Editor’s note: This is a feature in Issue 11 of Sounders Monthly, Sounders FC’s original magazine. They are available for free at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central.
It was March 19, 2009, and the Seattle Sounders were competing in their inaugural Major League Soccer match against the New York Red Bulls. Thirteen-year-old Henry Wingo from Lake Forest Park was in the stands. He had grown up watching the United Soccer League Sounders when they would only fill the bottom bowl on the east side of Qwest Field, but that day was different. A sellout crowd of 32,523 packed the stadium to see history, and Wingo was right there beside them to cheer on his beloved hometown team.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Wingo recalled. “The other day, one of my mom’s friends sent me a picture of me at one of the very first Sounders games. It’s crazy to see how small I was, but it wasn’t really that long ago. I was just a tiny little kid.”
Fast forward eight years to the day. March 19, 2017, his mom’s birthday. Wingo was at now-CenturyLink Field again for the Sounders’ home opener against the very same Red Bulls. His mother was in the stands that day too, but Wingo wasn’t beside her. He was making his home debut.
“I only played like two minutes, but that didn’t matter,” Wingo said. “I think [my mom] probably cried. I had a bunch of family there.”
When Head Coach Brian Schmetzer called Wingo’s name to check in, it was a special moment for both. Wingo and Schmetzer have a long history. Schmetzer used to coach Wingo’s older brother Teddy, who’s seven years Henry’s senior. Schmetzer would let Henry train with the older boys, which exposed him to a faster and more physical style of play at a young age that helped prepare him for his future in the Sounders Academy, at the University of Washington and eventually a Homegrown signee before the start of the 2017 season.
“I think he’s followed my career closely,” Wingo said of Schmetzer, “and so to be able to have this opportunity now and play for him at this level, it feels like things have come full circle.”
Wingo shined in the Academy playing alongside future Pac-12 rival and current Sounders teammate Jordan Morris. Wingo had seen the pathway that some of his former teammates had taken from the Academy to the First Team, and the inkling of a professional future dawned on him later in his Academy years.
“I knew a few guys who have signed Homegrown [contracts], I saw the path that they’d taken and I thought that’s something I can do if I really put the work in,” Wingo said. “It’s always something that I wanted to do. By the time I was 17 or 18, I knew a couple of years from then that this is where I have to be.”
Wingo starred at the University of Washington before forgoing his senior season to turn pro. The transition from the college game was difficult, though, as it is for most players given the sheer physical demands the professional game requires. College seasons are roughly 20 matches and run in a compact three-month span in the fall. Players hardly train in the winter and there are a few spring games before leaving for the summer. Jumping into a campaign that’s three times as long with twice as many games is no easy task and one to which players have to adapt quickly.
“You train every single day and you have to train at the highest level,” Wingo said. “Making sure you’re getting to bed early, making sure you’re eating right, making sure you’re taking care of yourself before and after training.
“You need to be getting there early and making sure you’re doing stretching before training, working with the trainers even when you don’t feel something,” he continued. “That was something I learned. Even if your body doesn’t feel bad, you can’t do enough preventative stuff to keep from getting injured.”
Wingo spent his rookie season alternating between the First Team and S2 to make sure he was still getting games and staying in form. He made 11 appearances for the First Team, logging 132 minutes. One of the most difficult parts for Wingo was transitioning into a specific role on a team littered with star power.
“Growing up, especially for guys like me, guys like Jordan, guys like Cristian [Roldan], for the most part you’re always the best player on your team,” Wingo explained. “You’re the guy. You know you can do what you want when you’re on the field and you don’t have to go off a lot of direction and people sort of go off you.
“Getting here, I’m no longer the guy,” Wingo said with a laugh. “I’m playing with [Nicolás Lodeiro], Clint [Dempsey], Chad Marshall, these guys who have had insane careers and have years and years and years of experience.”
As Wingo transitions into his sophomore season with the Sounders, he’s hoping his role continues to grow and evolve and that his contributions will follow suit. He earned his first career start in the Sounders’ 2018 season opener against LAFC and went the full 90 minutes. Against Chivas in a crucial CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match three days later, he entered as a substitute in the 73rd minute. Five minutes later, he assisted Dempsey on the game-winning goal.
Wingo’s college coach at UW, Jamie Clark, used to tell Wingo to pay attention to the little things. If Wingo took care of the minutes, Clark would say, then the hours would take care of themselves. Focus on the little things and the bigger picture would always fall into place.
“Getting to have this opportunity to play in Seattle and for this club is huge,” Wingo said. “Finally being able to have your name tag in that locker room and step out on that field every day, it’s a dream come true.”
When Wingo steps back and reflects on the past five years, from where he was to what he’s done to where he is now, he almost can’t believe it. He’s just as eager to see what the next five years have in store.
“Hopefully I’m still here,” Wingo said with a smile. “More established on the team and maybe one day being the man. I’m starting out as the young buck, but hopefully I can be the man here one day.”