CHESTER, Pa. -- For much of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin thought he had found the perfect position for Andrew Wenger on the left wing. But with Wenger struggling and summer signing Tranquillo Barnetta taking over that lineup spot, Curtin has done some more tinkering with the former top overall pick, starting him at fullback the past three games.
The results? Let’s call it a “TBD” for now.
“The initial thinking there is to give him a position where he has a little more time and space on the ball,” Curtin said. “For whatever reason – obviously because of our poor start and getting behind in goals – we didn’t get to see it how we wanted to. We wanted to see him getting balls passed to him out of the back and getting a head of steam and running at guys.”
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Despite having not played right back since his freshman year in high school, Wenger played the full 90 there against New England on Sept. 26 and again against the New York Red Bulls last Sunday (with a start at left back against Toronto sandwiched in between). But with the Union giving up a goal just seven seconds into Sunday’s game at Red Bull Arena, their plan involving Wenger was pretty much shot from the start, as the backline was overwhelmed and back on its heels from the start.
“It’s a fun position when it’s played right,” Wenger said. “Defending-wise, I’m still learning a lot.”
Wenger has been shuffled around throughout his four years in MLS, indecision that has existed since he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Montreal Impact in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. Predictably, Wenger is reluctant to declare fullback his position of the future, saying that the word “versatility” has been the Kryptonite of his career.
But he did say the similarities between outside back and winger could work to his advantage and that he’s willing to “play wherever the coach tells me to play” moving into 2016.
Either way, this will be an important offseason for Wenger, who was one of the team’s best players for the second half of 2014 before inconsistencies and injuries, most notably a concussion, derailed what many thought would be a promising 2015 campaign.
“This was a tough year,” Wenger said. “There were certain things probably dealing with throughout the year that I didn’t handle correctly. Other than that, you move forward and try to wash your hands of it, to a certain extent.”
Curtin has said throughout the season that he still believes in Wenger and that the 24-year-old still has the potential to be a star. It remains to be seen, though, if he will be able to uncork that potential as a defender.
“Even if he is playing at the fullback spot, I still see him as a guy who can get forward and create problems,” Curtin said. “I just had a good talk with him. He knows it’s been a tough year, but all players go through these highs and lows of seasons in the course of their career. So we’re hoping that he’s a guy who can bounce back and come back stronger next year.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.