051013_isi_johnsonfabian_usmntmj020613019_(1) Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
Americans Abroad

Relegation Woes Trouble Four Yanks in Germany

With their squads facing Bundesliga relegation, Michael Parkhurst, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, and Joe Gyau have everything to play for as the German top tier winds down.
BY Matt Wagner Posted
May 10, 2013
6:56 PM
If you're looking for drama in the Bundesliga over the next two weekends, don't look up—look down.

Strong efforts by teams in the relegation zone, combined with some poor performances from squads just above the drop zone, have left four teams within five points of each other. Out of Werder Bremen, Fortuna Düsseldorf, FC Augsburg, and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, two teams will enjoy another season in Germany's top flight; and one team will square off against the 2.Bundesliga’s third-place team (likely Kaiserslautern).

These battles will affect the future plans of American internationals Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, Joe Gyau, and Michael Parkhurst. Let's take a look at Parkhurst and Augsburg first.

Parkhurst’s move to Germany during the winter transfer window hasn’t panned out the way the player, Jürgen Klinsmann, or U.S. men’s national team fans had hoped. Coming into a team with an immediate need at right back, it seemed like Parkhurst might slot right into Augsburg's starting XI. But the Yank missed four weeks of action due to the flu and a subsequent knee injury, and by the time he was healthy Augsburg captain Paul Verhaegh and backup Ronny Philip both recovered from injuries and passed Parkhurst on the depth chart.

“Naturally, I wish that it went differently for me,” Parkhurst told Augsburger Allgemeine. “But the past is the past. I will train hard and hope that I get another chance.”

Whether that chance comes with Augsburg hinges entirely on the team’s Wigan-like ability to pull off survivals in the Bundesliga against all odds.

The Fuggerstädter have managed to go from dead in the water to holding the relegation-playoff position. After recording only nine points in the first half of the season, Augsburg has the seventh-best point total in the Rückrunde, or the second half of the season, with 21 points. The team is currently tied with Düsseldorf for the last safety spot but is behind on goal differential.

If Augsburg manages to steal a point (or three) at Bayern, its survival chances increase drastically, as the team’s last match of the season is at home against the only team that has already sealed its relegation fate, Fürth.

“I am confident that we’ll stay in the league,” Parkhurst said. “I expect to be a member of the team.”

Things become more interesting should the Fuggerstädter be relegated into the 2.Bundesliga. Robert Götz, who covers Augsburg for the Augsburger Allgemeine, told ASN that FC Augsburg’s budget drops from €40 million to €22 million if the club is relegated. A mass exodus of players is likely in this scenario.

Götz wrote that Parkhurst said he would review his options, but Götz’s understanding is that Parkhurst would “probably transfer” if Augsburg drops into the second division.

GOING INTO THE FINAL TWO weekends of the season, Hoffenheim appears likely to drop. Already in the direct relegation zone, the squad faces two tough matches—one against a team with an outside chance to qualify for the Europa League (Hamburg) and another, Borussia Dortmund, that would like nothing more than to bury the team dubbed “Hoppenheim” by many Germans.

Things seem to have turned around for the beleaguered club with the hiring of its third full-time (and fourth overall) coach this season, Markus Gisdol. Since he took over on April 2, Hoffenheim has recorded eight out of a possible 15 points. Still, the 43-year-old coach says he doesn't worry too much about relegation, preferring instead to focus on changing the culture of the club.

“For me, it’s not a relegation battle, but it’s a development,” Gisdol said in a kicker interview published in April. “I want to try to stop certain things and change the perspective in the other direction. We want to return to football that you’ve already seen in Hoffenheim.”

As for what happens to Williams and Johnson in case of relegation, Bundesliga Fanatic writer Randall Hauk is willing to speculate based on the evidence. According to information on transfermarkt.de, both Johnson and Williams' contracts with the club end on June 30, 2014, and because of this, Hauk said both players have more value on the transfer market than as a part of a rebuilding of the team.

While Johnson would be an easy sell, it’s difficult to tell what will happen to Williams, considering his struggles this season and the fact that the defensive midfielder has missed every match under Gisdol with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, Gyau, who’s been on loan at 2.Bundesliga team St. Pauli, would be an ideal fit for Hoffenheim if the team drops into the second division, according to Hauk. That’s assuming St. Pauli doesn’t want to pursue an option to extend his loan deal in Hamburg for another year.

No matter what happens at the end of the season, changes are coming for the outfit from Sinsheim.

“After the season," Gisdol said in the kicker interview, "we’ll carefully analyze, make a decision and locate, which players fit for us and which players don’t."

Mathew Wagner is ASN's Europe Correspondent.

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