Major League Soccer
Matthaeus courtship with MetroStars spurred great German interest in MLS.
By Christopher Courtney
Special to SoccerTimes
WUERZBERG, Germany (Monday, November 27, 2000) -- News that Mike Petke, the MetroStarsí young defender, is about to become perhaps the first American to get a full tryout with German Bundesliga power Bayern Munich comes as no great surprise to many German Bayern fans.
During this past summer, in the Bundesligaís off-season, this soccer-crazed nation of 80 million was shown live and taped matches featuring the best league action from Brazil and Argentina -- and Major League Soccer from the United States. The only MLS team featured consistently -- with every match shown -- was the MetroStars, the club that employed German soccer legend Lothar Matthaeus during the 2000 season.
Germany experienced an MLS and MetroStars boomlet. The team results were featured in the weekly soccer magazine Kicker and covered on the DSF Newscenter, Germanyís answer to ESPN SportsCenter. Talk to any soccer fan in Germany this summer and names like Adolfo Valencia, Clint Mathis, Mike Ammann and Tab Ramos would pop up.
Another face familiar to German fans was MetroStars defender Thomas Dooley, warmly remembered for winning a Bundesliga championship at Kaiserslautern in 1991. Ask the average German soccer fan what he or she thinks of Matthaeus being with the MetroStars, and the response was usually the same: the MetroStars can learn much from him, but the team did just fine in his absence.
Actually, over the past summer it was more than simply the MetroStars on television. Travel agencies began selling tours to New York complete with tickets to MetroStars matches. Commercials for MetroStars games showed Matthaeus trying (poorly) to play basketball in New Yorkís Central Park, and then finally sinking free throws using his feet. Even during the weeks that Matthaeus was in Belgium and the Netherlands with the German national team for Euro 2000, viewers still watched the improving MetroStars side win without him.
The German soccer media especially liked Petke, so that Bayern, which has defensive woes, is now giving him a look is not surprising.
In recognition of the fan support in Germany and Austria, the MetroStars recently completed a three-game tour of the two nations. In a way, it was a second farewell for soccer legend Matthaeus whose 150 caps, numerous Bundesliga titles, plus 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Cup crowns, make him one of the most accomplished players in German soccer history.
The MetroStars began their tour with a 2-0 win over Austrian First Division side FC Salzburg. After a scoreless first half, Ramos sent a long free kick into the penalty area where Steve Jolley headed it home for a 1-0 lead. Late in the game, Mark Chung got on the board after receiving a nice ball from Ramos, and he buried into the right corner to make it 2-0, a score which stood until the end.
Ammann, a German fan favorite, shared goalkeeping duties with Tim Howard with each making three saves. Just down the autobahn in Munich, the MetroStars played an exhibition game against the 1860 Munich reserve side which they won 3-0. American striker Taylor Twellman, an 1860 Munich reserve player, did not play in the match.
The tour continued in northern Germany in a match against Bundesliga side 1FC Cologne. Playing the match before 4,500 fans at Troisdorf halfway between Cologne and former German capital Bonn, the MetroStars fell 2-1. Comas put the MetroStars on the board in the eighth minute putting away a through ball from Ramos, who impressed throughout the European tour. Fans were disappointed not to see the rising young star Mathis make the trip, but were glad to see the team.
Matthaeus came under a great deal of criticism in Germany following the teamís and his performance in Euro 2000. Often out of position and too slow to be effective against top competition, Matthaeus, perhaps unfairly, took more than his share of the blame for the teamís early exit.
Before coming back to Germany for Euro 2000, German viewers did not see Matthaeus dominate in MLS play the way they expected him to. Even more shocking was the teamís successful run through the league during his absence. Often referred to as a holiday league in the German press, Germans are now reassessing their opinions of MLS. Is this the same league that produced most of the players that defeated their national team twice last year? Is this the league that almost released Matthaeus during the 2000 season? How can that be?
To understand what Germans think of MLS and the MetroStars, one perhaps needs to start with Mathaeus and his weekly remarks to the German press. Matthaeus told Sport Bild he was surprised at the speed and end-to-end style of MLS. He remarked that a high fitness level was required to play in the league and that the talent of some of the young players was quite promising. Talent aside, Matthaeus remarked how frustrating it was at first to adjust to what he calls the "American sports mentality."
"They always want to go forward and canít be bothered to look for the smart back or square pass to maintain possession," he said. "In football and basketball they always push forward so its just the way Americans play sports."
