The American stories to watch in Germany ahead of the Bundesliga restart
May 07, 2020
AFTER WEEKS OF stated efforts, small setbacks, and concerns, the plan for soccer to return in Germany is now closer to reality with the restart of the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga looking to begin behind closed doors on May 15. This would make it the first major league to restart from a COVID-19 shutdown.
The schedule has been released for the 1.Bundesliga and the 2.Bundesliga. The teams will play either nine or 10 games in roughly seven weeks. This congested schedule behind closed doors will put players and teams to the test.
For American fans, this is great news on two big fronts. First, there are loads of American players in the Bundesliga and several of the country’s most prominent players will retake the field. Second, it would give hope that Germany can provide an effective blueprint towards restarting play over the next year before a COVID-19 vaccine can be administered throughout the globe.
If Germany’s restart can be successful, it can lay the framework for other leagues to finish their seasons and start their 2020/21 season.
This all follows the news that some MLS teams have begun allowing players to begin training on an individual basis under limited conditions. It’s only the first step of what needs to happen, and bigger steps like team drills, testing, pay structure, scheduling, and travel remain ahead. But today was a promising development to begin play again here in the states. USL is set to follow in the days ahead.
Germany is the torch bearer right now and soccer fans across the globe are cheering for their success.
For one, it gives us a chance to focus on soccer related events as opposed to COVID-19 and the ongoing shutdown.
For American fans who will soon get to tune into games, here are some important storylines to follow in the Bundesliga - from an American perspective.
Sargent and Werder Bremen’s relegation battle
Josh Sargent is one of the most important U.S. national team prospects at the moment – and mostly that is because there aren’t many American forwards playing a lot of minutes these days – either at home or abroad. Sargent’s numbers so far at Werder are pretty good – five Bundesliga goals in a little more than 1050 minutes.
The big issue has been what has happened recently. Werder Bremen has been awful and while Sargent hasn’t been the sources of the team’s problems, he hasn’t been a solution either. The team has just two wins from its last 20 Bundesliga games. It has lost 11 of its last 14 games while being outscored 34-10 over that span.
Sargent has three goals this season – including in the last game before the shutdown in a 2-2 draw with Hertha BSC. But the club is firmly in the relegation zone in 17th place of the 18-team league. It needs to make up a four point deficit just to move into 16th place which would force it into the relegation playoff against the third place finisher of the 2.Bundesliga. It is eight points from 15th-place and automatic safety – although Werder has a game in-hand.
The stage is set for Sargent to produce in very, very important games and give his team a chance to survive in what will be an uphill climb. Even if the team is relegated, if Sargent plays well, he will either have momentum heading into next season in the 2.Bundesliga or options on the transfer market.
Werder Bremen has a tough start following the restart with four straight top 10 opponents in Bayer Leverksuen, Freiburg, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Schalke. There are some heavy hitters in the final six (Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg, Paderborn, Bayern Munich, Mainz, Cologne) but any hope of survival will probably require at least two wins in the three games against Paderborn, Mainz, and Cologne.
Can Mckennie and Schalke stop the fade?
Normally, sixth place in the Bundesliga would be a good spot for a club that is coming off a relegation battle the previous year. But Schalke had been struggling badly before the shutdown and its woeful offense was tough to watch.
At the time of the shutdown, Schalke had one win in its previous 10 games and was winless in seven games. Over those last seven games, Schalke had scored just two goals while conceding 15.
Despite that skid, Schalke still remains in sixth place – which would be good enough for the Europa League playoff position. It is 10 points in back of fifth place Bayer Leverkusen, so sixth place is likely the highest it will finish. That would be a significant accomplishment given its skid and the fact they will have to fend off Wolfsburg, Freiburg, and Hoffenheim – which are all within two points of Schalke. Former U.S. national team forward David Wagner will have his work cut out for him to find solutions as Schalke’s manager.
As for Weston McKennie, the goal should be to settle into a position where he can learn to dominate. For much of the season, he’s been used in a variety of position to fill holes. But can he settle into a role and master it?
Shalke’s first matchup is a tough one against rivals Borussia Dortmund, who were were playing very well prior to the shutdown. A win there could set a new tone but a loss could see the slump continue.
Brooks and possibly Llanez at Wolfsburg
Seventh place Wolfsburg is within a point of overtaking struggling sixth-place Schalke – whom it trails by just one point. The race is on for sixth place in the Bundesliga and the last European spot the league has to offer (none of the teams in the running are likely to move into fifth place).
John Brooks has had an interesting season. He was a regular starter for most of the first half of the season when healthy. He was benched at the start of the second half of the season but regained it when newly acquired teammate Marin Pongracic picked up a red card. He then managed to play well up to the shutdown.
What is Brooks’ standing within the club at the moment? It will be very interesting to see. He has played exceptional soccer over the years but has also found himself in poor stretches while also dealing with injuries. He is one of the best American defenders in the game and showing consistency at the point is important as World Cup qualifying approaches - likely next year.
Also, at Wolfsburg is American winger Uly Llanez. The teenager made his U.S. national team debut in the January camp win over Costa Rica where he converted the winning penalty in a 1-0 victory. Llanez has done well with the youth teams at Wolfsburg so he could emerge as an option for a first team debut given the need for squad rotation with a congested schedule.
