Chris Wingert reached another milestone in his recovery from a broken foot in the offseason on Monday night when he received rapturous applause from 6,000-plus fans as he came on for Real Salt Lake's reserves at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Stepping back on the pitch was one thing, but getting back up to speed could take a little time, Wingert said.
"It felt great to be out there," Wingert said after the match. "I didn't feel too sharp — a little slow and sluggish — but maybe that's to be expected. Sometimes your mind thinks that you can do some things that your body can't keep up. I think it happened a few times, but the foot feels good, and I just need to keep pushing forward and hopefully get a little sharper in the next week."
Wingert hadn't been scheduled to play the match. In fact, he hadn't participated heavily in training until Friday, but when he trained Saturday and felt good, he pushed to play in Monday's match.
"I asked them if I could play, and we were going to wait and see how the match was going in case it was a little bit chippy," he said. "Maybe I wasn't going to go out there. Of course, getting ready for the game today, I was pretty antsy to get out there and get some minutes. I'm glad I did, because the first priority for me was to come out of it healthy, and that's the case."
Now that he's returned to the reserves, Wingert will be looking to reach the next milestone and contend for minutes for the first team.
"I think now it's kind of up to me, that I can prove to the coaches that I am fit and I deserve to be back in the lineup," he said. "Hopefully that won't take too long, but I would to be able to play in a couple weeks from now. I'm not going to be ready to start this coming weekend, but after that, I think it's just a matter of being sharp enough and fit enough to prove to the coaches that I deserve to be back in the lineup."
Wingert isn't expecting to waltz back into the side, despite having established himself over the years as one of Real Salt Lake's key defenders. Instead, he's going to focus on the fundamentals: fitness and form. If history is any indicator, that shouldn't be any huge hurdle for the full back.
"The guys are playing great and nobody owes me anything," he said. "I don't deserve to be on the field unless I'm the best guy for the job. We'll see how that goes. I'm not worried about that in my head — I'm not going to stress over that. I just need to do all that I can to prove to the coaches that I need to be in there, and control what I can control."