Thursday, May 14, 2020

One of the biggest sports leagues on the planet is about to start back up, are you paying attention?

  March: Lovely weather, flowers blooming, spring breakers, and.....COVID Lockdown world wide?  The current SARS-COVID2 crises left a gaping hole for sports fans world wide.  Unilaterally almost every sports league in the world shut down simultaneously.  With everyone social distancing, widespread stay at home orders, and many businesses here in the U.S. closed, a major part of our leisure time was also stricken off the television sets: Sports.  No more NBA, no more MLS, no MLB, and no soccer.  That is about to change however with one of the biggest and best sports leagues on Earth coming back to play.  The Bundesliga is home to some of the most exciting soccer you will see, tremendous rivalries, huge storied teams, and great atmospheres.  I'm not going to use this post to talk about the awesomeness of promotion/relegation or 50+1, but more so why to watch, who to watch, and how you can watch. 
  The Bundesliga isn't just home to some of the greatest talent on the planet, it's home to some of the best American talent on the planet.  Roughly 30  Americans play in the Bundesliga's first and second divisions, most of which are vying for time on the U.S. National team.  The Bundesliga is helping churn out our best talent, including Christian Pulisic.  But, there is also great tradition, and wonderful exciting sport that comes along with it.  Don't know anything about the Bundesliga?  That's fine.  Want to join in but needing a team to root for?  Excellent.  Below I will give a small break down of all 18 teams in the first division, as well as a couple of notable 2. Division teams.  You can watch games beginning Saturday on Fox Sports, FS1 and FS2.  You can watch all 1st and 2nd division games with Fox Soccer MatchPass ($19.99 per month.). 
But First, a simple breakdown of league format for those unaccustomed to European Soccer:
Competition Format: Throughout the course of the season, each team plays all teams in their division twice: Once at home, once away.  Points are awarded based on result; 3 - win, 1 - tie, 0 - loss.  The team with the most points at the end of the season is the champion.  This is where it gets a little interesting however.  There is more to play for than only the league championship, and this super sweet trophy: Die Meisterschale (Champions Bowl)
Guardiola can still complete final Bayern assignment: win ...

Matchday 26.
No Playoffs? What else is there to play for?
A ton. Top four teams go to the UEFA Champions League.  This is where the best clubs in all of Europe go to play mano-e-mano with large amounts of money and pride at stake.  The winner can claim to be the best club in Europe, and therefore one of the best in the world.  The next two (Places 5 and 6) go to UEFA Europa League.  This is basically the N.I.T. of European Soccer.  Also good money at stake, lots of prestige in both making it and winning it.  Two teams are still alive in Europe.  Bayern Munich is still playing in the round of 16 Champions League, and Eintracht Frankfurt is alive in Europa Leagues round of 16 as well.
    There is also relegation at stake.  The bottom two teams automatically swap places with the top two from the 2. Bundesliga, and the third to last has to play a 2 game series, winner take all with the third best team in the 2. BLiga.  This happens every year, at almost every level of German Soccer.  So, in theory, a Sunday Beer League team could essentially one day become a fully professional organization (given they have a stadium) by winning their league consistently year after year.  

OK, but who should I root for?
Below is a brief breakdown of each club, sorted by current standings.  I'll briefly walk you through each clubs history, their best players, any Americans in the ranks, and why you should pick them.
(Buy-earn - Moon-Chin)
Commonly Known As: Bayern

Top Players:  Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Mueller, Phillipe Coutinho, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry, Niklas Sule, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba.

American Players:  Chris Richards (17 year old Defender, Formerly of FC Dallas), Malik Tillman (18 year old Center Forward, currently in youth system), Taylor Booth (18/Midfielder, youth system)

You might also know: Alphonso Davies (18 year old Canadian Defender/Winger, formerly of Vancouver White Caps.) Maxi Kleber (NBA player, Dallas Maverick, former Bayern Munich Player).

You will like them if: (1) You like global domination (2) You like the NY Yankees (3) You like teams with dominant history, that play solid and exciting soccer, and are one of the biggest teams on the planet.  Bayern Munich is a storied club, winning roughly half (29) of the Bundesliga Championships since it's current form came about in 1962. Bayern has an enormous trophy room packed full to the gils with league championships, DFB Pokal trophies, Golden Boot (top scorer) awards, and basically every accomplishment a team can get.  They have tons of money, they have rabid fans, and they win.  They are the N.Y. Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Boston Celtics of the Bundesliga. Bayern has a massive fanbase both within Germany and America. If you are a fan of the Bundesliga, you either love them or hate them.