Reyna's playing time down the stretch
The COVID-19 shutdown saw Gio Reyna, 17, denied his first U.S. national team cap in March when it was revealed he was going to be on the roster. Reyna has played great soccer since getting promoted to the first team. He has scored in the German Cup but is still looking for his first goal in the Bundesliga – but that seems like it is coming. He’s only played 120 minutes in the Bundesliga so far but has been very effective in that time.
Reyna and Dortmund are chasing silverware at the moment while sitting in second place. They trail Bayern Munich by four points and will need Bayern Munich to stumble. Dortmund will host Bayern Munich at the end of May (the third game since the restart) in what will be an enormous game in an empty stadium.
Morales and Steffen in the relegation playoff
Between Fortuna Dusseldorf and Werder Bremen, there is a high degree of likelihood that at least one American will suffer relegation in the Bundesliga this year. When healthy, Alfredo Morales and Zack Steffen are regulars on Fortuna Dusseldorf but that club is in 16th place which is the relegation playoff position. It is four points out of automatic safety.
It is unclear if Zack Steffen will be healthy to play much after suffering an knee injury in training last week. He is only at Fortuna on loan and there has been rumors that Fortuna would like to keep him but for now management is hoping he can play a role in the survival push.
Fortuna Dusseldorf’s has winnable games in the first few weeks of restart (Paderborn, Cologne, and a slumping Schalke). After that, it gets a lot harder with Bayern Munich, Hoffenheim, Dortmund, and RB Leipzig all waiting. Fortuna will be under enormous pressure in the first few games.
Adams continues return/recovery
Tyler Adams has only played five games since last May with none coming for the U.S. national team level. He’s one of the best American players but has yet to get fully going. Perhaps the restart will put everyone in the same boat. That would be good in terms of allowing him to finally get going – as opposed to trying to break into the team midway through the season when everyone else is in form.
Adams, 21, is still relatively new to manager Julian Nagelsmann, who has split Adams at right back and at his preferred defensive midfield position. It will be telling if Adams can use the restart to claim the defensive midfield position as his primary role.
The games will all be important. RB Leipzig sits in third place – five points behind the leaders but only three points clear of fifth place Bayer Leverkusen for a Champions League spot. RB Leipzig has one of the easiest schedules among those in the Champions League positions. The only time it meets a top six opponent is against Dortmund in the second-to-last game.
Here are their opponents: SC Freiburg, Mainz, Hertha, Cologne, Paderborn, Hoffenheim, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Borussia Dortmund, Augsburg.
Matarazzo & Stuttgart chasing promotion
Pellegrino Matarazzo is one of just two American born/raised managers at prominent European clubs and the New Jersey native is attempting to lead Stuttgart to promotion to the Bundesliga. Matarazzo, 42, took over Stuttgart during the winter break and the club moved from third into second place.
ASN spoke with Matarazzo in March about taking the job and his goals for the future.
But now it must hold onto second place and Matarazzo is under pressure to do so. Stuttgart might be in the second division but it is one of Germany’s biggest clubs with a very large fanbase. If Matarazzo leads Stuttgart to promotion, it would be one of the best accomplishments for an American coach.
It’s a doable path. Of the nine remaining opponents, Stuttgart has to play just three teams in the top 10. It will also have matchups against teams currently sitting in 12th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th, and 18th in the 18-team league. It’s first opponent will be 16th place SV Wehen Wiesbaden. The biggest match will be in the third game against third place Hamburg.
If he is successful, Matarazzo would join David Wagner as the league’s only other American manager and he would be the first manager in the league who was born and raised in the United States.
Greurther Furth reportedly wants Julian Green to return to the club next season but the Florida-born attacker has been injured recently and has played just once since November. Furth is in fifth place of the 2.Bundeslga and has no chance of promotion. If Green is given a chance, can he play his way to another contract.
There are two American forwards in the 2.Bundesliga who can't seem to get any minutes. Sebastian Soto and Bobby Wood – but both have interesting circumstances with their benchings. Sebastian Soto impressed last year at the U-20 World Cup and did not want to sign a new deal with Hannover. As a result, his playing time was limited – but when he played he was met with criticism from the manager. He is reportedly the target of an English club but that would likely have him join a “loan army.” His career needs momentum.
With regards to Bobby Wood, he rarely plays for Hamburg these days and is on a hefty contract that makes him nearly impossible to move without Hamburg absorbing most of the balance. Will the club finally get him to move after the season?
In the Bundesliga, Timothy Chandler had a lot of momentum with Eintracht Frankfurt prior to the shutdown where he was seeing time as a winger. Now 30 years old, can he use his strong performances to break back into the national team picture.
If there is one younger player who is flying under the radar, it is St. Pauli’s Leon Flach who made his United States debut back in January when he earned a call-up to the U.S. U-20 team. (ASN spoke with Flach during his call-up) Flach, 19, can play both left back and defensive midfield and is closing in on a call-up to St. Pauli’s first team. If it doesn’t happen this season, it will happen early next season. But the conditions seems to favor Flach this season. St. Paul has no hopes for promotion and likely won’t be threatened with relegation. When you combine that with a congested schedule, Flach could soon be making first-team appearances in the 2.Bundesliga.