Bundesliga is Back, Baby!: Weekend Recap Part 1

Whether it be a teenager that lost their precious Juul, an estranged Hollywood star away from opioids, or Josh Gordon off the weed, withdrawals can be painful. Billions of sports fans all across our great planet were suffering from similar withdrawals due to the absence of top-tier team sports for nearly 2 months. On Saturday, May 16, our prayers were answered at 6:30 AM PST, when the Bundesliga, the top German soccer league, widely regarded as the third-most competitive soccer league in the world (behind the English Premier League and La Liga), returned to action.

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Due to my typical teenage quarantine routine, 6:30 AM loomed as a humdrum time to be awake at. However, a burning urge to catch live sports for the first time in what felt like an eternity was too strong, and I decided to get up at the break of dawn to watch Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 battle for supremacy of the Ruhr region. 4 other matches were played at the same time, and all Bundesliga games this weekend had no fans in attendance.

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This weekend’s action in the Bundesliga provided a glimpse into what playing without fans will be like

While regular TSW readers might not be interested in soccer, even if it is the only action on TV, the truth is that at this point, society needs to take what’s offered and be grateful for it, a lesson not just applicable to live sports. Yes, soccer isn’t for everybody, but it sure beats waiting for the next NFL or NBA related event and over-speculating the hell out of it. For those of us more accustomed to traditional American sports, here’s a little introduction to Deutcshland’s equivalent of the NFL.

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Unlike in the USA, travel is less taxing for Bundesliga clubs

The Bundesliga consists of 18 teams in Germany, and due to the split of East and West Germany from 1945 to 1990, 15 of the teams are uncoincidentally located in the former democratic West Germany. There are multiple divisions of German soccer, and the Bundesliga uses the promotion/relegation system. Like in other soccer leagues, the home team is always on the left of the box score. Over the weekend, 9 matches were played; I will be covering the first 5 games on Saturday played at 9:30 AM EST/6:30 AM PST, and fellow TSW journalist Armaan Sodhi will be covering the other 4, played across Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

bunesliga-table
Bundesliga standings heading into Matchday 26

Borussia Dortmund 4, FC Schalke 04 0

The featured game on FS1 of the five early matchups turned out to be utter domination for the boys in black and yellow. Heading into the Revierderby, Dortmund sat at 2nd in the table, trailing only the dynastic Bayern Munich, while Schalke 04 trailed in a distant 6th. Norwegian teenage sensation Erling Haaland opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a tap-in off a cross from Thorgan Hazard (Younger brother of Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard). 

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The rivalry between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 is comparable to that of Yankees vs Red Sox, or Bears vs Packers

Haaland notched his 10th Bundesliga goal in just 9 games, while also adding two assists, showing why he’s currently the best player in the Bundesliga. Hazard also picked up a goal himself, and Portuguese winger Raphaël Guerreiro completed a brace (2 goals) in the 45th and 63rd minutes.

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USA national team fans were especially looking forward to this game, as heading into the match, there was a legitimate possibility of two Americans starting for their respective sides. Weston McKennie, regarded as one of the top players on the U.S. Men’s National Team, is a starter for Schalke 04 when healthy, and started on Saturday. 

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For Borussia Dortmund, Gio Reyna, who is young enough to be a Junior in high school, was slated to make his first start with the club. However, the promising youthful American was scratched before the game after sustaining an injury during warm ups. Reyna hopes to return to the pitch soon, but he has plenty of football left in him for what the American Outlaws hope will be a long and successful career on the pitch.

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Reyna is yet to debut with the USMNT, but has played with the U17 squad

RB Leipzig 1, SC Freiburg 1

Another early matchup with two of the top 8 teams in the Bundesliga ended with a much different result than the aforementioned Revierderby. RasenBallsport Leipzig are one of the most hated teams in the Bundesliga, and even some of their supporters dislike the club. Red Bull, owners of the club and several others across the world, wanted to name the team “Red Bull Leipzig” after buying it a few years ago. However, due to German laws, they were unable to and instead settled with RasenBallsport, which loosely translates to “Lawn Ball Sport,” to keep the initials RB. Their corporate-style club management and pay-to-win style of ownership are the reasons for the bitter hatred of the club across Germany. 

