Major League Soccer announced Tuesday that Houston Dynamo's midfielder Andrew Wenger was the Player of the Week for Week 2 of the 2016 MLS Season. Wenger helped the Dynamo to defeat, nay, demolish, no, that's not quite right - steamroll rivals FC Dallas 5 - 0 with a goal and two assists on the night.
While the stats are impressive enough, and worthy of such an honor, it's the things that aren't on the stat sheet that really put his performance over the top as his defensive work rate completely silenced Colombian International Fabian Castillo. His dribbling in midfield was eye-brow raising and earned loud praise from the fans.
What had to put Wenger's performance over the top of other candidates, such as Philadelphia Union's Chris Pontius or the Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, is how he started the game. Wenger assisted on the Dynamo's opening goal by David Horst and the third goal by Ricardo Clark before scoring himself to make the score line 4-0 by the 27th minute. It's the kind of comprehensive performance that is rare to see in MLS, especially from one of their rank and file and not a star.
Wenger's Game Success
From the opening whistle the Dynamo looked to put their rivals under pressure. With star midfielder Mauro Diaz marked out of the game, the offense was able to flow effectively for the home side. After Christian Maidana's free kick was cleared from the box, Wenger picked it up on the right flank and sent a cross towards the six-yard box. Horst rose and headed home the cross past a diving Jesse Gonzalez in the 6th minute of play.
In the 23rd minute, Wenger over hit a cross that was collected by Oscar Garcia who sent a cross towards the near post but was just over everyone's head. Wenger collected the ball in the box and sent a low cross to an on rushing Clark whose left-footed volley went through everyone and into the far post. The recognition to see Clark making a run from outside the box and to weigh the pass perfectly showed just how in-form the winger was on the night. It was only matched by the skill needed by Clark to shoot the ball with his weak foot.
Wenger's goal came with a bit of luck. However, as any player will say, luck is generated by hard work and this goal is no exception. After some passing along the right flank, Wenger started to cut in towards the box where a through ball was being played by Maidana. The pass was a tad heavy, allowing two defenders to intercept the pass and close down the run. A miscommunication by the pair meant that the ball ricocheted off of them and landed perfectly at Wenger's feet for an easy tap past an on-rushing Gonzalez. The play summarized the night for both teams: poor communication in the back for the visitors and hard work and luck paying off with goals.
Going into the match, if anyone had said that Wenger would have an easy time silencing even a half-strength Castillo they would have been laughed away as being horribly wrong. Instead that is exactly what happened. While not yet fully recovered from an injury he received in a home-victory against the Union the previous week, Castillo got the start at left midfield for Dallas. Even so, he still was able to make speedy runs along the flank, constantly looking to get behind the defense to cause havoc. He even managed to do so on a few occasions as Wenger or right back Jalil Anibaba were caught up field.
One particular play during the first half saw Castillo off to the races as he snuck behind Anibaba. Wenger put his head down and looked to catch up, while Horst went to get in front of the crafty Colombian. Before the two could meet, somehow Wenger not only caught up with Castillo but went in with a slide tackle from behind and cleanly tapped the ball away from him in an amazing display of defensive prowess that left everyone aghast. It's the kind of defensive work rate along that flank fans hadn't seen since Brian Mullan was patrolling those waters years ago.
In more shades of Mullan, Wenger received the ball pinched inside and looking to drive into the box but two defenders were closing down space. What to do? Wenger, in an impressive display of skill, juked past one defender and used him as a shield against the other as he made his run. His long range blast was on frame but easily collected by Gonzalez. Still, it was a wonderful display of talent that the fans enjoyed.
After a mere 180 minutes with his new club, Wenger has quickly made himself an appreciated part of the club. The explosive offensive output, eight goals in two matches, is in no small part due to his efforts and being named the Player of the Match against FC Dallas, and the Player of the Week by MLS, is a worthy honor. Hopefully it will be but one of many accolades heaped upon him this season.