GERMANY SEASON PREVIEW
With 15 Americans spread across 12 teams in the top three German flights, we at YA attempted to catch as many of them as we could in the past two weeks as we put together our season preview.
While some of the boys were only good for a word or two, others had plenty to say about their thoughts on the upcoming season and where they say their team is headed from now until May.
We had our say too, though, and as we've done with our 23 Tickets and other features, we've made a prediction on each team as we see it happening over the next nine months...
: 10th place, Bundesliga
: Fredrico Insua (Boca Juniors) Michael Delura (Hannover 96) David Degen (FC Basel), Sead Ramovic (Kickers Offenbach), Christofer Heimeroth (Schalke 04), Vaclav Sverkos (Hertha Berlin)
: Jörg Böhme(Arminia Bielefeld), Thomas Broich (FC Cologne), Krisztian Lisztes (unattached), Darius Kampa (unattached), Niels Oude Kamphuis (unattached)
Perhaps no Yank in Germany is as firmly entrenched in a starting position as Kasey Keller. Last season saw the USA's first choice keeper become a local legend for his club team to go along with the status he has earned among American supporters. With backup goalkeeper Darius Kampus leaving, the two young keepers picked up to spell Keller should the need arise - Sead Ramovic and Christofer Heimeroth - should not provide any competition for the starting spot. In addition Keller was just named Gladbach captain for the 2006/2007 season.
"You never know what to expect. We're just hoping that we continue to be better than we were the year previous."
"If we're challenging for the UEFA Cup we'll be happy with that."
Keller's defense is still fairly shaky but the Foals have a strong attacking core with Oliver Neuville and Marcell Jansen. If Insua can feed the forwards and Keller has another amazing year, a run at a UEFA spot is possible. More likely, though, Insua has trouble adjusting to the German game and a weak first half dooms 'Gladbach to around a 12th place finish.
Benny Feilhaber[endlink] and http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=players&id=0098
: 3rd place, Bundesliga, Second team 13th place, Regionalliga Nord
: Vincent Kompany (Anderlecht), Jose Paolo Guerrero (Bayern Munich), Besart Berisha (AC Horsens), Boubacar Sanogo (Kaiserslautern)
: Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Naohiro Takahara (Eintracht Frankfurt), Sergej Barbarez (Bayer Leverkusen), Stefan Beinlich (Hansa Rostock), Ailton (Besiktas), Charles Takyi (FC St. Pauli), Daniel Ziebig (Energie Cottbus), Miso Brecko (Erzgebirge Aue)
After finishing third in last year's Bundesliga standings, HSV are about to reap their rewards - starting with a Champions League third qualification round matchup against Spanish qualifiers Osasuna. Hamburg's progression into the later stages of the Champions League could prove crucial to Benny Feilhaber's chances of seeing first team action.
During his first year with the club, the former U20 star proved to be a mainstay on Hamburg's second team, which competes in the Regionalliga Nord. After having practiced with the first team all of last campaign, this season the former UCLA Bruin will hope to gain some playing time in the Bundesliga.
Preston Zimmerman will not be able to officially complete his move to HSV before January 1st 2007 due to FIFA regulations on the movement of youth players. The former Bradenton resident will continue to practice with the team until that time and is expected to start with the second team once the Regionalliga returns from winter break.
"I feel that [the team and I] are in agreement that this season has to be one where I start to consistently sit the bench and wait for my opportunity to arise."
"I think that once I get my first couple chances to play in the Bundesliga [and] impress - to show that I'm at the same level with the rest of the players - then my minutes will only increase and the coach will gain confidence in my abilities."
"I think all of the [newly signed] players will have to play a reasonably big part in our season. Since we were so full in the midfield last year, we haven't really taken up any more spots in the midfield from the new players, so I don't think I'm too affected by the new signings."
"It's still great training, and obviously I have to do things on my own, [but] I'm very happy with it. I think it's all going to work out."
"[I've been] giving everything I have, practicing a lot, doing a lot of work on my own."
"It's been so long ever since I signed, and I've been so excited the whole time. I really can't wait."
Despite all of the departures, HSV still have a deep, young and talented group of midfielders that Feilhaber will be competing with for first team minutes. Expect the American to get very limited first team time, but establish himself further with the second team. While the first team is strong, they just don't have the guns to compete with Bayern and Bremen, another third place finish is in the cards.
