The German Bundesliga is set to return to action following a long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the first and second divisions plan to complete their 34-match seasons over the next six weeks, with a very ambitious schedule that includes regular testing and quarantines. While most eyes will be on the stars and super clubs at the top of the table, there is plenty of drama and excitement to be found elsewhere. With fewer than ten matches remaining, six American players and one manager find themselves in tightly contested promotion and relegation battles in Germany’s top two divisions.
Josh Sargent — Werder Bremen
Things are not looking good for the Northern German club, which is currently in 17th place and eight points away from safety. After finishing in eighth place last season, Werder has managed a dismal four wins, including one in the last 11 matches. Josh Sargent has three goals and two assists in 18 appearances, but his output will have to increase for his club to avoid the drop. Should Werder be relegated, it’s probably not the end of the world for the young American. The 20-year-old striker would likely receive several transfer offers or a substantial increase in playing time in the second division.
Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales — Fortuna Düsseldorf
Currently in 16th place, Düsseldorf is in a dangerous position, but all is not completely lost. If the season were to end today, the club would head to the relegation playoffs against the third-highest finisher in the 2. Bundesliga. It will be tough sledding, as four of their nine remaining matches are against Schalke 04, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and RB Leipzig. They’ll also likely be without their top choice goalkeeper. Zack Steffen, having only recently recuperated from a knee injury, “sustained another injury during training” two weeks ago. Alfredo Morales has been a regular presence in the starting lineup, which propelled him back into the national team picture.
Key matches: vs. SC Paderborn (May 16th), at FC Augsburg (June 20th)
Bobby Wood — Hamburger SV
In 2018, Hamburg experienced its first ever relegation. Two years later, the club could jump back into the top flight and is currently one point out of an automatic promotion spot. The remaining schedule is difficult, but the upcoming six-point matches against the second, fourth, and sixth place clubs present the opportunity to rise up the table and build some distance. Bobby Wood is decidedly and, most likely permanently, out of favor at the Volksparkstadion. He’s made a mere six appearances this season and none since November. The 27-year-old striker was connected to MLS clubs FC Cincinnati and D.C. United, but neither move was completed. Despite not playing for Hamburg, he has consistently been on the match day roster. Due to fixture congestion brought on by the rush to finish the season, it is possible Wood plays a role in the promotion hunt.
Key matches: at Greuther Fürth (May 17th), at VfB Stuttgart (May 28th), at FC Heidenheim (June 21st)
Julian Green — SpVgg Greuther Fürth
Promotion to the top flight may be a little out of reach for Greuther Fürth, as they currently sit eight points behind Hamburg. Julian Green has enjoyed a strong run of form since joining the Cloverleaves in 2017. This season, he was struck by the injury bug, dealing with a ruptured knee ligament and an ankle issue. With four goals in 13 appearances, Green was on track for a career season. His contract is up in June, but it might be in the 24-year-old’s best interests to stick around at a club at which he can thrive and lead back to the Bundesliga for the first time since 2013.
Key matches: vs. Hamburg (May 17th), vs. FC Heidenheim (June 16th)
Marc Heider — VfL Osnabrück
Osnabrück earned promotion last season after winning the 3. Liga. This year, the Lilac-Whites’ position in the 2. Bundesliga should be safe, but a four-point gap could evaporate very quickly. Captain Marc Heider has five assists in 23 appearances. The 33-year-old midfielder was born in Sacramento, California and played for Werder Bremen II and Holstein Kiel. He was a starter during the first half of the season, but dropped into a substitute role following the winter break.
Key matches: vs. VfL Bochum (June 14th), at Dynamo Dresden (June 28th)
Pellegrino Matarazzo — VfB Stuttgart
Die Roten made a managerial change in December, firing Tim Walter and hiring American Pellegrino Matarazzo. He’s led them into second place and an automatic promotion spot. The 42-year-old New Jersey native played ten years in the lower divisions of Germany before coaching in the FC Nurnberg and Hoffenheim systems. He described himself to American Soccer Now as a coach with “a very pragmatic approach to the game” who believes that his teams “need to have a sense of variability... based on clear principles regarding creation of space... and changing speed.” Matarazzo, who has a degree in mathematics from Columbia University, has primarily utilized a 3-4-2-1 formation during his eight matches in charge. With five of the nine remaining fixtures against the league’s worst teams, Stuttgart should coast to promotion.
Key matches: vs. Hamburg (May 28th), vs. SV Darmstadt (June 28th)