(Bore-oose-yuh Door-t-mund)
Commonly Known As: Dortmund

Top Players: Thorgan Hazard, Marco Reus, Julian Brandt, Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Mats Hummels, Roman Burki
American Players: Giovanni Reyna (17 year old Midfielder)
You might also know: Thomas Delaney, Mario Gotze, Axel Witsel
You will like them if: (1) You like fast breaking, high pressing action.  (2) You like the mid-00's Suns or the current Houston Rockets (3) Christian Pulisic.....Borussia Dortmund routinely plays an exciting style of soccer, and they put up points.  Dortmund also gives up a lot of points too. The last team to win the league title not named Bayern Munich, Dortmund is a constant challenger.  They started off slow, but since the addition of Erling Haaland, and the goal scoring tear he went on once arriving, Dortmund are looking like actual challengers down the stretch.  Dortmund has a good history, with 8 league championships and plenty of other trophies to boot.

(RB Lipe-zig)
Commonly Known As: Leipzig, 

Top Players: Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen, Emil Forsberg, Kevin Kampl, Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate, Lucas Klosterman
American Players: Tyler Adams (21 year old midfielder, USMNT standout), Noah Jones (18 year old Center Forward, currently in the Developmental system)
You might also know:
You will like them if: (1) You prefer Darth Vader to Obi-Wan Kenobi (2) You like crashing parties when nobody wants you there (3) You like really talented teams that play hard and play exciting. RB Leipzig is probably the most hated team within Germany.  Why?  If you ask a German, not from Leipzig, you'll get an answer similar to: "Because Red Bull cheated the rules and created a club to be nothing more than a commercial."  That being said, RB Leipzig had a meteoric rise from a 5th division club, has some of the most exciting players in the world on their team, and is a real threat to win the league title year after year.  Timo Werner, although inconsistent, is a rocket.  He tears through defenses with speed and is an excellent goal scorer.  They are fun to watch, they are always dangerous, and if you like the villian, this is your club. Head Coach Julian Nagelsmann is a young, brilliant, extremely innovative tactician that has Leipzig packing a punch. Leipzig is also one of only two teams in the 1st Division from the former East Germany.

(Bore-oose-yuh Moon-chin-glad-back)
Commonly Known As: Gladbach

Top Players: Breel Embolo, Markus Thuram, Alassane Plea, Florian Neuhaus, Nico Elvedi, Denis Zakaria
American Players: Fabian Johnson (31 year old midfielder/left back) Michael Wentzel (18 year old defender, currently in youth system)
You might also know: Matthias Ginter, Yan Sommer, Raffael
You will like them if: (1) You like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland A's, or teams that were once dominant, and still consistently relevant. (2) You loved watching Fabian Johnson play, and still think he should be on the USMNT. (3) You prefer watching reruns of 1970's NFL films highlights to watching the NFL on Sunday. Gladbach once had a proud tradition and some of the best players on the planet. Dominant in the 1970's, with an innovative and creative style of soccer, they swept through the Bundesliga to a tune of 5 titles during the decade. Since then, they have been a mid-table club occasionally finishing in European Competition spots, occasionally battling relegation. They do have a nice attack and are playing great soccer at this point through the 2019/2020 campaign. The spent a good part of the year at the top of the table, and were leading the league on Matchday 14 after a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich. Can they hold onto a Champions League position? Will they continue to falter down the stretch? Currently only 6 points out of first, they are still within shouting distance of a title. Also once the home of USMNT's Michael Bradley, Gladbach is a solid club with deep roots.
(Bay-er Lave-er-kuse-en)
Commonly Known As: Leverkusen

Top Players: Kai Havertz, Leon Bailey, Kevin Volland, Jonathan Tah
American Players: None
You might also know: Lucas Hradecky, Wendell, Kerem Demirbay, Moussa Diaby, Paulinho
You will like them if: (1) Leverkusen started as a sports clubs for the workers of Bayer AG ( pharmaceutical company). (2) was once the home of Landon Donovan (3) You like teams that are in a steady and consistent rise. (4) Leverkusen has one of the best Twitter presences in all of #SoccerTwitter.  Leverkusen has been on the rise from a Regional League team to a first division constant since the 1980's.  Never having won the first division championship, they were winners of the 2.Liga trophy in 78-79 and the UEFA cup in 87/88 and have been a steady Bundesliga presence for 3 decades..  While never having won the title, Leverkusen has had a series of top 4 finishes, including 7 top 4's in the last 10 years and finishing as high as second in 2010/2011.  In Bailey (22) and Havertz (20), Leverkusen has two young stars that could be generational type players.

