IN THE HEART OF EUROPE
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
With a nod towards my colleague Aaron Gidding and his recent article about what the future holds for Yanks in England, I thought I would take a look at what might happen next year for some of the Germany based Yanks.

Germany has long been a destination for Americans looking to ply their trade abroad, and although the Premiership has emerged as the league with the most Yanks playing at the highest level in recent years, there is nonetheless a lot going on in Deutschland in terms of exciting soccer with Americans involved.

The Bundesliga is presently in the midst of one of its most thrilling races for first with Schalke, Stuttgart and Bremen duking it out down the stretch. The 2. Bundesliga has five teams with a realistic shot at earning one of the last two promotion spots to nirvana, and the Regionalliga Nord has no less than nine teams fighting for the two promotion spots to the land of television contract money and weekly appearances in front of a national television audience.

Unfortunately for most of the Yanks in Germany, their teams are not in thick of a championship or promotion race. Josh Grenier and Koblenz are fighting for their lives at the end of their first season in the 2. Bundesliga, Steve Cherundolo and Hannover, in their fifth season in the Bundesliga, have yet to find the consistency necessary to move closer to the top of the standings, and Kasey Keller, our first candidate, and Mönchengladbach are dead in the water.

Kasey Keller

Borussia Mönchengladbach are a team with a storied history, great fans and a new stadium, but nonetheless find themselves facing relegation for the second time since 1999. Accepted wisdom would have Keller, who is in the last year of his contract, being on the move. But I am not so sure if he wouldn't be better served staying at Borussia Park for another season.

Historically, teams such as FC Cologne, VfL Bochum, Arminia Bielefeld and SC Freiburg tend to have a better than average chance at returning to the Bundesliga the next year. Keller, who has already become one of the most popular players on the team, would have the chance to advance himself to legend if he could anchor the team that makes it back the Bundesliga.

However, without any inside knowledge, I can imagine that there are or will be offers for the veteran who is still exhibiting the ability to play at the highest level. Looking around the Bundesliga, Nürnberg, who are losing Raphael Schäfer to Stuttgart, could be an option and Hertha Berlin have been less than satisfied with Christian Fiedler between the posts.

Of course, there is always MLS...

Steve Cherundolo

Perhaps it was a World Cup hangover or Hannover's poor start, but Cherundolo had a beginning of a season best forgotten. However, with the arrival of Dieter Hecking, the Portland University product has once again, as evidenced by an assist and a goal in the last three games, established himself as one of the Bundesliga's best right backs.

Cherundolo is still under contract, and although rumors of a move to England have come and gone over the last couple of seasons, I imagine that he will stay in Hannover.

With players such as Arnold Bruggink, Szabolcz Huszti and Jan Rosenthal in the ranks, the Reds have the look of a team on the rise. Michael Tarnat, who will be 38 in October, has played beyond his years, but is prone to injury and can't play forever, so left back will be an issue sometime soon. Heath Pearce anyone?

Kamani Hill

There is not a lot of room for complaints concerning the improbable story that brought Hill from Los Angeles to Wolfsburg in January. He was a known commodity, but wasn't necessarily on anybody's list of making the move to a top European league. Surprisingly, he signed with a team with a notoriously conservative, non-communicative coach and has even been seeing first team minutes instead of floundering on Wolfsburg's fourth division Oberliga team.

I would like to have seen the youngster make a little bit more of his fairy tale story, but I will remain positive on this one. And if his most recent game against Nürnberg is any indication, he seems to be gaining confidence as the weather warms up to more California-like temperatures in Germany.

Hill is not expected to take part in any summer tournaments for the US, so after a bit of time at home, he should return to Wolfsburg for a full preseason and with the opportunity to establish himself in the first team. Mike Hanke will still be around, but Diego Klimowicz is rumored to be on his way to Dortmund for next season. Isaac Boakye is highly talented but has had a series of injuries that kept him off of Ghana's World Cup team last summer, as well as out of Wolfsburg's lineup many times in the current season.

Benny Feilhaber

Feilhaber has another year on his contract with Hamburg and will be looking to have more of the first team action he saw in the first half of the season. The problem in Hamburg, is that the midfield is full of players with outstanding pedigrees and whether Huub Stevens will reassess moving Feilhaber to HSV II when the next campaign starts is unclear. There is a lot of debate among the Yanks Abroad staff about where Feilhaber should be next season and I think Benny can compete with the the Hamburg's returning midfield contingent, but I want him to play every minute of every game next season.

