SANDY — Some of the most frustrating months of Chris Wingert’s soccer career are coming to an end.
Four months after breaking a metatarsal in his right foot, and three months after a plate and five screws were inserted to repair the fracture, the Real Salt Lake defender has been cleared to start running.
“I see the light at the end of the tunnel now,” Wingert said.
There’s still not an exact timeframe for his return to match fitness, but late April home matches against Chivas USA and Los Angeles are safe bets when anxious RSL fans can expect the stalwart left back to make his 2013 debut.
Wingert was hoping to be back during RSL’s trip to Vancouver on April 13, which also includes a Reserve League game, but like everything throughout his recovery, that’s likely been pushed back.
“There’s been a lot of bumps along the way,” said Wingert, who said he’s never had a lower-body injury that’s required surgery throughout his entire career.
He’s grateful the fracture occurred in the offseason so he didn’t miss more than half the season, but right now it’s killing him he’s missing any time at all.
“You want to be out there helping the team, but you feel kind of helpless just sitting around,” Wingert said.
The freak injury occurred back in New York during the offseason. One afternoon after Thanksgiving, Wingert headed over to St. John’s University to get a light training session in with his old college team just to stay sharp and have some fun.
He hobbled away with a broken foot instead.
A fraction of a second before Wingert tried to hit a long ball, a St. John’s player poked the ball away and Wingert instead kicked the bottom of his cleat.
Wingert new immediately that something was wrong, which an X-ray confirmed later that day was a metatarsal fracture. The bones were still aligned though, and the hope was Wingert wouldn’t need surgery. During a return visit to the doctor a few weeks later, “the bones were all out of whack.”
It was the first of several frustrating setbacks.
Wingert immediately raced back to Utah for surgery with team doctor Andrew Cooper on Dec. 20 — his last day to perform surgeries before the holidays.
The fracture wasn’t Wingert’s first with Real Salt Lake. He broke his wrist in a match in Toronto in 2011, which forced him to miss six weeks.
The biggest hurdle left for Wingert to clear is likely pain management and fitness.
He started to jog a little bit last week, but the “pain for the next couple days was killing me.”
Throughout the recovery Wingert has been discouraged from taking anti-inflammatory medicine because it can prohibit bone growth. On Monday, though, he convinced doctors to finally let him take some ibuprofen after last week’s X-rays confirmed the bone was almost entirely heeled.
Wingert did more light jogging at Real Salt Lake’s practice on Tuesday, and if his foot responds well to the increased activating over the next couple days he’s optimistic he’ll be cleared to start kicking a soccer ball later this week.
“In my head I thought it was going to be sooner. It just kept kind of getting pushed back,” Wingert said.
The 30-year-old left back is Real Salt Lake’s second-longest tenured player dating back to 2007, and he’s appeared in 153 MLS regular season matches during that span.
Follow Deseret News Real Salt Lake beat writer Jason Edward on Twitter @DesNewsReal