Commonly Known As: Schalke

Top Players: Amine Harit, Suat Serdar, Omar Mascarell, Alexander Nubel
American Players: Westin McKinney, David Wagner (Head Coach), Nick Taitague, Matthew Hoppe.
You might also know:
You will like them if: (1) You like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and rooting for your teams young stars win Championships for the Yankees. (2) You like "Loveable Losers" (Saints, Cubs etc.). (3) You love small market teams that fight hard, produce terrific prospects, and are from a blue collar town.  There are two big reasons to jump behind this team: David Wagner, and Westin McKennie.  Unlike the Devil Rays, Schalke is a 7 time Bundesliga Champion, but haven't won a single championship since the Bundesliga came into it's current form in 1962.  Schalke is a good, tuff, and gritty team. They are an old school, traditional Bundesliga team that has been around since 1904.  There is a lot to root for in the Veltins-Arena on matchday.

Commonly Known As: Wolfsburg
Top Players: Wout Weghorst, Maximilian Arnold, Koen Casteels
American Players: John Brooks (27/Defender) Ulysses Llanez (19/Midfield) Michael Edwards (19/Defender)
You might also know: William, Joshua Guilavogui, 
You will like them if: (1) You dig Volkswagens (2) you appreciate their history with American players (Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna), You like small town clubs with big punch.  Wolfsburg does have a fairly recent title under their belt (08/09) a German Cup (14/15) and a Super Cup (15/16).  Wolfsburg is home of Volkswagen, and in the past they have had problems getting people in their stands on weekday games.  Wolfsburg fights, a consistent Bundesliga member since working there way out of the Regional Leagues in the 80's and 90's to reaching the top division in 1997.  Wolfsburg has a nice stadium, solid players, and are a consistent mid to high table team. They also have fairly awesome uniforms.
Commonly Known As: Freiburg
Top Players: Nils Petersen, Luca Waldschmidt, Christian Gunter, Robin Koch
American Players: N/A - Most Recent - Caleb Stanko and Alex Mendez
You might also know: Chang Hun-Kwan, Alexander Schwolow
You will like them if: (1) You love beautiful German cities in the heart of the Black Forest. (2) You appreciate teams that consistently churn out homegrown talent on a shoe string budget. (3) You love the "Little engine that could."  Freiburg is the perpetual underdog.  Freiburg has been up and down the 1st and second divisions for the better part of 20 years.  Never placing higher than 5th, Freiburg is always a scrappy team with one of the lowest payrolls in the league, and in Europe.  When the opponent steps into Der Schwarzwald-Stadion, they are in for a dogfight backed with rabid fans.  Freiburg is a team and a fan base that should be deeply respected. Head Coach Christian Streich will always have them playing solid defensive, team work based soccer.  

Commonly Known As: Hoffenheim
Top Players: Andrej Kramaric, Florian Grillitsch, Sebastien Rudy, Diadie Samassekou, 
American Players: N/A
You might also know: Oliver Baumann, Stefan Posch, Robert Skov
You will like them if: (1) you don't care about 50+1 (2) You appreciate the rise of a 5th division nobody to a Champions League Contender (3) you love the Croatian National team.  Hoffenheim rose the ranks of the Bundesliga, much like RB Leipzig, in meteoric fashion with the addition of big money from supporter Dietmar Hopp.  Hoffenheim circumnavigated the 50+1 rule, and the board voted to allow Hopp to take majority ownership of the club.  Hoffenheim rose quickly with tremendous scouting and player acquisition from neighboring countries Serbia and Croatia.  While Julian Nagelsmann, and many of their key players have departed recently, Hoffenheim is a scrappy squad that poses problems for even the most dominant Bundesliga teams.

