It’s been a busy summer for soccer, with the United States men’s national team going through a memorable and controversial if unsuccessful Gold Cup and the women’s team currently engaged in a World Cup run that evoked memories of Algeria on Sunday, but some of the European leagues are closing in on kickoff. This weekend, in fact, the 2nd Bundesliga will kick off with five Americans seeking promotion to the top flight.
Edson Buddle joined FC Ingolstadt 04 in January after having been a finalist for Most Valuable Player in his last season with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. Die Schanzer stood at 3-12-3, good (poor?) enough for 17th place of the 18 2nd Bundesliga clubs, at the time that Buddle joined. He scored a goal against fellow US international David Yelldell in his debut against Duisburg, helping them Ingolstadt earn a critical 1-1 draw against the then-4th place Zebras.
While you can’t credit the World Cup veteran Buddle too much— he finished with three goals in 14 matches— Ingolstadt played significantly better after his arrival, finishing on a relative tear down the stretch with a 6-3-7 finish. The 25 points earned in the final half of the season was double their first-half effort, and while challenging for promotion is not realistic, if they can replicate anything close to that form for a full season they should at least be able to avoid needing another great escape.
Moritz Hartmann will continue to be the first-choice forward in Benno Möhlmann’s single-striker formation, but based on preseason results Buddle looks to still be ahead of Caiuby for first forward off the bench. Ingolstadt will open with a trip to recently-relegated FC St. Pauli.
Matt Taylor earned himself a personal promotion even as his club last year, Rot Weiss Ahlen was relegated from the 3rd Liga. (In fact, right now it’s not certain that Rot Weiss Ahlen will play at all this season due to financial insolvency. They’re currently licensed for the NRW-Liga (5th division)— they were actually originally outside the 3rd Liga drop zone.) It wasn’t Taylor’s fault that Rot Weiss Ahlen struggled so much. He scored 17 goals, providing 37% of their total goals as they had a respectable offense (46 goals ranked them tied for 9th). Taylor himself finished tied for 3rd in goals scored (and made the OT XI!). He was rewarded for his efforts with a return to the 2nd Bundesliga, where he played in the 2008-09 (scoring 7 goals in 22 matches for TuS Koblenz) and 2009-10 (zero goals in 9 matches for FSV Frankfurt) seasons.
Now, Taylor and SC Paderborn 07 will look to turn around a generally disappointing 2010-11 season. After having earned promotion during a one-year stay in the 3. Liga in 2008-09, Paderborn finished a surprising 5th place in the 2nd Bundesliga in 2009-10. Undoubtedly harboring hopes of challenging for promotion in 2010-11, Paderborn instead finished 12th, two points ahead of Buddle’s Ingolstadt and just eight points ahead of a relegation playoff. Notably, offensive production plummeted from 49 goals in ’09-’10 to just 32 goals last season, one of three clubs to average fewer than a goal per match (along with relegated clubs Rot-Weiß Oberhausen and Arminia Bielefeld).
Based on the preseason results, it seems that Taylor figures in the efforts of Andre Schubert to turn the offense around, with Taylor generally starting up top alongside fellow new acquisition Nick Proschwitz. They’ll open that campaign against Hansa Rostock (and their awesome logo), the former club of Heath Pearce that themselves played in the 3rd Liga last season.
Ricardo Clark arrived in the 2nd Bundesliga from the opposite direction of Taylor, as Eintracht Frankfurt was somewhat surprisingly relegated from the 1st Bundesliga in 2010-11 after having challenged for Europa League spots in two of the previous three seasons. While not quite a giant club, Eintracht’s relegation was only their 4th in history (although all have happened in the last 25 years as they’ve become a bit of a yo-yo club) and they had the 16th-highest attendance in all of Europe, with Commerzbank-Arena having hosted five matches during the 2006 World Cup. So, in other words, they have the sort of financial clout that should make them a force in the 2nd Bundesliga (think of Newcastle United playing in the Football League Championship in 2009-10).
