One of the perks of covering the MLS All-Star Game was playing in the Castrol Media Game, where media members put down their computers and their cameras and suited up for 20 minute games.
Former United States goalkeeper and ESPN analyst Kasey Keller was floating around the event, watching all of us make fools of ourselves on the Providence Park pitch. Just when my calves were about to give out, I was able to pull him aside and ask him a few questions.
Keller played two and a half years with Borussia Mönchengladbach in between stints in the Barclays Premier League, so I focused on his German footballing perspectives and his experiences against Bayern Munich.
Here is the full transcript of my interview with Keller:
BFW: How did you find yourself in Germany? What was the process for your move to Mönchengladbach?
Keller: Basically, I was finishing things up at Tottenham. Christian Ziege, who I played with at Tottenham, had moved on to Mönchengladbach, and they were kind of looking for a goalkeeper. Dick Advocaat had just come in as manager, and through multiple people, it all kind of came in. As Dick came in, he wanted to bring me in in the January transfer window, so I came in and had a great two and a half years in Germany.
BFW: How is the play in Germany different now than it was when you played?
Keller: It's extremely similar. I think the cool part about Germany is how 'Gladbach has been able to consolidate in the top half of the table in the last several years, which is great to see. They have a little bit more stability. I think when I was there they had four different managers in two and a half years, so it always gets tricky when you get in those kinds of situations. It was just a little bit of turmoil, so it was great to see the club be stable a little bit.
I think the great part about the Bundesliga is that they have done an excellent job of getting their finances in place. All those teams seem to be in a good healthy place financially, and you've got continued competition and better TV contracts. There is no question that they are really going to be able to really rival the Premier League and Spain and Italy.
BFW: With their new agreement with Fox Sports, what kind of impact can the Bundesliga make in the United States?
Keller: I think there is going to be a lot of popularity. The fans get an opportunity to see not just Bayern or Dortmund in Champions League games. They have both obviously been extremely successful over the last couple of years, which is probably a big reason for that new interest and really trying to bring more viewership to the Bundesliga.
Having played so long in England before going to Germany, obviously I knew more than most, but I didn't realize just the stadiums and the fans and how big it really is. It just didn't get the coverage that it probably deserved. It's obviously much easier to go from an English speaking Premier League to an English speaking America, and I think that was a big reason why that happened. You also look at how much Latin influence there is in America to go to the Barcelonas and the Real Madrids.
As the Bundesliga makes a conscious effort for English websites and English commentary, I think there is going to be a ton of new fans. You had soccer made in Germany back in the 70's which was really the one outlet where you could consistently see top European soccer. I think that's ready for another big push.
BFW: What is it like to be on the opposite side of the field of Bayern Munich?
Keller: So much of 'Gladbach's history goes back to the 70's when 'Gladbach was bigger than Bayern. Bayern, really from that competition with 'Gladbach, took things to a whole other level. Bayern are the benchmark. There is now question about it. They have been the bench mark in Germany for nearly 25 years. When you play against them, you're playing against a world all-star team.
I think what's really cool is that yes, Bayern are Bayern, but just a few years ago Wolfsburg was able to win a few years ago and Dortmund's won the Bundesliga. It's not like it's only Bayern. Yes, Bayern sets the benchmark and you think they will always be pushing that envelope, but other teams are able to push that.
BFW: Do you think with Bayern poaching a lot of the top talent that the Bundesliga is going to suffer because of it?
Keller: I think Bayern have a great opportunity to really separate themselves even more, but at the same time they didn't win the Champions League last year. They ran away with the title, but Dortmund won it two years ago and Wolfsburg a couple years before that and Stuttgart a few years before that. I think what they are going to do is pull a couple of teams with them. Dortmund's out of the bag, 'Gladbach is in a great position to really start pushing for the Champions League spots. Someday Schalke is going to win the title. It has to happen. I think the Bundesliga is in a very healthy place.
BFW: With Germany winning the World Cup, Bayern could be more vulnerable than in recent seasons. How do you think they will do, and how will the Bundesliga shake out?
Keller: This team is stacked. This team is very, very stacked. When you can sell a Mandzukic for €22 million and bring in a Lewandowski on a free transfer, you're in a pretty good spot. Their corporate game plan, their on-the-field game plan is really set up for them to be successful regardless of how many players just won the World Cup, even if they sell a Mandzukic because they already their replacement for free. It's the envy of most clubs around the world.
BFW: Many want Julian Green to go out on a loan, but he does not want any part of it. What do you think he should do as a 19-year-old at this point of his career?
Keller: Julian needs to play games, simple as that. Probably higher than the fourth division with the Amateur Mannschaft. If it's either in the 2. Liga or in a lower Bundesliga team, you look at the squad Pep has had at his disposal, you don't see Julian getting a lot of game time at this juncture.
Does he hang around the reserves? Or does he get an opportunity to go prove himself? That is what it comes down to, but two people have to be involved in that. The club has to say we want you to do this and the player has to say I want to do this to continue the development, because it only comes with playing.
BFW: Do you think that Mönchengladbach can make it over the hump and into the Champions League?
Keller: Well that's the goal isn't it? But that's the goal for everybody. I love how stable they have been. When I was there, it was four managers and four sport directors and it was upheaval. They've got themselves into a good, stable position. They are hanging in the top half of the table and they are pushing for those Champions League spots.
Would I have loved them to keep a ter Stegen? Would I have loved Marco Reus to still be there? Yeah of course, no question about it, but they have done a great job of investing that money in young players. Now it is a case of getting themselves into that Champions League so that they can keep a hold of those guys and only strengthen after that.