Commonly Known As: Cologne, FC (eff-tsay)
Top Players: Timo Horn, Johnas Hector, Ellyes Skhiri, Jhon Cordoba
American Players: Brady Scott (20/Goal Keeper, reserve team)
You might also know: Mark Uth, Anthony Modeste, Dominick Drexler
You will like them if: (1) you have a soft spot for traditional, big clubs that have fallen on hard times. (2) you love Mardi Gras.  (3) like the Green-Bay packers. (4) you like teams with massive potential and possible resurrection stories. Koln won the first ever Bundesliga Championship in 1963-64.  They won again in 77-7, and had 5 second place finishes between 1964 and 1990.  Once a power team in the Bundesliga, Koln has fallen on hard times.  Koln has been and elevator club (constantly moves up and down divisions) for most of the 2000's.  2018/2019 saw them win the 2. BLiga, and currently they are a hard working, undertalented team that when they play together can be very dangerous. After struggling in the early going, Koln has been steadily climbing the table for weeks.

(Oon-yawn Bear-leen)
Commonly Known As: Union Berlin
Top Players:
American Players:
You might also know:
You will like them if: (1) you love one of the coolest stories in all of professional sports. (2) you love an underdog. (3) you are looking for a feel good story and cheering for a team just to stay up.  Union Berlin is an amazing story, as I don't have time to get into the complete history, they shocked many last year by winning the relegation playoff in 2019 (only the second club ever to do so since 1981) for their first ever trip to the top flight.  Currently, only the second East German side in the Bundesliga, they are Mighty Mouse; they play hard, their fans cheer hard, and every win is a Rocky Balboa type struggle.  They are a fun story, play good soccer, and a fun team to jump behind.

(Ine-tract Frank-fort)
Commonly Known As: Eintracht, SGE
Top Players: Kevin Trapp, Martin Hinteregger, Filip Kostic, Danny DaCosta
American Players: Timothy Chandler (31 -RB, RM) Mason Judge (17 - Defender, youth team)
You might also know: Makato Hasabe, Jonathan de Guzman, Andre Silva, Bas Dost, 
You will like them if: (1) you want to be part of the best fan base in all of sports. (2) you love exciting counterattacking soccer. (3) you have stock in ant-acids. Eintracht Frankurt's nickname is "The Moody Diva", and as a fan of this club I can't tell you how appropriate that is.  They love to elate you, then rip your guts out.  Things like beating Bayern 5-1 (one of Bayern's worst losses to anyone in recent memory) while making good runs in the DFB Pokal and the Europa League, then losing six out of seven contests.  Eintracht has exciting players and talent, and their fans make every game feel like a home game.  Not the biggest club, they've never won a Bundesliga title, but their fans will always make every game feel like a home game. They are a must follow.

(Hair-tuh Bear-lean)
Commonly Known As: Hertha
Top Players: Dodi Lukebakio, Marko Grujic, Krsysztof Piatek, 
American Players: Vedad Ibisevic (35/CF, duel national) 
You might also know:
You will like them if: (1) you love the NY Knicks, or the NY Jets. (2) You're looking for a club with massive potential (3) You love "If they can just get the right guy in there..." scenarios.  Hertha has had the lion's share of Germany's biggest market, with a massive stadium for nearly a half century.  Hertha has all the makings of a sleeping giant, but in 50 years they have yet to build the fan base needed to dominate the landscape, or successfully compete at the highest Bundesliga levels.  Successful runs in the 1970's and 2000's bookend horrific plummets to the depths of German soccer. Hertha has never won a Bundesliga title (have won 3 in the 2.Liga), but are 3 time DFB Pokal winners.  Overspending, poor management, and the inability to draw the attention of a city that has a population of 3.5 million has left fans of the club baffled.  As cross town rival Union Berlin showed, the city will get behind a club they believe in.  Hertha seems to be making strides to correct course, and could be a good ship to jump on if they ever figure it out.

Commonly Known As: Augsburg
Top Players: Florian Niederlechner, Philipp Max,  Tomas Koubek
American Players: Maurice Malone (19/CF)
You might also know: Tin Jedvaj, Rani Khedira, Felix Gotze
You will like them if: (1) you love small college sports. (2) You want a great sense of community out of your team experience. (3) You like traditional clubs.  Augsburg has slowly grinded their way up the German soccer landscape to a club that can hold it's own at the first division.  For nearly 50 years Augsburg bounced back and forth between the lower divisions, until winning promotion in the 2010-2011 season. Augsburg has stuck ever since, placing as high as 5th and winning a spot in the Europa League in 2014/2015.  Augsburg is a tuff, gritty club from a beautiful Bavarian town. Without big-time sponsorships, and with one of the smallest supporters groups in Germany, Augsburg is a well run club with a family atmosphere.

