With the announcement today that Real Salt Lake is bringing back veteran defender Chris Wingert, I have to admit — my head is still spinning a little bit from the move.
That's not because it's a bad move or anything, but it's one that feels like it's loaded with implications about the state of the club's efforts to bring in a top-level center back.
But let's be clear about this before we get too far along: My understanding, through RSL Communications, is that the club is still actively pursuing a center back, and that Chris Wingert isn't being brought in because moves fell through in that regard.
In fact, RSL's chief scout, Andy Williams, had something to say about that very thing. While he's not totally explicit here, he's certainly someone who enjoys teasing out signings and potential moves.
With that in mind, we can start to understand why Real Salt Lake brought Wingert back for a second spell at the club, and maybe we can tease out some of the implications.
Chris Wingert is primarily being brought in as a full back, we think. That's the key fact we have in this discussion.
Obviously, this one isn't so simple as to just say, "It is so!" and expect it to be so — but my understanding is that Wingert is coming back not as a top-level center back but as defensive depth across the back line. That's subject to change, of course, but there's at least my expectation.
What are the implications, then?
RSL's coaching staff or general manager may not be entirely happy with the team's backup options. Waibel has regularly talked about only wanting to bring in players that are better than other players on the team, and it's reasonable to assume that's why Wingert has been brought back.
Specifically, this may reflect on players beneath Tony Beltran and Demar Phillips, but it may also include Phillips — there's real uncertainty there. If you're worried about Wingert's age, just keep in mind that he's a whopping 15 months older than Demar Phillips. If you're more concerned about his speed, there's not a clear-cut answer.
To sum that up: There's evidently some unhappiness or dissatisfaction at the state of Real Salt Lake's depth.
Of course, it may also mean that there's a move in the works that would suddenly make this move more explicable. Now, the only player of the bunch that would really make sense to move is Abdoulie Mansally, and he played in the friendly against Xolos today, so we at least know that something hasn't already happened and we're simply unaware.
But Wingert's return doesn't necessitate any players being sent away, does it? It might instead say something about the state of discussions with Chris Schuler, or about the likelihood he returns from injury. But it doesn't necessarily mean that, either.
What might be helpful is to break down Real Salt Lake's roster so we can at least see the open spots available.
Goalkeepers (3): Nick Rimando, Jeff Attinella, Lalo Fernandez
Central defenders (4): Jamison Olave, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, Phanuel Kavita
Full backs (4): Tony Beltran, Demar Phillips, Abdoulie Mansally, Boyd Okwuonu, Chris Wingert
Misc. Defenders (1): Danilo Acosta (no clear view of best position at this point)
Central midfielders (6): Kyle Beckerman, Luke Mulholland, Stephen Sunday Obayan, John Stertzer, Omar Holness, Fito Ovalle
Attacking midfielders (2): Javier Morales, Jordan Allen
Forwards (6): Yura Movsisyan, Burrito Martinez, Joao Plata, Devon Sandoval, Olmes Garcia, Emery Welshman
That puts the team at 27 roster spots filled — there are two more spots open. Now, the remaining one should be for the center back the team is actively looking for, right?
Well, the roster compliance date doesn't fall until March 1 — so don't let that rule out any moves at this point. The club may very well take advantage of the flexibility of being in the offseason, which would be rather a new thing for them.
We still haven't quite got to the bottom of this: Why is Real Salt Lake bringing back? It's got to be defensive depth, plain and simple. Now, why exactly that's the case remains to be seen — and we're sort of in need of new information.
But if we can, let's briefly step outside the depth discussion. Wingert is one of those rare 'locker room' players we hear about — or at least, that's the impression I've always had. He's a hard-working player, and it's seemed that he's always commanded a deal of respect on the team.
So maybe that plays a role — or maybe it doesn't.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't really know all the facts in this case, and I don't really know what the best thing for the team is right now. But if we're going to bring in a player who isn't projected to be a starter, it seems like there are few better options than a person who knows Salt Lake City, is a long-standing MLS veteran, and we already know fits into this group extremely well.