As a result, a transfer or a loan would seem to be in everybody's best interests. The romantic in me would see him moving across town to lend his considerable talent to St. Pauli if and when they earn promotion to the 2. Bundesliga, but I think he is better than that. Potentially he could make a move to second division team such as FC Cologne who will be looking for promotion to the Bundesliga next season, but a move to another Bundesliga club would make more sense. Teams like Nürnberg and Wolfsburg come to mind.

Preston Zimmerman

Zimmerman(n) means carpenter in German, and Preston Z has managed to carve himself out a place in Hamburg's future. The youngster from Seattle made the unorthodox move of arriving in Hamburg in January of 2006 though ineligible to play due to his age. A year later and his passport pointing to his newly found adult status as an 18 year-old, Zimmerman has moved from only practicing to seeing action in 10 of 11 games since January.

Zimmerman appears to be right where he needs to be: he is seeing good minutes on a highly talented HSV II team, has a couple of goals to show for his efforts and is apparently impressing the Hamburg coaching staff that, even on the first team, has had a hard time finding consistent goal scorers. The blond bomber will more than likely start next season with the young Rothosen, but could still find himself seeing at least some time on the bench with the first team next season.

Gregg Berhalter and Josh Wolff

Of course Berhalter and Wolff are two different players at two different positions, but their fortunes are tied to Munich's other club, 1860. The Lions have just as much, if not more, history than their neighbors Bayern Munich, but don't have quite the success to show for their longevity. That said, they have a passionate set of fans and all will be looking for a push to back the Bundesliga next season.

Under new coach Marco Kurz there has been new life in the team, and Berhalter and Wolff will play a big role next season in making sure the play continues to improve when the new season starts in August. Berhalter is on the tale end of his career but has shown for Cottbus and now for 1860 that he can make up for being a step slow on occasion with his calm head and leadership ability. Wolff has had a couple of unfortunate injuries, but has impressed with his runs off the ball and passing ability when in the lineup.

Die Löwen don't have the money to go out and buy immediate improvement, but with such emerging players as Daniel Baier, Berkant Göktan and the Bender twins, Lars and Sven, a run at the Bundesliga should be in the cards.

Josh Grenier

Koblenz have had an up-and-down season in their first year in the 2. Bundesliga and are presently smack dab in the middle of trying to stave off relegation. Grenier, who is entering the last year of his contract, has proven that he can play at this level. He missed Sunday's game against 1860 Munich due to injury, but has otherwise started 29 of 31 games.

Koblenz have a new coach in Uwe Rappolder and it is a shame that Grenier was not available for Rappolder's first game at the helm. The win left the team three points above the drop zone and the remaining games are against Hansa Rostock, Erzgebirge Aue and SC Freiburg. Rostock and Freiburg are pushing for promotion and Aue has been in the top half of the standings all season, so it will not be easy for Grenier & Co.

I predict that Koblenz will stay up despite their precarious position and Grenier will continue lacing up his cleats on the Rhine.

Regionalliga Nord

Joe Enochs will be 36 in September, but can still play at this level, whether it be third or second division. At some point, however, I expect Enochs to follow John van Buskirk's and Brent Goulet's examples and enter the coaching ranks or team management. If the Lilywhites earn promotion this season, Enochs could potentially retire on a high note or play another season in the 2. Bundesliga. No matter what, his relationship to soccer more than likely will not end when he hangs up his cleats.

Ian Joy has been nagged by injuries in his almost two seasons at St. Pauli, but has nonetheless made huge contributions to a team who now find themselves knocking at the door of promotion. Joy has hinted at wanting to give MLS another shot after the season, but if Pauli make the jump back to the 2. Bundesliga, it might be hard for the San Diego native to say no to another year in Hamburg.

Regionalliga Süd

David Yelldell has been in Stuttgart playing with the Kickers for two seasons since returning from England, and it might be time for him to look to make the move to a higher league. Week after week the reports on his play are positive, and at 25, he could be looking for a new challenge.

Luis Robles has had four league appearances with FC Kaiserslautern II, and although the young Red Devils are on their way to the Oberliga, the 23 year-old should continue to gain experience at that level, but also with the hope that he can move up to play for the big boys in the 2. Bundesliga.

Steve Purdy hasn't seen the field yet in an official game, but he is nonetheless in a good position. Should 1860 Munich II avoid relegation, he will have a season in the Regionalliga Süd ahead of him and he is in a club that consistently gives young players a chance to play for the first team in the 2. Bundesliga.

Michael Mason will be 36 in June and has seen his play dwindle for Hessen Kassel in the second half of this season. The former US international has had a long career in Germany and should have the option to stay involved in soccer if he so desires.