(Mine-ts Null-fuh-mpf)
Commonly Known As: Mainz, the 05'ers.
Top Players: Robin Quaison, Moussa Niakhate, Robin Zentner, Jean-Paul Boetius
American Players: N/A
You might also know:
You will like them if: (1) you love the opportunity for bright young coaches to come innovate the game, with the freedom to do it. (2) You love teams that punch above their weight. (3) You love Jurgen Klopp.  Klopp put both himself and Mainz '05 on the map with a rise through the 2. Liga, winning promotion in 2004.  After a brief 2 year stint back in the 2. liga, Mainz has held a steady place in the Bundesliga for a decade.  Mainz has a history of getting good young coaches and giving them freedom to innovate.  Always near the bottom in spending, without major sponsors and having a small supporters group, Mainz is still a battle on many match days.  Mainz sits in the midst of beautiful wine country near the Rein and Mainz rivers, and has wonderful fans and supporters. Also once the home of USMNT legend Conor Casey.

(For-tuna Doo-sell-dorf)
Commonly Known As: Dusseldorf.
Top Players: Rouwen Hennings, Erik Thommy, Kaan Ayhan, Matthias Zimmerman
American Players: Zac Steffen, Alfredo Morales
You might also know:
You will like them if: (1) you hear Uwe Rosler's story (2) you want to watch what Zac Steffen can do on the big stage.  (3) you are into traditional, old school clubs.  Rosler looks to bring an up-tempo, high paced attack to Dusseldorf to close out the season.  Duesseldorf holds one German German Championship (32/33, before the formation of the Bundesliga) two DFB Pokals, and two 2. BLiga championships.  Dusseldorf has little to hope for this season save staying up, and every game here on out will be a battle.  Zac Steffen has been wonderfully solid for them in goal this year, and getting to watch two Americans anchor the defense for this squad is worth a look.
(Vair-der Bray-men)
Commonly Known As: Werder Bremen
Top Players: Davy Klaassen, Jiri Pavlenka, Maximillion Eggestein, Leonardo Bittencourt, Milot Rashica
American Players: Josh Sargent (19/Striker)
You might also know: Niklas Moisander, Omer Toprak, Kevin Vogt, Nuri Sahin
You will like them if: (1) you like traditional as tradition can get. (2) you love passing, ball movement, and people movement. (3) you are looking for an underdog story.  Bremen is in a deep hole.  18 points through 24 games has left them 8 points shy of being safe, and currently running a goal differential of -28 on the season, it hasn't been pretty for Die Grün-Wießen.  Injuries have absolutely decimated the club this year, and left an already thin roster even thinner.  Florian Kohfeldt is a young, energetic coach that has them playing really fun soccer to watch.  Bremen just hasnät had enough in the tank to pull out games.  Bremen is a traditional club, 100% supporter driven, and has a strong history with four Bundesliga Championships and six DFB Pokal trophies.

Commonly Known As: Paderborn
Top Players: Dennis Srbeny
American Players:
You might also know:
You will like them if: You want to cheer for the team that might win the 2.Liga next year. Paderborn is a yo-yo club.  They will bounce from the third to the first division, back to the second.  They are a small club that plays hard and has a good base.

Other teams from other divisions that might catch your attention:
FC St. Pauli  
Why Watch? If you like for your club to be social activists and have a really cool flag.
Gruether Furth 
Why Watch? Julian Green and Timothy Tillman are getting good minutes there, and they are fun to watch.
Hannover '96
Why Watch? Sebastien Soto is an up and coming USMNT hopeful.
Hamburger SV
Why Wach? Don't watch for Bobby Wood.  He's been terrible and hasn't seen the field in 10 games.  Do watch to see if this large, traditional club which had never been relegated until two years ago can win their way back to the top.

So, that's it.  Grab a coffee, make some pancakes, and enjoy the Bundesliga this Saturday starting at 8:30 Central.  Check out Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Gladbach at 11:30, there are games Sunday and Monday as well.  It's a great time to get into the Bundesliga.  

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