Clark made just 11 appearances in that relegation season, a result coming from a combination of poor form (perhaps a carryover from his World Cup nightmare) and recurring injuries. He did play a few times in central defense, an intriguing possibility for him as a player who is better known for his defensive skills than his dribbling or passing. There will be competition at CM, as Eintracht added Matthias Lehmann from FC St. Pauli while keeping Pirmin Schwegler (32 starts last year) and Sebastian Rode (11 starts). They did lose Maik Franz (23 starts at CB) although they added youngsters Julian Dubba and Stefan Bell and returned loanee Habib Bellaïd so there will be competition there.
Eintracht has been acting like a club planning on a short stay in the 2nd division. Rather than sell off higher-priced talent, they’ve added some decent talent. Lehmann, who scored 8 goals for St. Pauli last year (38% of their total as a midfielder) has been brought in for help as has Algeria World Cup veteran Karim Matmour from Borussia Mönchengladbach. They’ll open with a trip to one of the consistently strongest 2nd Bundesliga teams, SpVgg Greuther Fürth. (Fun fact: SpVgg Greuther Fürth finished 4th last season, the 8th time in 11 seasons that they finished between 4th and 6th in the 2nd Bundesliga. That’s some consistent mediocrity.)
Remember Luis Robles? The once-capped goalkeeper is still at Karlsruher SC, with Karlsruher having avoided the relegation playoff with a 3-2 victory over Union Berlin on the final day of the season. It was an up-and-down season for Robles. After having transferred from 1. FC Kaiserslautern (where he played sparingly over four seasons), he began the season on the bench behind Kristian Nicht. After Nicht’s rough start (he allowed 15 goals in the first three matches, including five in a draw with Energie Cottbus and four each against SpVgg Greuther Fürth and Hertha BSC), Robles was promoted. He started every match from October 16 through February 7, but then was benched following a 4-1 loss to Ingolstadt. He returned to the lineup when Nicht suffered an injury against VfL Osnabrück but returned to the bench for the final two matches. Nicht gets the last laugh, no?
Surprisingly, it was Nicht who sent his separate ways while Robles remains to battle Dirk Orlishausen, brought in from 3rd Liga club FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt. Orlishausen has been starting in the exhibition season, so it seems that Robles will begin the season on the bench. However, if Karlsruher’s defense is leaky again— and they were the only team in Germany’s three fully professional leagues to allow greater than 2 goals per match last year (St. Pauli was the only other to allow even 2.0 GPG)— you have to believe Robles will get his chance.
MSV Duisburg visits Wildparkstadion (easily one of the ten best stadium names on the planet) in the opener for both clubs on Sunday. What might have been a clash of Yanks in the nets of course has been ruined by Robles’ likely reserve status and David Yelldell’s move to Bayer Leverkusen.
Finally, one of the most exciting Nats prospects is Bobby Wood at 1860 Munich. The 18 year-old Hawaiian and USA U-20 international made his professional debut in January. The forward, having spent the first part of the season as a prominent U-23 squad player, suffered an injury in March that derailed his season. However, he has been with the first team throughout the preseason and has been featuring as a starter or sub in preseason. Looking at some match reports and analysis, it appears that he has been used both at forward and in an attacking midfield/winger role.
Captain Benjamin Lauth and Đorđe Rakić figure to get most of the minutes at striker (although there have been rumors of potential sales), but the rest of the forward corps— while eight total are on the roster— are all under the age of 23, which would suggest that Wood isn’t fighting any age bias (particularly if there are any struggles). If he can get consistent minutes and contribute to the attack, you have to believe that Wood will be a strong candidate for the 2012 Olympics, and I imagine his first goal will spark many a “Cap him now!” demands.
1860 will open the 2010-11 season on Sunday as they visit newly-promoted 3rd Liga champion Eintracht Braunschweig (a club name that just screams “German”) to its first 2nd Bundesliga season since being relegated in 2006-07.