Union newcomer Wenger happy to be back home

Union newcomer Wenger happy to be back home
April 10, 2014, 11:15 am

Andrew Wenger (in white), grew up up in Lancaster, Pa. and is pleased to be playing for a team so close to home. (USA Today Images)

CHESTER, Pa. -- Andrew Wenger is happy to be home.

After spending the first two-plus years of his professional career outside the country, the Lancaster native met up with the Philadelphia Union this week following Friday’s stunning trade that sent Jack McInerney to Montreal.

And he did so with a smile on his face.

“It’s pretty special,” said Wenger on Wednesday, addressing the Philly media for the first time. “It’s nice to be home -- and back in the states is always good. My family is very happy.”

Union manager John Hackworth has always stressed the importance of bringing in Philadelphia-area natives, both on the roster and the coaching staff.

And while there were other reasons behind trading the team’s top goalscorer in 2013, landing a player that’s proud to represent his home city certainly played a role in making the deal.

The transition to a new team should also be relatively easy for Wenger, who has trained with some Union players in the offseason at YSC Sports. He’s also played alongside teammates Aaron Wheeler and Ray Gaddis while with Union affiliate Reading United a few years ago.

And now he’s preparing to make his home at PPL Park, less than 100 miles from where he grew up.

“I think there’s a bit of pressure because a lot of people are interested in what I’m doing now and how it’s going,” Wenger said. “But, at the end of the day, that’s part of the game. I think I’m more excited than anything else.”

While Wenger is poised to make his Union debut Saturday against Real Salt Lake at PPL Park (4 p.m., 6ABC), it remains unclear if he’ll start or how he’ll fit into the lineup – although Hackworth did say he has the necessary skills to be the target man at the front of the 4-3-3 formation

For now, the most important thing is easing him into the lineup as the Union prepare to play three games in an eight-day stretch.

“I think reasonable expectations would be that he contributes and that he shows his qualities on the field when given the opportunity,” Hackworth said. “He’s only been in training a couple of days with us. We certainly made this move with the idea that he would be a significant player with us. So we don’t want to push it too fast but we want to make sure we see how he’s going to fit in with the group and make a determination of how much playing time he’s going to get.”

Whatever his role might be, Wenger is excited for what he’s calling a “fantastic opportunity” following an uneven and ultimately disappointing stint in Montreal.

After he was selected first overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft following a standout college career at Duke – he won a Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s Heisman – Wenger was expected to make an immediate impact with the Impact.

But he struggled to find consistent playing time and scored just six goals in nearly 2,000 minutes – half of what McInerney scored all of last season.

“It’s kind of been like that the whole time – just fighting for minutes,” Wenger said. “I think it’s made me a better player – though it hasn’t been the ideal start to my career.”

Wenger knows he’ll still have to fight for playing time with the Union, but he hopes a change of scenery will help him reach his potential. And he already knows how he wants to start his stint in Philly.

“The goal,” he said, “would be to get on the scoresheet as soon as possible.”

So long, Keon

Keon Daniel logged more than 4,000 minutes and started 46 games for the Philadelphia Union from 2011-2013.

But after failing to crack the lineup at all through the first five games this season, Daniel was let go earlier this week, bringing an unceremonious end to his not-so-brief tenure in Philly.

Why did the Union decide to cut ties with the Trinidadian international? In the end, it simply came down to him being squeezed out of the rotation following the offseason acquisitions of midfielders Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana.

“Keon is still a player that probably has a lot more potential than what he showed here,” Hackworth said. “With us making the acquisitions in the midfield that we did, it kind of left Keon on the outside. He was understandably upset that he wasn’t going to get the opportunities, so it was a mutual agreement that if he wasn’t going to be in our plans that we were going to try to find a way to put him in a place where he could play and where it could be beneficial for us too. And we were able to work that out.”

Pfeffer representing his country
Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer has been called up to the U.S. U-20 national team for the Dallas Cup – an international tournament that will take place from April 13-20 in Dallas, Texas.

Pfeffer, a regular on youth national teams, will be joined by goalie Zac Steffen, a former member of the Union’s youth academy who now stars at soccer powerhouse Maryland.

Their first game will be against Argentina’s River Plate at the Cotton Bowl on Sunday.

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