The talent in the second team, should progress this year and easily avoid relegation fears to finish in the top eight of the Regionalliga Nord.
: 12th place, Bundesliga
: Christoffer Andersson (Lillestrom), Arnold Jan Bruggnik (Heerenveen), Erik Jendrisek (MFK Ruzomberok - loan), Gunnar Heidar Thorvaldsson (Halmstads)
: Thomas Christansen (unattached), Christoph Dabrowski (VfL Bochum), Michael Delura (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Mohammadou Idrissou (MSV Duisburg), Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Ricardo Sousa (Boavista), Daniel Stendel (FC St. Pauli)
The northerners have high hopes for the four players brought in to strengthen the attack after an offensive housecleaning was brought about in the offseason.
However, it was consistency as the main issue for Peter Neururer's 96er's last season, and captain Altin Lala and vice-captain Cherundolo will be looked upon to provide some much needed stability. This will be Hannover and the San Diego native's fifth consecutive year in the Bundesliga, a remarkable feat for the former up and down club.
"I think we have a stronger 18. We have more quality throughout the 18 players, and I think are starting 11 has gotten a little bit better as well."
"I think we are definitely deeper. We'll be able to deal with injury problems a little bit better this year, as there are new players who can step in and play."
Though the loss of Germany international Mertesacker to Werder Bremen will be tough to overcome, Hannover's potential roadblocks are more likely to come from the midfield and the "scoring by committee" forwards. Nevertheless, the club has a solid starting squad, if not much depth, and should finish just about dead center of the table.
Conor Casey[endlink] and http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=players&id=0118
: 11th place, Bundesliga
: Chadli Amri (FC Saarbrucken), Du-Ri Cha (Eintracht Frankfurt), Bakary Diakite (Wehen), Markus Feulner (FC Cologne), Ralph Gunesch (FC St. Pauli), Imre Szabics (FC Cologne)
: Mohamed Zidan (Werder Bremen), Benjamin Auer (VfL Bochum), Niclas Weiland (unattached), Dennis Weiland (Eintracht Braunschweig), Antonio da Silva (VfB Stuttgart)
After all the offseason turnover, the biggest question for Mainz boss Jürgen Klopp is: where are the goals coming from? Casey was in prime position to grab one of the starting forward spots until reaggravating a knee injury that required surgery, ruling him out until the end of August at the earliest. Klopp has done a remarkable job keeping the Mardi Gras boys at 11th for two consecutive seasons, but both the attack and midfield are full of question marks. Subotic is expected to begin with the reserve squad.
Far be it from us to question the genius of Jürgen Klopp. We say that he'll find away to keep Mainz up, just.
: 13th place, 2. Bundesliga
: Danny Schwarz (Karlsruher SC), Markus Thorandt (FC Augsburg), Antonio di Salvo (Hansa Rostock), Gregg Berhalter (Energie Cottbus), Fabian Johnson (reserves)
: Matthias Lehman (Alemannia Aachen), Emmanuel Krontiris (Alemannia Aachen), Remo Meyer (Red Bull Salzburg), Timo Ochs (Red Bull Salzburg), Quido Lanzaat (unattached), Pascal Ojigwe (unattached)
Veteran Gregg Berhalter was one of the major offseason signings for 1860 Munich, so much so that the American was named captain for the upcoming season, as they begin their third straight campaign in the second flight. 1860 have been having major financial difficulties since their drop into the second level, a condition exacerbated by their inability to return to the top flight. After finishing just out of the promotion places in fourth in 2004/2005 the blue and white had a disastrous year last year, narrowly avoiding relegation and finishing 13th.
"It's great so far. In preseason the team has really been working hard. I think we have a lot of very talented young players, so it's an exciting time."
"We're in a similar situation to Cottbus last year. We're just going to concentrate game for game and improve our performances and get better as the year goes on. But I think we have a strong team so it should be interesting. "
"Regardless of who's captain there are guys that have to take a leadership roles, [and] if we do that, we can really help the young players. They are talented, we just all need to be on the same page. "
"I would love to play in the first Bundesliga again, but I feel really comfortable with my decision and timing was just perfect for me. We reached our goals, we had a great season and it was time for me to move on and I feel great about that."
