PREVIEW: WEEKEND GERMAN ACTION
The German 3. Liga opens for business, with Matt Taylor and Preußen Münster heading south to take on Burghausen and Preston Zimmerman looking to help Darmstadt against Unterhaching.
Wacker Burghausen - Preußen Münster
Having joined Preußen Münster in the offseason, Matt Taylor will look to once again terrorize 3. Liga defenses, beginning with a trip to the southeast tip of Germany to face Wacker Burghausen on Saturday.
While Taylor did make a total of 23 appearances and notch four goals in the process last season at 2. Bundesliga club Paderborn, a return to the 3rd level will almost certainly assure him of an everyday starting role.
Two seasons ago, he was undoubtedly one of the top players in the 3. Liga, scoring a total of 17 goals in 30 appearances for Ahlen. This performance nearly single-handedly kept Ahlen out of the relegation spots, although they were eventually dropped due to off-field financial woes.
He will once again be front and center for Münster, who did well to finish 12th in the division last season after their promotion from the Regionalliga.
They could have a tough go in their season-opening trip to Bavaria, facing off against a Burghausen team that was just four points off the promotion playoff spot last season, and will certainly be looking to make another run for 2012-13.
Wacker are without a trio of players, with defender Christoph Burkhard set to miss with a hip problem, veteran defender Darlington Omodiagbe out with a pulled adductor, and midfielder Maurice Müller still work his way to fitness.
Münster are only missing French defender Clement Halet, who is recovering from an ACL injury.
Hansa Rostock - Stuttgart Kickers
Royal-Dominique Fennell will get his first taste of 3. Liga action on Saturday when Stuttgarter Kickers head northeast to take on relegated Hansa Rostock.
An impressive run last season which netted Kickers the Regionalliga Süd title saw them make a return to the third-tier for the first time since their 2009 relegation campaign.
Living in the shadows of their more renowned city rivals VfB, Kickers will hope to do better than the last-place finish of 2008-09, but could be in for trouble against a Rostock squad that will be hoping to make an immediate jump back to the 2. Bundesliga.
Fennell was a starter in central defense for the team throughout the previous season, and is expected to carry the same duties in the upcoming term.
Rostock have a full squad for the game, while Stuttgart are missing defender Fabian Gerster to an ankle problem, fellow defender Simon Köpf to ongoing ACL woes, and midfielder Tobias Rühle to a thigh injury.
SV Darmstadt 98 - SpVgg Unterhaching
Preston Zimmerman and Darmstadt will open their season on Saturday in front of the home crowd when they welcome Munich's third-choice team Unterhaching.
While they were widely tipped to be battling against relegation last season, the Lilies kept a high enough level of consistency to finish well out of danger last season.
Solid, if unspectacular down the stretch, the lost only once after the German winter had thawed, and finished a respectable 14th place, ten points ahead of the drop zone.
They will hope to avoid the sophomore slump in the new season, and with much of last season's squad still in tow, could ride their fortunes into an upper half finish after the 38-game schedule has been played.
Zimmerman consistently grew in stature and importance as the season wore on, and is expected to be a vital cog in the team's starting lineup.
Darmstadt are without defender Julian Ratei, who is ill, and forward Marcus Steegmann, who is still rehabbing after surgery.
Unterhaching are only missing defender Luka Marino Odak to a pulled muscle.
Jerome Kiesewetter is not expected to be in action for Stuttgart II on Saturday when they host FC Saarbrücken.