"What is (Andrew) Wenger's ceiling at center back? Real Madrid"
These aren't my words, but those of a "friend" of MLSsoccer.com's Armchair Analyst, Matthew Doyle. who writes about the Union winger and his positioning.
It may seem strange to talk about Andrew Wenger, the center back, but in college it looked like the right fit for the Lancaster native. At Duke University, Wenger featured at center back for his first two years, winning Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year in 2009 and ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. His sophomore year also saw him as a semi-finalist for tje Hermann Trophy, given to the player of the year in college soccer.
It wasn't until his junior year that he made the jump to forward, winning ACC Offensive Player of the Year, the Hermann Trophy, and was selected with the first overall draft pick by the Montreal Impact. Where he would play as a pro would fall squarely on then Impact manager, Jesse Marsch.
"He has the potential to be a great defender, a great midfielder, and a great forward," Marsch told ESPN before the 2012 draft. However, once preseason started he declared, "I look at him as an attacking player and primarily a forward." From that point on that was that. Even with his move to Philadelphia, Wenger is still being used as in an attacking role, even if it is farther wide than before.
With that background in mind, but returning to the opening quote, there is a question that has never been asked: "Why was Wenger never used as a center back in Philadelphia?"
In the first two games of Wenger's time in Philly, Amobi Okugo started at center back pairing with Austin Berry for one game and Aaron Wheeler in the second game. To say John Hackworth's experiment with Aaron Wheeler at center back was a mistake would be an understatement. It kept happening, though. The Union would continue to shuffle the backline with Sheanon Williams, Ethan White, Maurice Edu, and Carlos Valdes all filling center back roles throughout the season.
In that time the Union were playing a former conference player of the year out on the wing without even giving him a shot. How can Matthew Doyle's friend who is a "native of Europe, has worked as a coach and scout for several high-level clubs there" see Andrew Wenger as such a solid center back, yet no one in the Union coaching staff has thought to even give him an opportunity in the position while looking desperate for an answer to stabilize the back line. There was even a stretch of 11 games from the end of May to the beginning of August that he started just once, some even questioning if he was good enough in attack.
He has settled in nicely as a wing option, using his speed to cause problems for opposing right backs, even getting the better of DeAndre Yedlin for much of the US Open Cup final. His finishing though has remained a portion of his game that is missing. So many of his runs end in anti-climatic form, squibbed crosses and shots, or an extra touch that ends up too far ahead and taken away by the defender. This has led me to wonder if a combination of his current role and his previous life as a defender might be the perfect mix for his professional career.
The Union, despite their offseason moves, are still without a left back. Raymond Gaddis will continue to fill the void for the time being, but it is obvious he is most at home and comfortable on the right. What if Andrew Wenger were to fill the left back role though? He would have plenty of space ahead of him when he wins possession to push forward, allowing more time to distribute the ball. The role of attacking outside back takes a high level of intelligence to know when to join the attack or when to hold and stay in the defense. The Duke grad has brains to spare. CJ Sapong can fill the wide role should Wenger drop into the left back role and do an admirable job in front of net.
There may be little chance we ever see it happen, but the tools that Andrew Wenger has at his disposal as well as his background of defensive work leaves me to wonder...what if?