Wingert forced to wait for draft call
It was an early morning for former St. John's star Chris Wingert, as the 2003 Hermann Trophy winner was at the Home Depot Center at 7:00 a.m. PT watching the MLS Draft with his teammates on the Under-23 National Team.
While some insiders expected the defender to go in the top half of the first-round, Wingert slipped to the second round where he was picked by the Columbus Crew with the 12th overall selection.
Obviously, the 21-year-old would've liked to have gone higher in the draft, but he understood some of the reasons why lesser known players went in front of him and is happy to be part of the Crew.
"It would have been nice to go in the first round, but you have to swallow your pride and hope you end up in a good situation," said Wingert by cell phone after a team breakfast in advance of a scrimmage against El Salvadorian club C.D. Aguila team at the HDC on Friday night. "I feel I'm in a good situation, so that's what matters. Project-40 players are a little bit more of a high commodity. It'd be nice to say, 'I'm a first-round draft pick,' but besides that, it doesn't really matter.
"I'm just excited to get out to Columbus and start preseason with them."
Including Freddy Adu, a total of six Project-40 players went in the first round ahead of Wingert. Pro-40 players are always in high demand since their salaries do not count against their team's salary cap.
In addition, third selection Joseph Ngwenya (Los Angeles) and sixth selection Ramon Nunez (Dallas) will be considered youth internationals since they were born in Zimbabwe and Honduras, respectively, which means they won't be counted against the cap, as well, making them that much more attractive to MLS clubs.
Wingert was the only college player in the country to be a regular with the U-23 National Team the past two years, and has been a usual starter at left back for coach Glenn "Mooch" Myernick.
The U-23s are the group that will represent the U.S. in the Olympics this summer in Athens should they survive qualification that starts in two weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico, from February 2 -12. Wingert is expected to be named to the team's roster for the trip, which will be announced on Tuesday by Myernick.
"I've been able to go on every trip with them except the last one when I was at the Final Four," he said. "That's been a key for me. I feel good about the way things have gone, so hopefully I'll be playing down in Mexico."
Going on that trip will be two of his new teammates in Columbus in Kyle Martino and Edson Buddle, who were there to congratulate Wingert upon his selection Friday morning. Along with former St. John's teammate Jeff Matteo, who was selected by Columbus in 2002, Wingert has a good grasp on his new club.
"I know a decent amount about Columbus," he said. "Plus, I was just out there for College Cup (St. John's lost to Indiana in the final). So I have a feel for the place and the stadium. It'll be a great place to play."
While some coaches -- both in MLS and at the collegiate level -- questioned Wingert's quickness and mentioned that he plays too direct of a game for their liking, he is also known as a winner and one of those players you want on your side in a big match. Left-sided players out of the back are hard to find, as well, which is one of the reasons he was expected to go higher than twelfth in this draft.
"We are thrilled to have him available with the twelfth pick," said Columbus manager Greg Andrulis. "He's incredibly talented and we love his versatility. He can play all four positions in the back, and he is a proven winner. His credentials speak for themselves."
The only other Hermann Trophy winner that was not picked in the first round of the MLS Draft was Clemson's Wojtek Krakowiak, who was selected by San Jose with the 15th pick in the second round in 1999.
At the same time, greatness hasn't exactly been achieved by Hermann Trophy winners who went in the first round when you consider that the list includes Johnny Torres, Ali Curtis, Chris Gbandi and Luchi Gonzalez. Last year's winner, Alecko Eskandarian, went No. 1 to D.C., where he played mainly in a substitute role as a rookie.
Hopefully, for the Crew, Wingert's entry into MLS changes the recent history for those who have been hailed as the top collegiate player in the country before draft day.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.