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Former MLS Standouts Discuss the State of American Soccer

Hunter Freeman and Chris Wingert are two of the most experienced players you’ll find in the U.S. with over 25 years of professional experience between them.  Both just happen to play in the NPSL and both are entering their first season in the league.  Freeman joined FC Motown, while Wingert is with New York Cosmos B.

Freeman has spent time in the U.S. and abroad, joining the Colorado Rapids, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC, Houston Dynamo, New York Cosmos, and Miami FC in addition to two years in Norway with IK Start.  Wingert has played for MLS sides Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake, and New York City FC, actually starring for RSL twice.

The duo has seen just about everything in the American game and were willing to share their thoughts on a variety of issues.

Freeman, who was one of the biggest stars in the NASL, won two championships with the Cosmos in 2013 and 2015.  He had a strong opinion on the recent demise of the NASL.

“I mean of course it’s sad. I look at it more from the human side, just the fact that it’s people that are losing jobs and opportunities.  I think of young players in this country that will lose possibilities of getting professional experience, professional minutes.  The reality is that is what we’re dealing with in and U.S. Soccer at the moment.  It’s a bit of a time where I think everyone’s trying to shuffle the deck and figure out where things are going to go.  And I think there’s a lot of a lot of good conversations being had in regards to what is the best way.  Hopefully we can figure that out in the near future, rather than a long time off.”

Wingert agreed with Freeman with regards to the importance of the NASL.  That should come as no surprise as his father, Norm Wingert, played for the Philadelphia Atoms in the original NASL.

“As a player any time there’s going to be a professional league with professional teams throughout the country, it’s just creating more jobs and more opportunities for and places for guys to play.  So, for young players it’s a good thing absolutely. I don’t really see a negative there. Look at what happened this year when the NASL disbanded and there was an oversupply of players and there wasn’t a need for them.  A lot of guys that I consider legit and good players and good guys were kind of left scrambling and without a job.  That certainly is not ideal from a player’s perspective.”

Both were supportive of the Commisso proposal and were eager to hear more about how it could positively affect the American game.

“Rocco is someone who has a love and passion for the game, who was recently invested into it and obviously he’s trying to change the scope of soccer in the U.S.,” Freeman continued. “I think anytime you have these guys who are willing to put their money and a lot of money where they see that they will benefit a change.  I think that’s a positive.  Now everyone can sit back and say, okay, maybe this needs to be changed and this can stay the same or vice versa. But when you have these guys that are willing to spend the money to make soccer in America the best that it can be, at least how they see it in their eyes, I only see that as a positive because there’s not too many people that have that money to spend and are willing to spend it.”

Wingert also saw the proposal as a positive opportunity for dialogue.

“It’s just getting harder and harder to make it but if there’s an opportunity to have another league, and somebody like Rocco is so committed to trying to make it happen, I don’t see it as a bad situation.  My initial reaction is just that it seems to be a good thing for the young guys.  It’s another place where they can potentially play and hopefully start their careers.”

Their leadership on and off the field is incredibly important and both have so much to offer in that category.

“I’m there more as the elder statesman to give a bit of leadership and direction and that’s kind of how I see my role on the team,” Freeman admitted.

Wingert is in a similar situation, playing with a young but incredibly talented Cosmos squad.  It’s obvious that young players can benefit from their expert tutelage, especially considering the pair has won some serious hardware during their careers.

Both have enjoyed putting on the Cosmos uniform, knowing that they were part of a tremendous legacy and arguably the biggest name in American soccer.  It is, after all, the team of Pelé, Beckenbauer, Alberto, Chinaglia, and Messing (to name just a select few).

Freeman had the opportunity to play for the Cosmos when they featured both Raúl and Marcos Senna.

“I mean obviously they were legends.  That was another fantastic memory being able to send off Raúl and Marcos their last game of their career with a championship and to do it at home. For me you can’t check off many more boxes than that. They were fantastic players and more importantly, they were fantastic people and human beings. I mean I have been lucky to play with quite a few great players.”

“The club is a storied club for so many reasons and I am honored that I have a chance to play for the Cosmos,” Wingert concluded. “It’s been a team that I’ve been interested in for a long, long time even before they ever came back.  To play for the club is an honor.  I’m absolutely excited about the possibility and I can tell that that the rest of the guys feel the same way.”

With players like Hunter Freeman and Chris Wingert leading the way, the future of the NPSL has never looked so bright.  Their experience and impressive credentials make the league a better place for all involved.

Photo Credit: Matthew Levine/New York Cosmos and Bob Larson

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