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Andrew Wenger talks with teammates during a Montreal Impact training session in Montreal, Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Wenger talks with teammates during a Montreal Impact training session in Montreal, Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

MLS

Impact rookie juggling soccer and school Add to ...

Andrew Wenger played defender, midfielder and striker on his way to Major League Soccer.

And the juggling act has kept right on going since he was taken by the Montreal Impact with the top pick in January's SuperDraft — only now it's school and pro soccer he's trying to accommodate.

The 21-year-old from Lancaster, Pa., has been commuting between Montreal and Durham, N.C., going back to school at Duke on Saturday night or Sunday mornings and returning late Tuesdays to rejoin the MLS expansion team.

The Impact (0-3-1) played in New York on Saturday, losing 5-2 to the Red Bulls, and then flew directly to Utah for a game against Real Salt Lake (3-1-0) on Wednesday. After that, it's back to Montreal for a date Saturday with Toronto FC.

“Then I'll take a week or so just to finish school and then I'll be back with the team full time,” said Wenger, who hopes to complete a history degree during the off-season.

“Obviously, it hasn't been ideal soccer-wise because I'm with the team a couple of days, then I have go back and kind of do my own thing and then come back again,” he said. “But it's been nice in other ways that I've been able to gradually integrate myself into the team — the coaches have kind of let me take my time to get set.”

In three years at Duke, Wenger started all 63 games. So far in the pros, he has come off the bench in three of Montreal's four games for a total of 65 minutes. But he understands his circumstances.

“Certainly. Especially going back and forth to school, I don't feel that I'm in any place to be looking at any more playing time than what I've really achieved so far,” he said. “But over time that will change.”

He is still learning the game at the MLS level.

“The game is just much quicker mentally,” he said. “It's much more important to make the correct runs, be in tune with everyone else on the field — especially defensively, just being in the correct spot and forcing people the right way. There's much more of a mental aspect to the game than ever before.”

That leaves little time to take in the scenery — like playing on the same field as Red Bulls star Thierry Henry — while on the job.

“That was pretty cool. Unfortunately, it wasn't as cool because he scored three goals against us,” Wenger said.

He has good memories as well, like last month's home opener before 58,912 fans at Olympic Stadium.

“That was something special — something I never experienced before, playing in front of that many people,” he said. “We have fantastic fans in Montreal.”

Wenger arrived at Duke as a midfielder but was converted to defender for his first two years with the Blue Devils. He was switched to forward as a junior last year, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with 17 goals and eight assists for 42 points.

He was the ACC rookie of the year in 2009, defensive player of the year in 2010 and offensive player of the year in 2011. He enjoys playing on the backline but says he relishes scoring goals and trying to figure out defences.

The Impact have used him at forward so far, but Wenger says he could also play wide midfield or another position as needed.

“I'll be happy wherever I'm playing,” he said.

The Impact also have former Italian international Bernardo Corradi, Gambian international Sanna Nyassi and American Justin Braun at forward, among others.

Wenger has been staying at a hotel in Montreal but is in the process of moving.

“It will be nice to finally have a place to live,” he said. “And especially as the weather gets warmer, it just gets even more and more pretty.”

Most expected the first pick in the SuperDraft to come down to Wenger, winner of the Hermann Trophy as the top NCCA soccer player, and Akron forward Darren Mattocks. The Impact used the first pick to take Wenger, leaving Mattocks for Vancouver.

Wenger said he was happy to go to Montreal since it was closer to his family.

“It's a great team, a fantastic organization,” said Wenger, who grew up rooting for Manchester United. “I have no complaints whatsoever, thus far at least. I'm just excited.”

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