The most interesting team in the Bundesliga, which kicks off this weekend, is one that has never been in the league before. FC Union Berlin makes its top-flight debut, and things are a little different at the club from East Berlin.
Historically, Union was the workers’ club, in contrast to Dynamo Berlin, which was the Stasi club in the East German portion of the city. That anti-establishment sense of community still exists at Union.
In 2008, when the club needed to renovate its crumbling stadium or risk being thrown out of the league, fans pitched in to rebuild the ground, putting in more than 140,000 man-hours to do so. During the 2014 World Cup, the club set up a huge screen at one end of the stadium and invited fans to bring their own sofas and set them up on the pitch. A crowd of 850 showed up, the club provided end tables and lamps, and the “World Cup Living Room” was born.
Keeping things traditional, without modern soccer’s pizazz, is paramount at Union. It’s a place where fans are part of something, not paying for something. Union is favored to be relegated at the end of the year, but despite results, the club will stand as a model for the way fandom should be.
• The U.S. men’s national team needs options at forward in the worst way, which is why many American eyes this year will be on Josh Sargent, the 19-year-old Werder Bremen striker. Sargent struggled to get on the pitch last season, but he’s been a regular feature in the starting lineup in the team’s preseason preparations, and started in the team’s first-round German Cup match last week. The U.S. needs him to keep developing.
• Mediation in the equal-pay lawsuit filed by the U.S. women’s national team reportedly went nowhere this week, meaning the suit will be pressed forward. U.S. Soccer reportedly hired lobbyists to push its equal-pay opposition with politicians. Now that the organization is spending extra money to try to fight against its most popular athletes, it’s difficult to understand what U.S. Soccer hopes to accomplish.
Bundesliga: RB Leipzig at Union Berlin, 11 a.m. Sunday, FS1. The former East Germany struggled to match the prosperity of the former West Germany, something you can see from the Bundesliga lineup. Only Leipzig — depending on the Red Bull drink company — and, now, Union represent the East in the top level of German soccer. The atmosphere should be exceptional. Leipzig’s strength will be tested by Union’s resolve to make a good start in its new league.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org