WILMINGTON — Andrew Wooten is a better player than he showed last year.
This isn’t just his opinion, or anybody else’s opinion. It’s just about a fact.
You don’t score 17 goals in 31 games in a season in Germany’s second division, then come to MLS right after that and be judged forever on a goalless four months.
That doesn’t even tell the full story. Wooten delivered 52 goals and 13 assists over 169 games for three clubs in the 2. Bundesliga: Kaiserslautern, FSV Frankfurt, and SV Sandhausen. He also had two goals in seven games in the German Cup, and one goal in seven games during his one season in the top flight with Kaiserslautern.
No one’s calling Wooten a bust. But if you think Sergio Santos has a lock on a starting-forward place next to Kacper Przybylko, you might want to give Wooten a shot at the job.
There’s a long history of players coming to MLS in the summer, not firing right out of the gate, then taking off in their first full season here. Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry, Clint Dempsey, and Frank Lampard are some of the most famous examples. Tranquillo Barnetta and Alejandro Bedoya went through it here.
All those players share a trait: They arrived in America at the end of the European season, and didn’t get the proper time to rest and ramp back up to full strength. Wooten finally got that this winter, and now he’s raring to go.
“I couldn’t wait to get things started,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “I know I wasn’t fit at the time I came. Now I’m pretty excited to play a whole preseason and do my best to get in the position that I can start every game."
It also helps to have such strong competition for the starting jobs. Along with Przybylko and Santos, Cory Burke will be in good shape when he returns in May from his short loan to Austrian club St. Polten.
“I know we’ve got good strikers, but I know what I can do,” Wooten said. “If I’m fit and confident, I’m pretty sure that I can help this team and score a lot of goals for this club.”
As Wooten noted, the mental side of things matters a lot, too. He had a goal in his Union debut taken off the board because the replay booth caught the ball going out of bounds in the buildup. Had the goal counted — or if he’d hit on any of his near-misses after that — the rest of the year could have been different.
Though he didn’t score, there were still signs of his potential. The biggest was that the Union won four of the five games he started among his nine appearances, including the 5-1 rout at D.C. United that was the regular season’s best result.
Wooten acknowledged that his drought got in his head “maybe a little bit, but that’s not an excuse.”
Now the new year brings a clean slate.
“We can’t take it back, so I’m just looking forward,” he said. “Everybody starts from zero. … I know what the coach wants and I just have to do it, and I’m pretty optimistic that I’ll get my chance."
The odds are good that he’ll get that chance, and he won’t stay at zero for long.