Player of the Week

Player of the Week: Andrew Wenger

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Most Union followers would probably say that the trade that sent Jack McInerney to Montreal and brought Andrew Wenger to Philly was ill-fated. While Jack Mac hasn’t exactly set the world alight on a terrible Montreal squad, he’s continued to score at his career rate, which is about a goal every other game.

Wenger, for his part, has done the same, which is to say, not score very often at all. Indeed, while his overall play has seen a fairly dramatic improvement over the last few weeks—his powerful and direct dribbling causing defenses all sorts of problems—his final ball has remained inconsistent. Indeed, Wenger’s assist for Sébastien Le Toux’s second goal against Montreal a few weeks ago was a pass poorly mishit behind Vincent Nogueira, which Le Toux just gobbled up opportunistically.

So, against San Jose on Sunday night, few expected the Man of the Match performance that Wenger put in. It started early. In the tenth minute, Conor Casey played Le Toux up the left touchline in the San Jose half. Wenger was on the opposite side of the field, but as Le Toux’s run took him wide, Wenger made a darting run across the field to toward the near post. Le Toux cut the ball back and fed Wenger inside the box. Wenger’s first touch took him what at first appeared to be too wide, but Wenger took a stutter step and whipped his hips around the ball, blasting a left-footed shot into the far-post side netting.

It was a classy move and a classier finish. It was also the sort of goal that Wenger had never produced for the Union, and the stadium erupted in surprise and glee. Fans could be forgiven for thinking it a fluke, but Wenger would go on to terrorize San Jose’s defense all game long. Time and again, Wenger got the ball on the left side and simply ate Ty Harden, the San Jose right back, for lunch. He had Harden for pace; he had Harden for power. And his final ball was dangerous. Wenger repeatedly skinned his man and sent dangerous low crosses into the box that teammates just couldn’t convert.

The Union would score a second, then give up two, allowing San Jose to tie things up. After Sheanon Williams had reasserted the Union’s lead in the 72nd minute, the game was poised. While San Jose appeared demoralized, any set piece or flukey goal could have stolen a point for the away side.

Everyone in the stadium knew that Wenger had the hot hand, and San Jose subbed in a new right back with fresher, faster legs, Shaun Francis, to protect against his running.

But it was all for naught. In the 79th minute, Wenger picked the ball up on the half way line. With Francis close, Wenger poked the ball past him and took off. Francis tried to body Wenger, then just tried to hold on, but nothing worked. Wenger bulled himself to the top of the 18-yard box and ripped a knuckling, right-footed toe poke past Jon Busch in San Jose’s goal, putting the game away for good.

It was another composed and confident—and unexpected—finish from Wenger, and the capper to what was a truly outstanding performance.

Outlier performances happen from time to time. Players perform well above their average capacity and then can never replicate it again. Perhaps that will be the case for Wenger, but the type of game he had wasn’t marked by chance or luck, or outrageous skill. It was a game in which Wenger finally made full use of his prodigious athleticism and allied it with better decision-making and more confident final touches.

It’s the sort of performance that could push his career to another level, and perhaps allow him to finally live up to his No. 1 draft pick status. It was a performance to build on.

You know you’ve had a good night when you’ve been the best player on the field by some distance, everyone on your team knows it and has been trying to get you the ball, and yet, the whole stadium feels like you still haven’t gotten the ball enough. Andrew Wenger had one of those nights on Sunday, and that’s why he’s PSP’s Player of the Week.

Honorable mention: Sébastien Le Toux. Three assists (though to call his pass for Wenger’s second an assist is maybe stretching it) and a goal ain’t too shabby, either. His volley for his goal was very well taken, requiring quick shifting of his feet to prepare for the ball’s arrival. The Le Toux revival continues.

8 Comments

  1. Agreed, Wenger has been a revelation playing out on the wing instead of as a forward. The space he gets playing out wide plays wonderfully to his athleticism and gives him opportunities to run at defenders rather than having to body up and lay balls off which isn’t one of his strengths. If he can do this consistently it would go a long way to making the Union offense more dynamic. Not to be a debbie downer, but this wasn’t a great San Jose team. Let’s see if he can replicate this performance against better competition.

  2. The confidence was oozing off of Wenger yesterday and it was great to see.
    .
    He’s actually be showing glimpses of this for a while when he’s playing out on the wing. He has a great combination of strength and speed. Mostly he’s been let down by his decision-making, which wasn’t an issue last night.
    .
    That second goal was a beautiful display of instinct at the end. He was being closed down from his right and so he used a toe poke to get the shot off quickly. Earlier in the season I would have put money that he would take one more step, try to set the shot up properly, and have it blocked by the incoming defender.

  3. Well deserved. The second goal was quite impressive from Section 138. He just muscled his way past the defender and blasted it home.

    Aside from what has been mentioned, I’d love to see how many km he traveled during last night’s game. He was all over the place, chipping in on both offense and defense, something we didn’t see from Jack Mack.

    • Agree. JM has some skill and could thrive in the right system, but the system would have to be almost constructed for him, and he just is not good enough to have an offense built around him. It’s why I don’t miss him much. I prefer Brian Brown, so far, in that role. Wenger is a different kind of player from both, and I like the way he is willing to help out on defense. Ray needed help last night, as he looked exhausted by the second half.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      On the second goal…. he ran past the subbed-on RB, who was put in to slow him down. I don’t know which was more impressive: The outside of the foot finish, or that speed to break away from a fresh player… Awesome!

  4. Not Grumpy says:

    Wenger looks sooooooo much more versatile than Jack Mac who hasn’t really turned things around since arriving in Montreal. MLS should whip out the “one time” relegation provision from their made-up rules and regulations manual. Jack and his Montreal team really are more suited to compete against HC Islanders or Atlanta Silverbacks level competition.

  5. FO & JacMac weren’t going to agree on a new contract so FO had to trade or let him walk at year’s end. Not all collegiate stars go on to succeed professionally but AW has the tools to play from CB to wing. He wasn’t used correctly in MTL either & his self confidence had to suffer more from the first few months here. Props to JC for sticking with him, although AW could have been starting sooner. Now let’s get Ribeiro back in (at least as a sub for LeToux).

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