Real Salt Lake won their first Major League Soccer championship in November 2009. Their first home game of the new is Saturday, April 10th at 6:30 p.m. Come see the unveiling of the championship banner and support RSL in their defense of the title! Following is an interview Rhombus correspondent (and resident soccer fan) Randal Serr recently conducted with RSL defender Chris Wingert:
Randal Serr: Thanks for doing this, I really appreciate it. I’m a big fan. Describe what it feels like to win a championship and make a clutch penalty kick in the championship game.
Chris Wingert: Winning an MLS Cup has been one of my main goals since I entered the league in 2004. Accomplishing that goal was one of the best feelings I have ever had as a soccer player. Hopefully we will have another good season this year, and have a chance to repeat.
Taking a penalty kick with a chance to lose the championship was definitely nerve-racking, but I tried to put that out of my mind and just concentrate on the shot. I told Coach Kreis after the overtime period that I wanted to shoot. I had taken important penalties throughout high school and college, and although I was nervous, I was confident that I could bury one for our team when it counted most.
RS: Do you see a difference in Real Salt Lake now that you have won a championship?
CW: At times I have seen us play with supreme confidence, and I think some of that comes from last year’s success. We need to continue to work at becoming more consistent though. If we can manage that, I think 2010 will be a great year for u.
RS: What do you say to people who criticize soccer?
CW: I don’t really understand why some people think it’s cool to criticize soccer. Certain people in the media (i.e., Jim Rome, Tony Kornheiser) try to undermine our sport and our athletes at times, but there is only so much we can do. Hopefully we can win them over and show them how great our sport is, but we don’t need the critics to become fans in order for soccer to succeed in this country. Fortunately there are already tons of people in the US who love the game for what it is, and it’s obvious that soccer is constantly growing here.
RS: How much do you hear or pay attention to fans when you are playing?
CW: It’s hard to really hear what most fans are saying while you are on the field, but occasionally you catch a comment or two. When fans are getting rowdy and trying to get in my head, I kind of enjoy it. I am happy that fans in the US have enough passion to try and influence the match.
RS: What do you think needs to happen for the MLS to continue to gain popularity?
CW: I think the MLS has made a lot of good decisions on where to continue its growth as a league. Franchises like Toronto and Seattle have been awesome so far. I think that Philly, Portland and Vancouver will also be good additions, and will help the MLS continue to gain popularity.
RS: Do you have any goal celebrations ready for this year?
CW: Unfortunately my three career goals in MLS (besides my P.K. in the final) have come in exhibitions, so there haven’t been any excessive celebrations so far. If I score a good goal this year I will be sure to come up with something good, but until then we’ll keep it a surprise.
RS: What kind of team chemistry exists for Real Salt Lake? Is language ever a barrier to chemistry because of international players?
CW: We have great team chemistry at RSL. All of our guys get along really well and have a lot of respect for each other. The language barrier hasn’t really seemed to cause any problems. I think our international players have all made a great effort to fit in with the team.
RS: What are your favorite international clubs/players?
When I was young, [Manchester United] was always on TV, so I grew up rooting for them, and I still do today. Mostly, I just enjoy watching the best teams and players compete against each other. Any time you get a chance to watch a player like Leo Messi or [Christiano] Ronaldo, it’s a treat. I always loved watching [Zinedine] Zidane, because he was such a magician with the ball. When Zidane was playing it was as if the game was being played in his head in slow motion, while it was in fast forward for everyone else.
RS: What are your favorite teams/players from other sports?
CW: I love so many different sports. Tennis, basketball, and mixed martial arts are prob my three favorite outside of soccer. Most of my favorite teams are from New York — Giants and Mets in particular. Some of my favorite athletes include Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (I love how they are extemely competitive and still so humble), Matt Serra, Jon Jones, and Dwyane Wade. I am also a huge fan of Andre Agassi’s — not only as a tennis player, but for what he has done as a philanthropist.
RS: What are your favorite restaurants in Utah?
CW: Some of my favorite restaurants in Utah include Canella’s, Aristos, Taifoon, and Takashi.
RS: Thanks for doing the interview. We’ll see you at the MLS Cup again.