Veteran defender Chris Wingert leads pack of NYCFC players coming home to the Big Apple

Chris Wingert was already coming home for the holidays. Now he’s staying put, after he was acquired by New York City FC in the MLS Expansion Draft Wednesday.

The reality of the homecoming and the end of an era at Real Salt Lake, however, set off a set of bittersweet emotions for the Long Island native, taken 10th overall by former RSL head coach Jason Kreis.

“[NYCFC] piqued my interest, but at the same time it was far away off and I was super happy the whole time with a great organization in Real Salt Lake,” Wingert said. “I just thought we’d cross that bridge when we came to it and incredibly that was [Wednesday].”

Wingert, who is in Las Vegas this week with other MLS Players Union representatives, said he received hundreds of text messages from friends and family, both in New York and in Salt Lake, about the move.

Wingert, 32, is excited about being reunited with Kreis and his coaching staff, along with former teammates Ned Grabavoy, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Josh Saunders.

“After finding out there’s a part of me that is so, so excited and elated to be back in New York with my family and friends and playing again for Jason and Miles [Joseph] and C.J. [Brown] and those guys and excited about the potential with the project they have,” Wingert said. “I’m going to have a chance to play for and alongside people I have great relationships with.”

But Wingert is also saddened to leave Real Salt Lake, where he spent the majority of his 11-year MLS career.

“There’s a lot of tough calls and sad conversations I’m going to have over the next couple of days, although I know all these people are really happy for me because it’s a great move for me,” Wingert said.

The toughest, he said, was a text message from close friend and RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman.

“It was rough,” Wingert said. “I was definitely tearing up just thinking about everything.”

Wingert isn’t the only New York-area player to call NYCFC home. Jason Hernandez, who was born in New York, attended nearby Seton Hall and made his MLS debut with the MetroStars in 2005, is coming back after seven years with the San Jose Earthquakes.

“I want to thank NYCFC for the opportunity to join their organization,” Hernandez tweeted on Wednesday. “I am very excited to begin this new chapter together.”

Tommy McNamara, who grew up in West Nyack, was also picked in the Expansion Draft, and goalkeeper Ryan Meara, a Yonkers native who played high school and college soccer in the Bronx, is back in the borough on loan from the New York Red Bulls.

No doubt there’s going to be a lot of extra ticket requests in a couple of months.

“I can’t wait,” Wingert said. “Bring them on. I want everyone to have a jersey, and the more people asking me the better.”