"It's a stronger league [than last year] and that's exciting also. There a lot of good teams in the league and a lot of teams with promotion aspirations, so it is going to be exciting."
The experienced leadership added during the offseason will help Munich avoid last season's relegation worries but the team will finish a couple spots short of the promotion place they so desperately need.
: 2nd place, Regionalliga Nord
: Joseph Olumide (Waldhof Mannheim), Silvio Adzic (SpVgg Unterhaching), Goran Sukalo (Alemannia Aachen), Frank Wiblishauser (FC St. Gallen), Dennis Eilhoff (Arminia Bielefeld)
: Josef Ivanovic (Sachsen Leipzig)
Yank centerback Josh Grenier seems likely to start when TuS Koblenz kick off their inaugural 2. Bundesliga campaign. Grenier has now been promoted twice with the Rhine valley minnows, helping to lead their transition from the Oberliga up to the second flight. As must be expected, Koblenz coach Milan Sasic has made considerable reinforcements to help the side compete in the second division. Whether the returning players can withstand the jump in competition remains to be seen.
"From what I've seen in preseason training as well as having played in the German Cup against bigger teams like Hertha Berlin, I actually think that the difference in level of play between the Regionalliga and the 2. Bundesliga is lesser than the jump from the Oberliga to the Regionalliga."
"Of course [playing against] the bigger teams is going to be exciting. Two years ago I'm in the Oberliga playing in front of less than 500 people against teams that are now in the 5th or 6th division, and now I'm going to be playing at FC Cologne in front of 45000 people. That's going to be amazing."
"I think we will [stay up]. It's gonna be a fight, for sure, but I think we can pull it off. Most everyone has us going straight back down, but I think we're going to surprise a lot of people. Ask Aachen - we just smoked them in a friendly with our second team and they had a quite a few of their starters out there.
"We're not a team that anyone is going to match up well against. Our system is very defensive, we like to hold the line high, and have 10 guys playing defense and be patient and take our chances when they come. It might not be the prettiest soccer in the world, but it has been effective."
"We have brought in some new faces this summer, and with that comes no guarantees that I will keep the starting position, but I'm not going to give that up without a fight. If I keep that position, that will be great for me, but I'm still going to have to perform. If I don't, then there will be someone ready to take my place."
Grenier has the toughness and desire to establish himself as a solid, if not spectacular, 2. Bundesliga centerback. Koblenz stay up, but it'll be a season long fight and it's not going to be attractive.
Grover Gibson[endlink] and http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=players&id=0043
John van Buskirk[endlink]
: 9th place, Regionalliga Nord
: Grover Gibson (Preussen Münster)
: Massimo Cannizzaro (Hamburg SV II)
Two Americans with a wealth of experience at the Regionalliga level team up this year to try to make Kicker Emden's second season in the Regionalliga even more successful than it's first. Last season the goal was clear: salvation. This year the Kickers will be disappointed with anything out of the top third.
Trainer Marc Fascher has overhauled the lineup once again, letting fourteen players go and bringing in thirteen new ones to replace them. Gibson is expected to be a permanent fixture in the starting eleven, while van Buskirk will provide veteran leadership from a mostly substitute role.
The loss of leading scorer Cannizzaro will hurt Emden, but could lead to more time for van Buskirk. Expect another midtable finish for the Frisians.
FC ST. PAULI
: 6th place, Regionalliga Nord
: Charles Takyi (Hamburg II), Daniel Stendel (Hannover 96)
: Ralph Gunesch (Mainz 05)
After their successful run in the German Cup last season gave them a taste of their former success, the only thing that will satisfy St. Pauli's fans is promotion. The Reeperbahn boys have received offensive reinforcements and are already raring up for another cup run, this time starting with Bayern Munich in the first round.
"This season you can really look at the league and say that a good ten teams have a legitimate shot of promotion. Last season [Carl-Zeiss] Jena came from the Oberliga and went straight up, so in this league all the teams are very close."
"Of course I want to go up and it will be a disappointment not to, but at the same time I think that if it were not to happen we'd be in strong position to go up the next season as well."
