When Union’s last scrimmage kicked off on Saturday, they had come full circle: the team played Braunschweig, exactly where they had their last league fixture in December before the winter break. A lot has happened since this 4:3 goal fest.
The squad escaped Berlin’s winter weather for a week in early January and set up camp in El Rompido. The tiny town in Andalusia is right between the Spanish city of Huelva and the Portuguese border – oh, and right on the Atlantic coast of course. Several fans came along to spend a week of vacation, sweetened by the fact that they got to watch their favorite team’s training sessions and test matches.
They lit a few flares, and there was even a streaker who had apparently lost a bet, but nobody minded. These things are just part of the club’s close relationship to its fans, and overall Union were able to go about their business undisturbed.
The camp started with a shock, though: Chilean summer acquisition Felipe Gallegos had been sidelined with injuries for most of the season. He was just back in business and full of energy when he took off to get that header at the end of the first session. Next thing he remembered was waking up with a concussion and a nasal bone fracture that sent him packing early. Brazilian striker Silvio sprained his ankle later in the week, but other than that the club had a smooth time during which they also played three friendlies.
They tied 1:1 in their first game vs. Recreativo Huelva (at the time 10th placed in Spain’s Segunda División) and won the other two: 2:0 vs. 1. FC Utrecht (sixth in Dutch Eredivisie) and 3:0 vs. SV Wehen Wiesbaden (14th in Germany’s Third League). Union’s first match back home left much to desire for, they only narrowly won 2:1 in Chemnitz (seventh in Germany’s Third League).
The team was probably struggling with the temperature (about 20 degrees Celsius lower than in Spain), but they seemed quite acclimated during their only test at home: FC Lausanne (sixth in Swiss Super League) was swept 4:2 at the Alte Försterei.
It was a Terodde night: the striker assisted one (a penalty taken by Torsten Mattuschka) and scored the remaining three goals.
Union’s coach Uwe Neuhaus praised the first half hour of attacking football as a: “first league performance”, though some of what followed was only “third league quality”. The Swiss did not seem to play at their full potential, but managed to score from set pieces (a direct free kick and after a corner). An impressive 981 Union fans had a good time despite the cold (-9°C) and enjoyed that they had a bit of leg room for a change. Braunschweig will be Union’s final test.
Tijani Belaid, Maurice Trapp and Markus Karl – players that were part of the roster during Union’s last game in Braunschweig – left the club: Belaid was a misunderstanding in the first place. His previous stints at Inter Mailand, PSV Eindhoven or Slavia Prague did not teach him the fighting spirit Uwe Neuhaus considers crucial. Just like his “predecessor” Santi Kolk, Belaid showed great promise but never settled in Köpenick. He signed with Moreirense, a team fighting against relegation in the first Portuguese league. Maurice Trapp is on a loan in Rostock for the rest of the season and will get some valuable pitch time in the Third League – a good deal for everyone involved.
Markus Karl’s transfer to competitor Kaiserslautern is a different story: the first-team regular believes to be able to get to Bundesliga faster in the “Red Devils’” jersey, he did not have faith that Union would be able to get there in time. Karl is not the first to leave with high hopes, but Dominique Peitz, his predecessor in the defensive midfield position (to Augsburg) and Chinedu Ede, Union’s most profitable sale in history (to Mainz for €1.2m) both had trouble adjusting (Ede is, if at all, on bench, Peitz was first sent to Rostock, later to Karlsruhe). It remains to be seen if Karl will share their fate.
Union presented Bariş Özbek only a day later. Özbek seems a promising replacement: he can supposedly play an attacking or a defensive role in midfield, and earned his wings at Galatasaray Istanbul where he played numerous Süper Lig and international games. He moved on to Trabzonspor later but was out with injuries for most of that time. Union claim he is their top pick and “is a perfect fit with our ambitions” – soothing words after Karl’s departure.
Let’s take a look ahead: Union will return to league action at the Alte Försterei next Friday, hosting SV Sandhausen. It will be a special day, as Union will open up their new main stand – way ahead of schedule. There is still some work to be done on the inside of the building, but fans will be able to take their seat already. The club already renaturated the “Wuhleseite”: where an endless ocean of seats was once mounted, only 166 remain (for visitors). The overall capacity will be 21,704, with standing room for 17,937. This is good news for fans: getting tickets will be easier; the club even offers season tickets for the remaining home games.
Union managed to get to this point after less than seven months of construction. This is practically high speed given the task, and it made Union’s fans joke how that expertise might come in handy at other major construction projects in Berlin.
How well will the team deal with recent fluctuation and injuries? How much momentum from their test games will they take back into the league? And how much better will the atmosphere at the Alte Försterei be with the new main stand in action? The impacts of the events during the winter break will be revealed in the next couple of weeks.