Hoffenheim cut it close in the regular season, needing an unlikely win at Borussia Dortmund and a Fortuna Dusseldorf loss at Hannover to avoid an automatic relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, but after today’s 2-1 win at Kaiserslautern, the club of U.S. internationals Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams finally secured their spot in next year’s Bundesliga. Winning their two-leg playoff by an aggregate 5-2, Hoffenheim stays up at the expense of the four-time German Champions, `Slautern seeking to bounce straight back up after last season’s relegation.
Survival means Johnson and Williams don’t have to worry about relegation’s effect on their international careers. As Carlos Bocanegra has found, life for a second division club doesn’t help hold down a place ui Jurgen Klinsmann’s set up (though Bocanegra was also having trouble earning playtime at Racing Santander). While there was a time when Benny Feilhaber could get called in after Aarhus’s relegation or Frank Simek would get a look while paying for Sheffield Wednesday, now it takes circumstances like Bocanegra’s or Stu Holden’s (at Bolton) to be considered as exceptions.
Johnson may have been alright. The U.S. is so thin at left back, it would have taken a sharp downturn in form to see him left out. By and large, Hoffenheim’s struggles have been in spite of Johnson’s contributions, not because of them. If he didn’t want to stick it out in Germany’s second division, Johnson would have found another club.
Williams, however, would have been in a more precarious position. The defensive midfielder has failed to hold down a consistent place in the team, injuries teaming with on-field struggles to limit him to 21 league appearances and 17 starts. His last game with Hoffenheim’s senior team was on March 30.
Those are the type of circumstances you see surrounding players who drift out of Klinsmann’s squad, and while Hoffenheim’s spot in the first division will help Williams maintain his, that only solves half the problem. Williams will have to show improvement in 2013-14 to regain some of the playing time he’s lost. If he doesn’t, Williams may eventually see his name descend the pecking order in a crowded U.S. central midfield.
Most of these questions, however, will remain thought experiments. Thanks to today’s result, Johnson, Williams, and Hoffenheim will stay up. That doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. internationals be with their club when next season starts (this is soccer, after all), but if they are, they’ll be playing first division soccer.