"Part of the problem [in last season's failure to win promotion] was that we did so well in the cup, we got distracted from the real objective, and when we finally got eliminated by Bayern Munich it was too late for us in the league, but I think the main thing was dropping way, way too many points on the road."
"This year maybe we need to be more content at times with the one point, get out of there and make team try to get points from us at the Millerntor."
If last season's cup hero Felix Luz returns to his previous form, then a place in the top three should be easy to secure. Joy is expected to be a fixture at left back in his second season with the club, but could lose playing time if trainer Andreas Bergmann switches to a 3-5-2.
Joe Enochs [endlink]
: 10th place, Regionalliga Nord
: Marc Heider (Werder Bremen)
When Osnabrück captain and fan favorite Enochs took the field for the first time in the 2006/2007 season, it marked the beginning of his tenth season with the club. Just a month shy of his 35th birthday, Enochs will be looking to finally bring the Lillywhites back into the second division. After a second half slump that saw a once promising promotion push go for naught, Pele Wollitz was given license to overhaul his side. Wollitz was able to strengthen both his side's defensive and offensive capabilities, but was unfortunate to lose striker Heider to Werner Bremen.
This year's Osnabrück side will certainly improve on last year's tenth place finish, but the fight for a place in next season's 2. Bundesliga will come down to the wire. The fifth position seems reasonable.
: 13th place, Regionalliga Süd
Kaiserslautern is a club in disarray after their relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, and the chaos has extended to the second team as well. With a host of reserve players being brought up to the first team, the second team has had to dig deep into the youth ranks to make up the numbers. This should give Lancos ample opportunity to impress at the second team level. With a half a year in Germany already under his belt, the former Maryland Terrapin will look to solidify his place in the Regionalliga Süd side's pecking order.
"I'm worried first about solidifying a spot with the Regionalliga team and improving my game, before I worry about getting to the first squad. I wasn't always the starter down in the Regionalliga team, so I don't expect to make that jump right away yet, so first things first."
"The general feeling around the club is that it takes at least a year of being here before you really even begin to train with the first team, so if things go well that could happen after the winter break or so, but right now I am totally focused on the Regionalliga team."
"I think that what I most improved on [last season] was my offensive play - when to go forward or play more attacking balls through the midfield. I tended to make a lot of safe passes at the beginning instead of making a lot of attacking ones last season and now I think I am making better offensive decisions and getting us in more attacking positions."
"I think what I need to improve on is still to continue with the adjustment to the speed of play here and knowing when to hold back, when to play defensive and when to be offensive. Coming from college where it is 'attack, attack, attack' all game long is a lot different to here and I need to be smarter."
The younger Red Devils are too inexperienced and will drop down into the Oberliga.
: 8th place, Regionalliga Süd
: Christian Okpala (FC Augsburg), Sascha Benda (FC Augsburg)
David Yelldell is the rock that holds the Stuttgart defense together and the former Brad Friedel understudy will have to work extra hard as the defensive line is perhaps the Kickers biggest weak point. After losing only one starter and adding a pair of attacking options in the FC Augsburg duo of Okpala and Benda, coach Robin Dutt is very happy with his team's potential. Some have suggested that Stuttgart's second team could be a darkhorse candidate for a promotion place, an assertion that the coach won't deny.
The Kickers aren't a serious promotion candidate, but could hang around long enough to make it interesting. With some consistency the team will improve three spots on last year's finish.
: 1st place, Oberliga Hessen
: Jan Fießer (Eintracht Frankfurt), Athanasios Saky Noutsos (KFC Uerdingen)
: Goce Malinov (unattached)
Coach Matthias Hamann was able to bring Kassel into the Regionalliga in just his first year in charge, but will have an even tougher task keeping them in the league. With finances tight at the small club all of Hessen's new signings have been young players. Former US international Michael Mason returned to Kassel at the start of 2006 after an eleven year absence. The 35-year old attacker adds experience in the attack to an otherwise unseasoned roster.
Kassel will need significant contributions from it's young talents to stand a chance of staying in the third division. Hessen will be relegated, as Mason has his last hurrah at the professional level.
[note]Yanks Abroad's Bri-Mathias Hodge, Chad Winger, Mark Flannery and Harris King compiled this feature[/note]