Duke soccer standout making way to Montreal

CorrespondentFebruary 3, 2012 

Anyone worried about former Duke soccer player Andrew Wenger adapting to his new life in Montreal after growing up in a small town just a long free kick from Pennsylvania Dutch country shouldn't be concerned.

Wenger spent his career at Duke adapting and excelling at three positions, earning the 2012 Hermann Trophy as the nation's top collegiate player. Last month, the Montreal Impact, MLS' newest expansion team, selected Wegner with the first overall pick in the draft.

Wenger is the 18th Blue Devil to be drafted out of college since MLS held its first collegiate draft in 1997. He is the fourth Duke player to be a top-five pick, joining Brian Kelly (fifth, 1997), Jay Heaps (second, 1999) and Ali Curtis (second, 2001).

"I'm very excited about moving up to Montreal," said Wenger, who grew up in tiny Lititz, Pa., population 8,922. "I have some friends from Duke who will be up there, so that will make the transition easier. I've got to learn French, though."

That shouldn't be a difficult transition for a guy who was recruited to play midfield, moved to center back and wound up leading the ACC with 17 goals and 42 points as a striker last season. As a freshman, Wenger was the ACC Rookie of the Year, and as a sophomore, he was the ACC Defender of the Year. He never did play midfield for the Blue Devils

"We were weak up front, and I tried him there (forward) during a spring game against Virginia," Duke coach John Kerr. "I knew within 10 minutes he was going to be our best striker. I turned to my assistant coach Mike Brady and said, 'He's going to be an All-American striker next year.'

"I could tell he had the ingredients to be a top-level striker. When we decided we were going to try him up front, he figured out ways to work on his finishing. That wasn't a strong point for him, but he was determined to get it right."

Wenger spent hours working on his timing and positioning in the box, constantly analyzing tape. His mission was to average a goal a game. He fell just short, with 17 goals in 20 matches.

Soccer aficionados see Wenger as a talented, hard-working player who is good on the ball with sharp passing abilities, but who lacks a true position. His new coach in Montreal sees it differently.

"We consider his versatility a strength," Montreal coach Jesse Marsch said. "He has a rare combination of intelligent soccer playing ability with good athletic instincts. I call guys with a high soccer IQ, 'soccer players.'

"He reads the game well. He can see things ahead of time without the ball, and his overall package of soccer sense for someone his age is at a very high level. In other countries, they call it their formation."

Kerr offered an even more positive assessment of Wenger's potential.

"I feel if Andrew keeps his head down and stays disciplined and determined as he has been, he could become another Clint Dempsey," Kerr said.

The next few weeks will be busy for Wenger as he juggles his classes at Duke while preparing for his first training camp in professional soccer. He is eight credits shy of graduating, which he hopes to accomplish by the end of the year.

Soon after he was drafted, Wenger went on an 18-day trip with the United States' U23 team to Los Angeles and Costa Rica, where he faced the U.S. National Team. He admitted the speed of the game was a big adjustment for him.

"It was a telling experience for me," he said of competing against the national team. "There were a lot of nuances to learn, like when to take breaks and slow down, and of course the game was much faster."

Wenger should be a factor for the Impact, wherever he is on the pitch.

"My goal is to be on the field and for the coaches to believe in me," he said. "I need to focus on one position. I've talked to Jesse (Marsch) about playing one position. Like any other player growing up, I played forward, then slowly moved back."

Now he's moving North, and that shouldn't be a problem either.

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