By Kevin Kinkead
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was a little more than a week ago; Andrew Wenger was on the receiving end of a cross-field pass that took him to the opposition endline.
Instead of controlling and settling the diagonal, he took an extra touch and fumbled the ball out of play. That was his last bit of action before he was subbed off the field to a smattering of boos from the PPL Park crowd.
That moment seemed to encapsulate the Union winger’s season-long struggle.
But things can change quickly in a town like Philadelphia, where short memories and kneejerk reaction are prevalent among fans and media alike. Those traits can either help or hinder a player, and in this case it was the former.
Wenger left the field Saturday to a rousing ovation after snapping a goal-scoring slump of nine months. It was a charging forward run and left-footed curling effort that ended the drought in style.
“It’s been a long time and I thought maybe I really was cursed there for a little bit,” Wenger told reporters after the 3-0 win over Portland. “But I’m happy to finally see it go in, little bit of shock on my face because I thought maybe there was a post back there somewhere.”
Wenger has always possessed a bit of admirable bluntness that pops up in his quotes.
The comment above probably references the D.C. United Open Cup game, in which a lunging re-direction caromed off both goalposts before bouncing back into play.
It seemed like he was positively snake-bitten. This looked like the slump Sebastien Le Toux endured in 2011, before finally breaking through and going on to score eight goals in the second half of the season.
In 19 prior games this season, Wenger logged 1,320 minutes with zero goals, two assists, 22 shots, and just five total shots on goal. His only goal had come in a friendly against affiliate club Reading United.
Last year Wenger bagged six goals and four assists in league play, plus another pair of goals in the USOC.
“If you look at last year I finally got a trash goal in some game and it helped me get more,” Wenger said. “I’m a bit of a streaky player even though I don’t like to admit it, but hopefully this can help me (going) forward.”
There were calls to put Wenger on the bench and try someone else at left forward. C.J. Sapong and Fabinho were among those names mentioned.
But manager Jim Curtin continued to put Wenger in the starting eleven and reiterated his admiration for the player’s defensive work rate and overall track record.
“He’s gotten good looks this year,” Curtin said in his post-game press conference. “Nothing has seemed to go in for him. I know a lot of people wanted me to bail out and move on and not continue to believe in what Andrew does, but I still see the guy from preseason and the guy from the end of last year and a play like that can be the difference. That sets him on a hot streak now. Again, does he have a ton to still work on? Absolutely, but if you go back and look at the tape, the one in D.C. where we could have gone up 2-0 and it goes off the crossbar then the other time you see when he hits both posts. He’s been unfortunate but he’s a great player and I will stand up and argue for him. Obviously I have (done that) by continuing to put him on the field when he has had some tough games, but at the same time he comes up big for us tonight.”
Wenger says Curtin told him to “keep after it”.
“I’ve got to thank Jim,” Wenger explained. “He helped me through that and stuck by me. And I tried to repay him in little ways, just defending a little more than usual to make up for not producing statistically, defending and helping out the guy behind me.”
Wenger said he didn’t hear the boos but Curtin was aware of it. The Union manager understood the criticism of his player.
“In Philadelphia, if you’re not winning and your team isn’t performing, you’re going to get booed,” Curtin said. “They’re going to boo and that’s fine, they’re entitled to boo. They can boo me and they can boo Andrew and I accept that. It doesn’t mean you quit. This is pro sports and you can’t run and hide, especially in this city. I know what it’s about and Andrew knows what it’s about. He’s a great player and I’ll stand by him for as long as I’m here.”