Wingo making the most of opportunity at Molde after a transitional year
August 03, 2020
PROSPECTS FROM Major League Soccer don’t normally have the easiest times adjusting to life in a European league. With Alphonso Davies being the enigma in recent memory, Matt Miazga, Tyler Adams, Jack Harrison and even Miguel Almiron encountered their bumps in the road to avoid injury or break into their side’s starting lineup. Even with transfers to a slightly less challenging European league in Belgium, Kemar Lawrence and Chris Durkin have also had to work 10% harder than other teammates to get up to speed.
For Henry Wingo, the transition from the Seattle Sounders to Molde FK was no different. After languishing between the Sounders and Tacoma Defiance throughout most of 2019, the 24-year-old secured a move to Norway in August.
At the time, Molde were gunning for the Eliteserien title and both Eirik Hestad and Kristoffer Haraldseid had solidified the right wing and right back positions, respectively. Wingo made the bench nine times to close out the season, making just three substitute appearances for around 10 minutes of game time.
“Last year was definitely a transition period,” Wingo said. “I came into the team at a time when it was always going to be difficult to see the field due to [Molde] being top of the table in the league and winning every game. I think it was difficult for the manager (Erling Moe) to say ‘this is a tremendous group of players who have been excellent for me over the last few months. Here’s a new guy, let’s throw him into the mix.’”
Molde’s depth at Wingo’s preferred right wing position was practically saturated when he arrived as well. It was the same problem that forced Seattle’s training staff to experiment with him at right back, but the inconsistency of game time and a specific position made for a frustrating combination for a young Wingo looking to break into the team.
Despite not being able to play in his preferred winger position, he’s pleased to have had the opportunities to stake his claim to be the starting right back.
At the start of 2020, Wingo looked certain to play second fiddle to Haraldseid again, and the January acquisition of 20-year-old Marcus Holmgren Pedersen added more competition for right back. However, a season-ending ACL injury to Haraldseid presented an opportunity for Wingo to at least compete for the full-time job at right back. Though he and Pedersen have alternated between the starting role, he’s started five of his 10 appearances and already has his first goal and assist for the club.
Seattle native Henry Wingo’s first career goal in Molde’s 5-0 win over Viking. pic.twitter.com/gllPqguEZk— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 15, 2020
“I think he was really set on his trusted group and it was working for him,” Wingo said. “As you saw, we won the league last year and did really well. It was hard to break into the team but despite that, I think they saw my talent and just realized the timing was a little off. Coming into this year, I had a few months to prepare and obviously with the virus it gave me even more time on top of that. They thought it was time to give me an opportunity and when I got that opportunity, I did really well.”
The departure from the Sounders was in no way on bad terms. There was clear frustration about the situation at hand for Wingo at the club, but it was simply a byproduct of the MLS Cup or bust standard they have each season. Competing against some of the league’s best players in training can only do so much to further a player’s development, and the move to Molde provided an opportunity to train with and play in the first team more consistently.
The expectation of title or bust seasons hasn’t changed, but his chance to be more pivotal to a title-winning side have increased since arriving in Norway.
The move to Norway was a culture shock for Wingo as well. His entire life had been spent playing soccer and growing up in Washington state. He had played college soccer at the University of Washington when most college players must leave home to play college ball, ad then he signed his first professional contract with the Sounders. Even when playing in PDL, Wingo was playing for his local team Puget Sound Gunners FC.
A global pandemic hitting Norway and the rest of Europe less than a year after his arrival in Norway also didn’t help mitigate the stress of living in a new country. The numbers of Norway have not been as bad as the United States or their European neighbors, but they did have 9,263 tests return positive and 255 people confirmed dead.
As of August 2, only nine people were hospitalized for COVID-19 according to David Nikel of Life in Norway, so the precautionary measures they have taken to quell the spread of the virus are working.
“Being that far away from your friends and family, you start to realize that you take some of that stuff for granted,” Wingo said. “Moving out here, my motivation was soccer, soccer, soccer. That’s what was on my mind. But when you get here, you start to realize all those things that you took for granted off the field like the time you spent with friends and family and all things you’re familiar with are no longer in your immediate area.”
With Germany and the Netherlands growing as hotspots for American prospects to break through at in Europe, the number of Americans in the Scandinavian leagues is lower than what it once was. The days of Charlie Davies and Alejandro Bedoya making headlines for breaking into teams from these areas are slowly but surely fading with the likes of Christian Pulisic and John Anthony Brooks starring for their sides in the Premier League and German Bundesliga.
As one of the few Americans in Norway, it’s a somewhat isolated but unique opportunity for Wingo to act as a representative for what MLS still has to offer for other European leagues.
As an individual, Molde also could qualify for either the UEFA Europa League or UEFA Champions League and compete against the best players and teams in the world. There’s still chances to impress on a big stage even at 24 years old for an American who didn’t make their debut for a Bundesliga or Eredivisie side at 17 or 18 years old.
“Champions League qualifiers are huge,” said Wingo. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve seen a lot of good atmospheres in MLS but when I came here last year, we had a few Europa League qualifiers in Greece that were unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. And that was just Europa League qualifiers. It’s something every player dreams about, and I’m looking forward to those moments because I think we have a really good group and we’re up for the challenge.”
Though Molde were unable to beat FK Partizan Belgrade over two legs, the experience of being in the match day squads in that competitive environment and in front of such a hostile away crowd would not have been attainable in MLS. Even within Norway, the competition to retain their status as league champions is even more difficult having lost to first place FK Bodø/Glimt at the end of July and sitting six points behind in second.
While the long-term goals of representing the United States men’s national team and making the move to a top five league in Europe are in mind for Wingo, the immediate focus is continuing to solidify his spot in the team and help them qualify for the Champions League. As tantalizing as those dreams are in his mind, Wingo knows the first step in attaining personal goals in this sport is ensuring he does everything he can to get and keep his team where they want to be both domestically and on the European stage.