Chris Wingert:  “I am beyond excited for what’s to come! Moving home, spending more time with my family and friends in NY, and helping the next generation of players with their careers.” (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Real Salt Lake veteran defender Chris Wingert, who forged a 14-year career in Major League Soccer with four clubs, Monday announced his retirement from professional soccer.

The 35-year-old Babylon, N.Y. native became one of the most successful pro soccer players to come out of Long Island, playing with the U.S. Under-23 national team.

Wingert admitted it was difficult to announce his retirement. “Part of me felt like it was selfish to make a statement … that I would be doing it only for promotional reasons,” he wrote on Twitter.

But he did and explained his feelings in his post.

“After 14 years of Major League Soccer, it is time to move on,” he wrote. “Bitter sweet as you can imagine. On one hand, I am extremely sad to walk away from the game that has seemed to define me (at least at times) up until this point. I literally don’t know a life without soccer.

“On the other hand, I am beyond excited for what’s to come! Moving home, spending more time with my family and friends in NY, and helping the next generation of players with their careers. I believe God has bigger and better things for me ahead, and can’t wait to see what that entails (Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 3:12-14).”

He thanked the four teams for which he played — the Columbus Crew, Colorado Rapids, New York City FC and RSL.

That Wingert excelled on the soccer field wasn’t a surprise because he came from an athletic family on both sides.

His maternal grandfather, Warren Mehrtens, won horse racing’s Triple Crown as he rode Assault to three victories in 1946. He is also the son of former Philadelphia Atoms goalkeeper Norm Wingert (North American Soccer League).

The 5-11, 170-lb. Wingert rose to the top of the Long Island soccer ranks early on. He was a standout at St. John the Baptist High School before attending St. John’s University. There, he earned All-American honors and was named the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy winner as the top men’s college player in 2003. He also played for the Brooklyn Knights of the Premier Development League.

In the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, the Crew selected him as the 12th overall pick (second round). He wound up playing two seasons in Columbus and another two in Colorado before he was dealt to RSL during the 2007 season. It was there that Wingert made his name during 10 seasons, playing either center or left back and helping the club to the 2009 MLS Cup title.

“I could write a whole book on the great memories and friends I’ve made in Salt Lake and it still wouldn’t be enough,” Wingert wrote. “I don’t believe another small market team will have a five-year run like we did for a very long time. Thank you for that.”

Wingert’s RSL tenure was interrupted by a one-year stint with NYCFC, which selected him in the MLS expansion draft for the 2015 season. He was released just prior to the 2016 season as RSL signed him as a free agent.

He played in 339 games, starting 300, while scoring two goals and assisting on seven others. Though the team failed to reach the 2004 Summer Olympics, Wingert made 16 appearances for the U.S. U-23 team. He also played once for the full national side in 2009.

“Of all the gifts that soccer has given me, it is the relationships that I cherish the most,” he wrote. “Fortunately, I can take those with me as I walk away from the game. With that in mind, I hope to see you all soon.”