Real Salt Lake defender, Chris Wingert, “I’m a Christian first and foremost”

MLS star, Chris Wingert spoke to Cross The Line’s Ollie Baines about his life as a pro soccer player and where that journey started for him. 

Chris, tell us how you got into professional soccer?

“My Dad played professionally back in the 70’s in the NASL for Philadelphia Atoms, most people will have heard of the league because of teams like the Cosmos and players like Franz Beckenbauer. So I kind of grew up with the sport. I played pretty much every sport you could think of, Basketball, Baseball, Tennis but I always just always a little bit better at soccer so that quickly became my favourite. I came through to the professional game in the traditional way which was through highs schools and youth national teams and I ended up playing in College for 4 years before being drafted in the MLS Super Draft in 2014.”

How much did you Dad aid your development in the game?

“Yeah he was the single biggest factor I would say in terms of having an impression on me all the way up until high school. After that he kind of took a step back, but he was always there for me and no-one has had more of an impact on my soccer career than him.”

You’ve played for a host of clubs in your career, but what has been your career highlight so far?

“I would saying winning the MLS Cup in 2009 with Real Salt Lake was probably the biggest joy.

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I think also representing my National team, both the U23 for the Olympic’s and once for the USA Men’s national team.”

What did it mean for you to represent your country at International level?

“It was an incredible experience. Getting the call was a special moment, both times for the U23 Olympic Qualifications and the USA National team, both very special moments.”

How would you describe yourself as a player?

“I’m a defender who would prefer not to play defence! I grew up playing midfielder my whole life until college when we lost our two centre backs. I had some good success in that position though, obviously getting called up by the National squad for that position so I can’t complain too much!

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As long as I’m on the field, I’m happy to do anything to help the team. I think I’m a hard worker, I hope people can see that in my game. I’m a well rounded player, I’m maybe not excellent in any area but I don’t think I’m poor in any area either.”

How big is the Premier League over there in America?

“We were saying in the locker room just earlier how the Premier League is probably still the most watched league over here in the States. There’s just such great excitement this year, especially with what Leicester have achieved this season. I grew up in an era where Manchester United were on TV a lot and then you have players who were in the class of 92 so it was easy to watch and support them. My high school coach was also a big student of Dutch football, so players like Bergkamp, Kluivert and Davids were players who I loved to watch as I was growing up.”

If you could play alongside any back 4 in the world, including yourself, who would it be and why?

“I think in goal I’d have to go with Manuel Neur, he’s the best keeper in goal at the moment and he just had tremendous feet so it would be fun to play with him. Vincent Kompany would be a great guy to play alongside, he’s so quick and such a leader. On the right I’d have Philip Lahm and Jordi Alba on the other side. Now you let me know if you can make this happen!”

Best player you’ve ever played against?

“I always said that the best player I played against was Andrea Pirlo, we played against each other when I was 20-years-old. He was 22 or 23 at the time, it was our first trip with the USA U23 team and we travelled to Italy to play their U23 side. I didn’t know who he was at the time because they had someone called Cassano who everyone was talking about but after 10 minutes I just knew that this young A.C. Milan midfielder was unbelievable.

I was running around so hard and I looked at Pirlo and I was thinking “this guy isn’t doing anything, he’s not even breaking a sweat” and he was just walking around our whole-team. He could have probably gone the whole game without losing the ball once if he wanted to, sure enough he became one of the worlds greatest player.”

Chris, tell us about how you became a Christian and when that journey started for you?

“You know, a lot of people can tell you a specific moment, date or time when their life changed and they encountered a supernatural experience. I grew up in a Christian household, my parents are Christians and I believe that my faith has certainly grown as I’ve got older. They encouraged me and my sister to find our own faith, but growing up in that environment it just became a part of my life and I feel very blessed for that reason.”

Your Twitter profile suggests your a man of faith, why do you think it’s important to show this to others?

“I think it’s important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s who I am. I would like to be identified as a Christian first instead of being told “oh you’re that soccer player”. You know, I love the game and it’s given me so many great experiences but with that said I don’t think it’s who I am. I am a Christian first and foremost and I’m certainly not ashamed to say that; hopefully that opens up opportunities to tell people about my faith. I’m really happy and willing to talk about it and I hope my experiences enable me to bring others to Christ, I would love that.”

Are you able to meet up with any other Christian soccer players?

“Absolutely. As far as I know, the MLS is the only league that has a chaplain for every team. The chaplains are just awesome guys and that’s one way for us Christian guys to get together. It’s really important to be involved with a Christian community.”

What do you think God has been teaching you through Soccer?

“I think ports in general are such a metaphor for life and spiritually as well. Things that happen in my life are way beyond soccer and I believe that God is using those moments in my life. Soccer has always been a huge part of my life but now it’s my job and it becomes an even more significant, sometimes I wish that wasn’t the case. Sometimes I wish that soccer wasn’t the be all and end all but God’s been teaching me that whatever happens in my soccer career isn’t the only thing that matters. There’s so much more to life than soccer and I’ve been trying to listen to what God is teaching me through that.”

What advice would you give to young Christian players who are just starting out in the game?

“I would say that you should be proud of your faith, keep your priorities straight and just remember that soccer is just a game. Yes, it is our job but keep focuses on putting God in first place in your life.”

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