LEHI, Utah — Left-footed defenders are always at a premium, which means it’s always worth kicking the tires if one comes on the market.
Real Salt Lake did just that recently and liked what they saw, so on Tuesday they announced the addition of Blake Wagner to the squad on Tuesday. The 23-year-old Wagner has spent time with both FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps, as well as time in the US youth national team set-up, prior to joining RSL.
Wagner’s addition fills a need that’s been open for ages.
“We’ve had our eye on having a left footed outside back for a long time,” head coach Jason Kreis said after Tuesday’s training session. “We’ve had our eye on Blake for a long time. I think it was kind of a wait-and-see move, and when Vancouver released him, we felt there was a good shot for us to have him in and look at him.”
Wagner admitted that his addition came as a bit of a surprise.
“Anything that happens in this league is probably a surprise, but it happens to everybody,” said the 23-year-old, who can play both in the midfield and at left back. “You just go through it just like everyone else.”
Kreis is confident Wagner will be the right fit for RSL.
“I think he’s a good fit for our system in that he’s a kid that’s probably played midfield his whole life through college soccer, and then has just dropped off to the outside back in the pros,” said Kreis. “That’s exactly like Robbie Russell, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran — and so we think he fits into our system well.
“It’s going to take some time for him to completely understand what we’re asking of him, but we do feel like it was a fortuitous move, particularly because of Wingert’s situation now.”
However, Kreis clarified that this move was “totally independent” of Wingert’s injury (broken wrist), and that they had tentatively agreed to terms with Wagner prior to the Toronto match in which Wingert was hurt.
Wagner started 31 games with FC Dallas before leaving for the Whitecaps, who were competing at the USSF D-2 at the time. He saw eight of his nine starts this season come before Tommy Soehn took over as coach in Vancouver, and he was subsequently released. Wagner realizes that he’s now coming into a very competitive environment.
“Everyone knows that Salt Lake is a very good team,” said the Tampa, Fla., native. “Any player that comes here is going to have to fight for their spot, and that’s exactly what I’m here to do. I don’t expect anybody to start me right away. I’m going to try the best I can to make this team better, and hopefully I can do that.
“As a professional you’ve always got to keep yourself ready, and I always do that,” he added. “If my name gets called, I’ll be ready to play.”