Although Copa America is played in South America and MLS is the top league in the U.S. and Canada, one still sees the influence of the German Bundesliga in the Western Hemisphere during the summer. With only a few days to go until Sunday’s 2. Bundesliga kickoff and less than a month until the August 5 start of the Bundesliga season, let’s take a look at the influence of players with German playing backgrounds.
While only eight players currently active for German clubs are part of the approximately 275 players involved in this year’s Copa America, those players are making a substantial contribution to their national teams successes. Despite the absence of familiar South American Bundesliga stars such as Claudio Pizarro, Diego, Naldo, Wesley, Carlos Zambrano, Jefferson Farfan and many more from the tournament, the Bundesliga can always count on vital performances from their players, no matter what continent they play on.
This is the Copa America tournament of the underdogs, as heavyweights Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have not approached their normal standards of elite play. Colombia, competing in Group A and anchored by Hertha Berlin’s Gustavo ‘Adrian’ Ramos in midfield, rode two Falcao goals to victory over Bolivia Sunday and are the first team to advance to the competitions’ knockout stages. Ramos has scored once in the tournament so far, and has been subbed for in each of Colombia’s matches by Mainz’ Elkin Soto.
Meanwhile, Tomas Rincon of Hamburg and Gladbach’s Juan Arango have been a part of the Group B leading Venezuela side, surely a surprise of the tournament. La Vina Tinto have yet to make a World Cup appearance and have not fared well in previous Copa America tournaments, but they haven’t allowed a goal yet in two Copa America matches, holding both Brazil and Ecuador scoreless. Arango is second in all time caps for his country. VfL Wolfsburg’s Yohandry Orozco, only 20 years old, is also on the Venezuelan squad.
Venezuela face Paraguay Wednesday. Paraguay only have two points in the tournament, having drawn with Ecuador 0-0 and Brazil 2-2. Led by Borussia Dortmund’s Lucas Barrios upfront, it was former Bundesliga players Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Haedo Valdez who scored the goals to draw with Brazil.
In Group C, co-leaders Peru and Chile, each with four points, meet Tuesday. Hamburg’s Paulo Guerrero has scored 2 goals for Peru so far, including the winner over Mexico Friday. Arturo Vidal of Bayer Leverkusen has scored once for Chile. With eight of the 12 teams in Copa America advancing to the quarterfinals, it’s quite likely that the Bundesliga will be continue to be well-represented as this tournament continues.
What is amazing is that through Sunday, only 21 goals have been scored so far in Copa America, yet Bundesliga players have notched four of those goals. If you add in the goals by former Bundesliga veterans Santa Cruz and Valdez, the total goes to a whopping six goals, almost a third of the goals scored so far in Argentina this July.
The MLS has yet to gain the universal respect of soccer fans, but the league, like the J-League in Japan, Australia’s A-League and South Korea’s K-League, is a relative upstart in the footballing world and is helping raise the profile of the beautiful game in the U.S. and Canada, as the other young leagues have in their respective nations. As the elite international football powers are learning, playing Japan, Australia, South Korea and the U.S. is subsequently no walk in the park.
The MLS is in its fifteenth season, and one of the biggest rivalries is between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. This rivalry between Pacific Northwest clubs (which also includes the Vancouver Whitecaps) goes back to the mid-1970s in the old NASL, and Sunday the Sounders and Timbers played before a packed stadium of almost 17,000 with the Sounders winning 3-2.
What does this have to do with German soccer? Well, Seattle started 41 year-old goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who played in 78 league matches with Borussia Monchengladbach between 2005-2007, while Portland’s starting right back Steve Purdy, who played in the recent Gold Cup for El Salvador and appeared in 26 matches with the 1860 Munich reserve side during 2006-2007. Portland’s two second half substitutes were former Hannover 96er Sal Zizzo and Kenny Cooper, who scored twice in 12 matches for 1860 Munich.
While Toronto FC’s signing of Torsten Frings has drawn headlines, the MLS hasn’t been devoid of talent molded in Germany. New England’s Benny Feilhaber was with Hamburg SV between 2005 and 2007, playing in 49 reserve matches and nine senior squad games. Former FC Koln goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is a playing well as the regular keeper with the Philadelphia Union. Veteran LA Galaxy Jovan Kirovski played for Borussia Dortmund and Fortuna Koln in the late 1990s, while Galaxy teammate Gregg Berhalter made almost 200 league appearances for Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich and Galaxy leader Landon Donovan had two trials with Bayer 04 Leverkusen and one with Bayern Munich. Colorado’s Conor Casey has scored six times this season. The 29 year-old forward spent six seasons in Germany, playing for Borussia Dortmund, Hannover 96, Karlsruher SC and FSV Mainz 05.
Even the reborn NASL, representing Division 2 soccer in the Canada, the U.S. and Puerto Rico, features players with German experience. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers’ Bryan Arguez scored his first 2011 goal Saturday. The midfielder played in ten reserve matches and one senior match for Hertha Berlin in almost two seasons while FC Edmonton’s young star forward Kyle Porter played 16 reserve matches for Energie Cottbus. Porter, 21,has scored five goals in 10 matches for Edmonton. And former Hannover midfielder DeMarcus Beasley will play in the Mexican Primera Division this year with Puebla.
Of course this short list doesn’t include retired American internationals who played both in MLS and in Germany — players such as Brian McBride (VfL Wolfsburg), Tony Sanneh (1. FC Nurnberg, Hertha Berlin), Eric Wynalda (Saarbrucken, Bochum), Claudio Reyna (Wolfsburg, Leverkusen), Joe-Max Moore (Saarbrucken, Nurnberg), Paul Caliguiri (Hamburg, Hansa Rostock, SC Freiburg, St. Pauli) and many others. And while those of us far from Germany anxiously await the new season, we can follow current and former Bundesliga players in our own countries, and see the influence of German football thousands of miles away.
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