It has often been said that the 2017 version of the Real Salt Lake roster may contain the best depth the team has had in its 13-year existence. That depth was put to the test immediately against Toronto FC this past Saturday, as Jeff Cassar used David Horst and Chris Wingert in the defense in place of the injured Aaron Maund and Demar Phillips.
Wingert is playing his tenth season for RSL this year and will turn 35 in June this year. He’s never been the fastest player on the field, having said himself in past interviews that he relies on his tactical knowledge of the attacking opponents to position himself correctly and keep the ball in front of him as much as possible. That need to be in the right place is even more important to a player near the end of his career, who is playing in a league with faster and better talent than when he first took the field for Columbus Crew in 2004.
Wingert is certainly a serviceable option when Phillips is unavailable, but he can become a liability if the rest of the defense doesn’t adjust the shape in the back to let him focus on where he needs to be. It can be made to work if players are willing to come back and cover the spaces that Wingert knows he can’t get to, and he’s never shy about communicating where he wants to defend. Far too often, however, his teammates make a different decision and it leaves Wingert looking bad as his mark speeds past him.
If the team isn’t going to make the adjustments necessary to compensate for the limitations Wingert has at this point in his career, the team may be better served by using 19-year-old Danilo Acosta at left back when the situation calls for it. Supporters of the club are not as likely to cringe at the thought of such a young player starting a match after the emergence of Justen Glad, and even though Acosta was once marked as a potential successor to Kyle Beckerman in the defensive midfield role, he played as a full back with Real Monarchs on occasion last year and has also filled that position for the USMNT U-20 squad.
Acosta is a player riding high after a solid overall performance at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which included scoring the winning penalty to claim the first ever title at this age group for the United States. It could be advantageous for the club to take advantage of his momentum and confidence over the next few months before the youths get called out for the World Cup in May.
There’s an opportunity to provide valuable experience for Acosta while Phillips returns to full health, and Wingert will still be available if Acosta somehow proves unable to shoulder the responsibility. If Cassar decides to stick with Wingert the team should remain capable of defending well enough, but the injection of Acosta into the lineup provides the recovery speed as well as an additional boost to the attack on the left side.