BUDDLE SCORES IN INGOLSTADT DEBUT
Edson Buddle made his European debut in style, putting the opening goal past fellow American David Yelldell to give his new team FC Ingolstadt a brief lead on Friday evening, however "Die Schanzer" were unable to stave off a late charge from Duisburg, leaving each of the two teams to take home their share of the points.
A frustrating first half of the season saw Ingolstadt begin 2010 deep in the relegation zone and facing a quick return to Germany's third tier, tipping the organization's hand in bringing in one of MLS's deadliest goalscorers with the hopes of adding some strength to their otherwise ineffective front line.
Ingolstadt head coach Benno Möhlmann had hoped to have his new weapon available one week earlier for the team's first game back from the German winter break, however as Buddle's previous team the Los Angeles Galaxy was slow sending the required paperwork for his international clearance, he was forced to wait before giving the American his first run-out.
Anchored in goal by the ever-steady hand of German-American keeper Yelldell, visiting team Duisburg had spent the early part of the season looking like clear favorites to win promotion to the 1. Bundesliga.
While a small slump through the second half of the fall term had brought the Zebras back down to earth and put them in the thick of an eight-team fight for the top three spots, an imperious 4-1 win over Osnabrück to open 2011 was strong evidence that they were ready to once again return to their earlier winning ways.
A typical sub-freezing Bavarian winter evening awaited both teams as they took the field in Ingolstadt's Audi Sportpark, and while many of Buddle's 44 goals in the Galaxy Uniform over the previous four seasons had been scored under the warm Southern California sun, the low temperature was the least of his concerns.
"I grew up in New York and was just in Los Angeles for four years," he laughed following the game, "so I'm back in my element."
Perhaps taking his opponents at the opposite end of the standings a touch lightly, Duisburg coach Milan Sasic trotted out a largely front-heavy lineup, leaving Yelldell with just a trio of defenders across the back line. Buddle was given the start at the head of Ingolstadt's attack, supported by Schanzer veteran midfielder Stefan Leitl in a withdrawn forward role, giving the American ample space to roam.
Ingolstadt's Malte Metzelder redirected a third-minute corner from Leitl on frame, however his high header was weakly hit and no problem for Yelldell to grab for what would be an overall calm night for the keeper.
While Duisburg's passing game was superior in the opening minutes, the hosts nevertheless scrapped their way to a handful of chances in the early going.
Buddle was beaten by Yelldell to a potentially threatening pass rolling into the right side of the Zebras' area in the eighth minute, then showed his heading prowess eight minutes later when he headed a cross from right winger Andreas Buchner to the far post just wide left.
The Croatian coach Sasic, well-known in Germany's second tier for his coarse style on the sidelines and on the training ground, was clearly perturbed with his team's carelessness in allowing their hosts into dangerous positions as he loudly clamored orders from his technical area.
Despite their overall control of the game in the first half-hour, the Zebras were lacking the final killer instinct to truly threaten Ingolstadt keeper Sascha Kirchstein, and only had their first real chance after 32 minutes.
Benjamin Kern completed a run up the right side with a good cross into the six-yard box, which Goran Sukalo headed goalwards from four yards out. Kirchstein initial reflex deflection of the shot saw the ball pop menacingly into the air and still on a path towards the line, however he was able to grab it before it crossed to prevent any real damage.
Ingolstadt again came close two minutes later when a quickly-taken free kick from just beyond the right edge of the penalty area was barely out of reach of Fabian Gerber's diving header, however the best chance of the half came just seconds before the halftime whistle.
Markus Karl was this time the instigator, sending a cross from the left side towards the middle of the area which Buddle rose high to head goalwards, however the ball flew just over the crossbar, sending the game to halftime still in a scoreless deadlock.
A determined Ingolstadt squad came out of the midway pause looking to stamp their authority on the game, and did a good job of dominating possession and flow during the majority the half.