The average German sports fan seemed to have similar opinions. Polling the regulars at a neighborhood soccer pub, the responses were varied and interesting. Gerd, a lifelong Bayern fan likes to see that Valencia is still playing well over in the U.S. Heiko thinks the frenetic end-to-end pace is fun to watch, but not very efficient and leads to many defensive letdowns. He thinks a more patient style with better organized defenses would serve the league well.
Weekly write-ups in Kicker praised the play of Ramos and Mathis, as well as Ammann who is now rumored to be the transfer target of Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus. Those who watch are often amused by the interesting combination of young U.S. players with aging international stars."
"What are you running a soccer school or a league over there?" Gerd asked.
When D.C. United began to start 16-year-old Bobby Convey, a German friend asked if this was lega since 16-year-olds are not allowed to play first-team soccer in the Bundesliga. Convey recently turned 17 and made his first international appearance for the U.S. in a friendly against Mexico.
MLS officiating crews are another matter altogether. Matthaeus told Kicker, "MLS officials are two classes below those in Europe."
While announcing a Dallas-MetroStars match, Premiere Sports announcer Mathias Zeck could not believe Ali Saheli was a FIFA international level referee. "Too many missed calls and he let the game get out of control, not a good representative for FIFA referees," he said.
What is so impressive about the fans here is their widespread knowledge of the international game. Most German fans can name several players on the U.S. national team, and are aware of the sideís improvement under coach Bruce Arena.
While most donít want to discuss Germanyís two recent losses to the team they call the "U.S. Boys," especially the 3-0 drubbing in Florida in early 1999, my friend Klaus canít wait for the chance at revenge. "Weíll beat you next time and that will settle it," he asserted."
The fortunes of U.S. midfielder Tony Sanneh were noted last season after great run (after dispossessing Jens Jeremies) and finish against Germanyís star keeper Oliver Kahn in the 3-0 victory. Bayern fans usually have unkind words for Sanneh when he visits Olympic Stadium in Munich with his Hertha Berlin team.
American teen Landon Donovan is currently being featured prominently in both the Bild newspaper and SAT1 TV broadcasts as one of the players who will replace the aging stars at Bayer Leverkusen. 1860 Munich fans are getting to know another young American, Taylor Twellman, where he is off to a strong start with the reserve squad.
Many Germans in northern Bavaria remember U.S. striker Joe-Max Moore from his time at 1FC Nuernburg where he was rumored to make a return last year before signing with Everton in England. Every month it seems another young American turns up at a German team including Carlo Espinosa, who signed a two-year deal with a rebuilding Karlsruhe, and striker Jeff Yu who recently joined fellow American Joe Enochs at VFL Osnabruck.
While German fans by no means think of the U.S. as a major soccer power, they no longer consider it a pushover. MLS games are shown on satellite TV and more fans here are used to seeing Americans on the field in Bundesliga play. While the quality of play in the five-year-old MLS is improving but often inconsistent, the average German fan seems to see the U.S. as a soccer nation on the rise, but with still a ways to go.
Lest we forget, it was not until two-and-a-half years ago that the first goal was scored by an American (Jovan Kirovski) in Championís League play and only two years since the U.S.ís early exit from World Cup Ď98. The improvements in MLS and the U.S. team under Arena wonít be validated in German minds until the U.S. wins, or contends, in a major international tournament, or again makes it through to the knockout rounds of a World Cup, as it did in 1994.
The performance of the American Olympic team was an important step, but is still considered less important by European fans since it is not a full international tournament. The difference today is that German fans no longer seem to laugh about Project 2010, the MLS development program, after seeing American youngsters in action.
The formula that led the MetroStars to the 2000 MLS playoffs might be a thing of the past as retirements and new opportunities present themselves. Matthaeus continues to tell the German press he is out of contract for the next season and has not decided whether to play or try his hand at coaching. Given that many of his teammates from the national team such as Andy Brehme, Rudi Voeller, and Mattias Sammer are now coaching, he could be ready to join them and start the next phase of his career.
Dooley stayed in Germany following the MetroStars tour to visit with his family and continue to work toward his coaching license. When SoccerTimes caught up with him, he was en route to a Saarbrucken game with friend Michael Becker. Dooley, like Matthaeus is trying to decide whether to coach or play and appears to be leaning toward coaching.
"Iíd like to coach somewhere in the States, but I donít have anything firm yet," Dooley said.
Christopher Courtney is an American living in Wuerzburg, Germany where he follows the fortunes of American players
in Europe. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Courtney is an American living in Wuerzburg, Germany where he follows the fortunes of American players in Europe. He can be contacted at email@example.com.