TUKWILA, Wash. — Now entering his third season, Henry Wingo is still in search of a role where he can settle into the MLS level of competition. The roles he’s played are almost as varied as the teams upon which he’s played. He’s been a box-to-box mid, a defensive mid, a winger and even dabbled at right back. The Seattle Sounders now see a future for him as a right back, primarily. No longer is it an experiment, instead it is more of a concerted project.
To this point his known preseason minutes included two appearances at right back (119 minutes) and one at right wing (12 minutes). He’s registered two assists in the preseason, most recently on Nouhou’s goal against FC Dallas.
“Last year we weren’t fully committed to right back,” head coach Brian Schmetzer told the media after Tuesday’s training session. “This was a planned, full video, coaching, player bought in, coaches bought in type of commitment with Henry, not just ‘let’s just see what he looks like.’ Offensively he looks the part. We just have the work on the nuances of his defending.”
That commitment means help from teammates and the coaching staff. As the right back for the Sounders attacks frequently both Djimi Traore and Gonzalo Pineda help Wingo as he looks to develop into the role.
“My teammates know it’s a new position for me and they’ve been super helpful in terms of talking to me and helping me learn the basics,” Wingo told Sounder at Heart. “The same with Djimi and Gonzo they’ve been very hands on in helping me try establish myself in that position.
“Then, whenever I watched games I used to always focus on the attackers. Now I like to watch outside backs when I watch games on TV.”
His TV viewing focuses on left backs. Henry feels that the left back position is currently stronger than the right side, at this time. His focus globally is on players like David Alaba and Marcelo. His own game he thinks is going to be a bit more like Brad Smith and Nouhou.
“I think something they thought last year, in terms of putting me there, was that my mobility is really useful,” Wingo said. “As a club and as a team, part of our philosophy is that we like to attack through our outside backs. That’s why Brad and Nouhou are so good at their positions because of their speed. They are able to get up and down.
“I think they see me having a lot of similar qualities. The few times I played that position last year I thought I did really well doing that. That’s carried over into this preseason. I feel like I’ve been a good option there.”
Over the last two seasons as a pro, Wingo’s collected 2,422 minutes between all competitions across MLS and USL. His five goals (all in USL) and two assists (also USL) showed sparks of his attacking talent, but the shift to right back is where he sees his opportunity to break out.
“Going on year three — it’s been a long time for me, waiting and trying to break into the team and be a consistent starter,” he said. “That’s obviously a goal for me. It’s a goal this year. I want to use it as a tool to be an option for this team and hopefully get more time and help us win games.”
He’ll do what the team wants, whether as a sub or a spot starter, but the goal is to unseat a veteran and become a regular starter. It’s ambitious of the 23 year-old. He will put in the work and if he learns the defensive nuances he will make his case.
“Each player has his own personality that he takes and they apply to whatever position they are playing,” Schmetzer said. “He’s super fast, technically very clean. Those are two starting points for any outside back in any country, so it’s just again can he pick up some of the nuances? His first job is to defend if you’re playing in that position. So that’s some of the stuff that he would have to learn before we would put him back there for good and anoint him as a starter on this team.”
With just 23 players signed to the Sounders roster at this time, Wingo is a strong candidate to make the 18 frequently. But he’s also looking forward to getting some chances with Tacoma Defiance as he continues to refine his approach to the new role.
Wingo knows the region. He’s a Seattle native, went to Shorecrest High School and the University of Washington. He also knows that Tacoma is vital to the Sounders’ success.
“I think the South Sound is really important to this club, the culture and the city,” Wingo said. “People tend to forget on those guys and only focus on Seattle, but there’s tons of fans down there that commute up to our games and they’re just as important as anybody else. For them to have Defiance to support every week is good for the club and good for the community.”