United States international defender and Energie Cottbus captain Gregg Berhalter has responded to this week's installment of YA Best XI questions as submitted by our readers.
I) What is it like to play in the type of hostile environment that engulfs the famed Estadio Azteca whenever the US and Mexico get together?
- Ian Fleming, Hilton Head, South Carolina
Azteca is a great environment to play. Starting with all the history of the stadium, it hosted the 1986 World Cup Final, you really feel as if you are in a sacred place.
Then there's the noise which can be so deafening you can't hear your teammate screaming 10 feet away.
Finally the fans...there are 100,000 people there and 99% are against you. It is a hostile environment which adds to the excitement of playing there. Not to mention the field is always in great condition.
II) What is life like in Germany outside of playing for your club?
- Rohan Culley, Pensacola, Florida
Life in Germany is great.
In Cottbus the way of life is much slower than what I was used to in the States. The people really take time to enjoy the simple things like biking, walking, and being with friends.
Germans are rule followers and have society set up around these specific rules. For example, Sunday is quiet day and it is considered rude to do work that makes noise in the neighborhood.
III) As you know, European leagues have 'minor' leagues in connection with the premier league of that country. Do you think that MLS should combine with the A-League in the US, so we can have relegation and promotion?
- Clay Hyatt, Franklin, Virginia
I think it is too soon for MLS to create a second division.
I think they need to concentrate first on improving the quality of the league before they expand. Teams coming in from the A-League wouldn't have the ability nor the financial backing to survive in MLS.
IV) You have been an important part of the success that the USMNT has enjoyed in the last five years, and the optimism among American fans is at an all time high. How does the rest of the world view our recent success? Are we a feared contender yet or just another side?
- Brad Baker, Ashland, Kentucky
We are definitely a team that is feared now.
I think part of it is that most of the European countries' fans would expect their team to win, but the players themselves know the game would be extremely hard.
We have some good players and are a difficult team to beat. We have gained more respect after our performance in the World Cup in 2002.
V) This has been a tough season at Cottbus, and I know the club was looking at challenging for promotion, but you're now battling for survival. How do you approach matches now that promotion is out of the cards this season?
- Kenya Brown, Baoding, China
We still have to be up for matches because the league is extremely tight and although we are in 10th place, we are only 4 points away from relegation. It has been a very hard season considering our expectation were so high and now we are battling relegation.
It is a season that nothing has gone right for us, we were ravaged with injuries, our coach got fired, our manager got fired, our new coach got a bomb thrown at him in a game, we have had lengthy suspensions...You name it it probably happened to us this season.
Having said that, we still should have performed better.
VI) How important was it for you to obtain an Irish passport? Do you feel other Americans need to explore their (for lack of a better word) roots? Do you feel their is a bias towards American players at this time, where teams may wish to miss out on an American player so that they may use a non-EU slot for someone from a country such as Brazil or Argentina?
- David Thompson, Seattle, Washington
When I first played in Holland I didn't have my Irish passport - I got it later when I went to England [and] I have to say, that it has made things a lot easier for me not being considered as a foreigner.
I think more players could benefit from this if they looked into their backgrounds.
More Americans would be abroad if it wasn't for the passport issue.
VII) What are your impressions on rising young defenders such as Onyewu, Spector, Marshall and DeMerit?
- Hector Orellana, New York, New York
I think we have a strong group of young defenders perhaps the best overall group in recent time.
However an important aspect of a defender is experience and that will come as well over time.
VIII) How have the people in Cottbus responded to an American being the captain?
- Larry Guengerich, East Petersburg, Pennsylvania
People in Cottbus have reacted well to me being captain. They are open about foreigners and appreciate people that put their heart into the club.
IX) After playing in Holland, England, and Germany, which country do you feel has challenged you the most to this point?
- Matt Taylor, Duson, Louisiana
All of my experiences so far have been challenging.
Every country I have played in has had a different style forcing me to adapt. I am grateful to have seen and played in these different environments and have learned something from each.
X) You were part of a relegation season with Cottbus during 2003-2004. American sports don't have the concept of relegation and promotion. What does it feel like to be a player on a relegated team?
- Shane Weebe, Escondido, California
Relegation is one of the worse things that can happen to a player. It leaves you with an empty feeling.
Basically you work hard the entire season only to be told your work as a team was insufficient. It hurts the fans, the players, the management, and the financial outlook of the club.
XI) Do you plan on playing in MLS before you retire?
- J. Scott Daniels, Houston, Texas
I would like to play in MLS one day.
It would the perfect ending to a career in my mind if I could finish up in my homeland. I have been on a long journey over 11 years abroad, and to be able to play in front of your family and friends every week would be nice.