ORLANDO, Fla. - A weary Chris Wingert settled into his hotel room here on Thursday night after a rather tumultuous week.
He had just flown in from Washington, D.C. -- his third city in five days.
The Babylon native was in the nation's capital as New York FC's player representative in marathon negotiations, helping the MLS Players Union secure a Collective Bargaining Agreement deal with Major League Soccer that runs until 2020.
When asked if the deal was to his liking, Wingert replied, "I'm happy that we're going to be playing soccer on Sunday and the following Sunday."
Sunday, NYC FC embarks on its MLS journey against another expansion team, Orlando City FC. And next Sunday it hosts New England in its Yankee Stadium opener.
After six weeks of preseason training, the start of a new season and new chapter in the 32-year-old Wingert's life cannot come soon enough. The one-time St. John's and St. John the Baptist High School standout has returned to play for his hometown team, which will open before an expected sellout crowd of more than 60,000 Sunday at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
"We're as ready as we're going to be at this stage," the defender said. "We're just excited to get back out there and start playing. We couldn't possibly have a better atmosphere."
After being away from his home and family for a decade playing for MLS teams Columbus, Colorado and Real Salt Lake, Wingert got to return home when his former coach at Salt Lake, NYC FC boss Jason Kreis, selected him in the December expansion draft.
"I felt it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up," he said. "It's really probably been the most hectic three months of my life. I'm so happy to be back in New York and be near my family and my closest friends."
Family includes his father Norm, a former goalkeeper with Philadelphia (North American Soccer League), a big-time Yankee fan. His son is a Mets fan because Shea Stadium was more convenient to go to in the eighties, when the Mets were the dominant New York baseball team. The Yankees are part-owners of NYC FC.
"I would root for the Yanks, especially when I left town and the Yankees were playing in the playoffs," Wingert said. "I don't hate the Yanks like most Met fans do. Certainly I know who's paying my paycheck now."
So Wingert can't wait to play at the stadium.
"It's so cool to be playing where some of the great, great baseball players have played, to be around the locker room and field to be where Derek Jeter was," he said, "to be able to take my nephew through that locker room and the field that's what I'm excited about."
Despite being an expansion team, Wingert feels NYC FC can be playoff contenders, boasting striker David Silva, Spain's all-time goal-scorer, ex-England international midfielder Frank Lampard, who will join the team from Manchester City in July, and U.S. international midfielder Mix Diskerud.
"It's not just the names that we have, but they've how already started to fit together," Wingert said. "I have a ton of confidence moving forward that we're going to be very successful . . . I'll be surprised and disappointed if we're not in a position battling for the playoffs."
An 11-year MLS veteran, Wingert has no plans to call it a career soon.
"I want to keep playing for a long time and I don't see why not," he said. "Age is so relative. It's all about how your body holds up and where you're at. This is as healthy as I've been in a long time, as fit as I've been. I feel like I'm playing well.
"Not that I needed it because I always felt great with Salt Lake. If anything, a new beginning certainly has energized me. I don't see stopping any time soon."