Karl's header off of a cross from Tobias Fink three minutes in flew wide right, then Andreas Görlitz headed a weak shot directly at Yelldell which the keeper could have just as easily grabbed in his sleep.
Ingolstadt was having trouble converting their authority over the proceedings into any clear-cut chances until they began to show their teeth just past the hour mark.
Buddle received the ball at his feet in a dangerous position in the area after a shortly-taken corner in the 63rd, however his shot was blocked by a crowd of defenders. One minute later, Andreas Buchner hit a short cross to Buddle directly in front of goal, but again the Duisburg defense did a good job of keeping his shot from menacing their keeper.
Buchner gave Yelldell perhaps his biggest test of the evening in the 67th minute with his snap header of a Görlitz cross, however he aimed it right at the keeper making easy work for the American.
Ingolstadt central defender Marvin Matip barely missed connecting in midair with Leitl's corner one minute later, then Buddle disappointingly connected poorly with the ball in an open position in front of goal in the 73rd minute and saw his shot roll slowly and safely into Yelldell's awaiting hands.
He needed just three minutes to erase any memory of his error, however, as his predatory instinct gave the team the lead they had been pushing towards over the previous quarter-hour.
Leitl's 76th-minute corner from the left was well hit to the middle of the six-yard box, and Stefan Maierhofer's scuffed attempt to clear the ball left it directly at the feet of Buddle, who quickly and adeptly smacked it with a left-footed shot to the left of goal, well out of Yelldell's reach.
Now finding his team at the wrong end of the scoresheet, the steely Sasic impelled his players into high gear. Maierhofer's header off of an 80th-minute corner was blocked, and Ivica Grlic's long-distance blast off the rebound was also deflected by the Ingolstadt defense.
The hosts' inability to shut down the defense ultimately cost them two points, however, as the Zebras equalized with four minutes left in regulation. A long free kick from near the midfield stripe into the box could not be effectively cleared by the Ingolstadt defenders, and the ball conveniently fell directly into the path of Olcay Sahan, who rounded the keeper to the left and side footed his shot into the net.
Buddle left the game to much appreciative applause by the crowd in the 88th minute, giving fans and teammates alike hope that he would continue his scoring ways throughout the rest of the season.
Neither team was able to effectively push for a winning goal over the final minutes, with the referee's whistle blowing after one minute of added time to give each team one point.
"I'm going to look on the positive side and say that we won one point," Buddle spoke of the result after the game. "The team showed heart and I'm very proud of that, and we'll just go from here."
Despite having more than a two-month layoff since the end of the MLS season, Buddle was happy to mark his debut with a goal. "I haven't played in so long, so I'm just happy to get on the scoresheet. The team showed heart, it's a great bunch of guys and they have made me feel very welcome."
Having spent his entire professional career in MLS, Buddle does see Germany's 2. Bundesliga as a new challenge, both in terms of the experience of players on the field and the tactical aspects of the game.
"The quality is good," he evaluated. "I think it's a step up from MLS. People are very professional, and some of the guys here have played before in the first Bundesliga."
"Technically people here are more aware of what to do in games and how to move off the ball. They really try to build the play out of the back with the defenders, it's a lot cleaner and there's a lot more awareness."
While still adjusting to the new setting and style of play in Germany, he has been please by what has been a positive environment provided by both teammates and staff since his arrival.
"When I came into the locker room everybody was immediately welcoming, all of my teammates spoke English. On the field it's a little bit tougher because of the movements of players, and I'm having to learn it all over again."
"But it's been a good partnership so far and I just want to grow from this game and hopefully it will become even stronger in the future."
The point still leaves Ingolstadt second from bottom in the league, and five points deep in the relegation zone. They face a crucial pair of six-pointers in their next two games against 15th-place Rot-Weiß Oberhausen and bottom-feeders Arminia Bielefeld, which could see them climb closer to safety or further behind in their quest for survival.