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As for the game, Leipzig came out swinging with several close goal scoring opportunities in the first half. Then, in the 34rd minute, on Freiburg’s only shot on goal of the game, Manuel Gulde unintentionally scored off a corner kick. The cross came off of the inside of his calf and rolled towards the back post past several confused Leipzig defenders. The goal may have been a fluke, but on paper it counts the same as any other goal.

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Due to COVID-19-related rules restricting celebrations, Freiburg players bumped elbows to celebrate their first half tally

In the second half, Leipzig continued their domination in possession and chances, but failed to capitalize on multiple strong chances. That was, until the 77th minute, when Yussuf Poulsen found the back of the net on a majestic header off a cross from Kavin Kampl to equalize for the home side.

Action appeared to be over, but in stoppage time, Freiburg’s Robin Koch put the ball in the back of the net from 6 yards after a headed pass from Lucas Höler. Upon review from Video Assistant Referee (VAR), a system sometimes like Dr. Jekyll and other times like Mr. Hyde for soccer fans, the goal was overturned, and the dramatic match ended in a 1-1 draw. Noteworthy to USMNT fans, American Tyler Adams earned a start for RB Leipzig in the game.

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FC Augsburg 1, VfL Wolfsburg 2

Two teams with similar sounding names at different ends of the Bundesliga table took on each other in the German region of Bavaria. It was clear from the beginning that Wolfsburg were the better squad, and after a few shots they finally connected in the 43rd minute. Renato Steffen scored on a beautiful header from the top of the box, described by the announcer as a “supergoal,” and the first half came to a conclusion. 

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Steffen and his teammates celebrated awkwardly after his goal

Augsburg wasted no time equalizing, as during the 54th minute, Tin Jevaj found the back of the net from inches away, literally. The goal came off of a free kick that deflected off the head of Wolfsburg’s John Brooks, who soccer fans may recognize as a hero for USA at the 2014 World Cup. After the ball ricocheted off Brooks’ dome, it hurtled towards the goal where it bounced off the goalkeeper’s hands to the crossbar and then bounced on the goalline, where Jevaj headed it in.

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John Brooks scored the game winning goal against Ghana at the 2014 World Cup, but Wolfsburg fans are yet to see similar heroics

Just minutes later, it looked like Augsburg had taken a lead when substitute Felix Uduokhai deflected a cross in from Philipp Max. However, VAR, the man of the match for Wolfsburg, stepped in and disallowed the goal due to an offside teammate. Wolfsburg had a few chances at retaking the lead in the second half and even hit the post once, but the game was looking like it would end in a draw as stoppage time began. But then, less than 20 seconds into stoppage time, Daniel Ginczek of Wolfsburg scored a tap-in off a cross, and minutes later the game ended with a final score of 2-1.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 0, Hertha Berlin 3

Two teams in the middle of the pack squared off in a small town in southeast Germany. On paper, the matchup was quite boring to anyone but mega-hardcore fans and subscribers, and for that reason it was featured on Fox Deportes in the USA. As expected, the game turned out to be a well-balanced affair, but Hertha were able to finish their chances and ended up scoring all 3 goals in the second half of their much needed win.

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Fortuna Düsseldorf 0, SC Paderborn 07 0

Yet another indifferent matchup on paper, this game turned out to be just as anticlimactic as expected. Both teams sat in 3rd from last and last place, respectively, so the result had more of an impact on determining which teams will be demoted to 2.Bundesliga than anything else. The teams each only had one shot on goal, and the only point of interest in the game, from an American perspective, was American Alfredo Morales entering the game as a substitute.

While the stadium looks eerie with the empty stands, it’s nice to finally have a live sport back on television. Maybe more leagues will start to pick up this option and more sports will begin their return. Look out for part 2 soon…