fallen towers.
“It was awesome to see how everybody came together in the following months and beyond that," Wingert said of the days and months following the attacks. "It's incredible to believe that it's been 10 years. It doesn't feel like it was that long ago."