FC Saarbrucken
Photo by Oliver Dietze/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Fourth-tier Saarbrucken, Canada’s Froese return to German Cup fairytale

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Three of the four German Cup semifinalists are monsters of the game. Bayern Munich, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Bayer Leverkusen sit first, fourth, and fifth in the Bundesliga.

The fourth semifinalist is also a table-topper; FC Saarbrucken finished in first place in one of five fourth-tier Regionalliga divisions. When it squares off with Bayer Leverkusen on June 9, it’ll do so just started training Thursday and having not played since March 7.

“It is in unbelievable,” says Kianz Froese, the club’s Cuban-Canadian playmaker and a former Vancouver Whitecaps product.

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“We got 9,000 people to our last Pokal game. They sold out tickets right away and people were selling them on the secondhand market for like 1,000 or 2,000 euros. It’s in the blood, It’s in their body, and we have a small stadium. That’s happened multiple times. We have minimum 4,000 fans every game and it’s fourth division.”

Saarbrucken is a city of 200,000 on the French border, closer to Belgium and Luxembourg than Frankfurt.

FC Saarbrücken is its biggest football club. A member of the inaugural Bundesliga, they were relegated after the 1963-64 season and last played in the top flight during the 1993-94 season. The club has played in the 3.Liga and 2.Bundesliga in this century, but swooned as low as the fifth-tier between 2007-09. It’s expected to play in 3.Liga next season as a promoted side.

Its home, the Hermann Neuberger Stadium, holds less than 7,000 fans and under 600 covered seats. The stadium has come alive this season as Saarbrucken led its division right into the coronavirus pause, though that almost feels secondary to what it’s done in the German Cup, knocking off two 2.Bundesliga sides and top tier clubs Koln and Fortuna Dusseldorf to stand one win away from a final.

“We have a player who played at Real Madrid with some of the superstars and when he talks about it he says it’s a highlight in his career,” Froese said. “Every game was kinda like a final. You’d win and you wouldn’t really believe that you won it. … In the region there’s like a million if you count the outskirts of Saarland. There are many other little teams in the area. But our fan base is very traditional. We have fans who are generation after generation.”

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Kianz Froese
Froese (2nd from left) drives between Düsseldorf’s Markus Suttner (left) and Zanka (Photo by Oliver Dietze/picture alliance via Getty Images).

As sports around the world waited to hear whether their seasons resumed, Saarbrucken was left to wonder whether it would get the opportunity to chase more history. It was easy to keep perspective. Though undiagnosed, Froese was one of nine players who suffered from COVID-19 symptoms for two weeks.

“For two weeks soon after (the Fortuna game), it was pretty bad I must say. We had all the symptoms. We now get tested every five days,” Froese said. “We all weren’t sure so it was day-by-day but obviously the health of your family and friends and the world is more important. At that stage our focus shifted more to humanitarian thoughts than to sports.”

Now the club has a June 9 date for their test at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen, who will bring Kai Havertz, Leon Bailey, and as many as five more matches of preparation to the field against a Saarbrucken team who may not be able to play a warm-up against anyone other than themselves. They’ve been in small groups at best ahead of their first-team training session Thursday.

“That is a challenge,” Froese said. “We are just training between us. Then we’ll play some games between us again because we can’t have other kinds of opposition I don’t think. We can only train by running and the gym. We won’t have any game rhythm when we go to play them. It’s not going to be easy but it’s doable. It’s not going to be something that’ll be easy.”

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Froese’s journey to Die Molschder has been anything but straight-forward. Debuting for the ‘Caps reserves at age 17 and making his first MLS appearance a year later, Froese earned caps for Canada against Ghana and the USMNT in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

After spending most of 2016 in the USL with Vancouver’s reserves, he struck out for Germany (“I was a pro player, I was in MLS, but I didn’t feel like I had chased by dream”). He had trained with German clubs like Mainz and Freiburg when he was younger.

He took a chance with Fortuna Dusseldorf’s second team and secured a pro contract with the first team. Injuries and the first team’s promotion kept him with Dusseldorf II, where he scored 16 times with six assists in parts of three seasons.

Froese’s path to the first team was hurt by Dusseldorf’s promotion to the Bundesliga, so he moved about 300 kilometers south to Saarbrucken.

Friends and family have grown enamored with his club’s incredible season, which took a delirious turn when Froese assisted a goal in regulation and scored in the shootout while his keeper Daniel Batz stopped one penalty in regulation and four more in penalty kicks.

The announcer cried, “David against Goliath, and David’s winning 1-0.” It was stunning stuff, his mother Esperenza getting updates from friends in Cuba as Saarbrucken moved on to the semifinal round with a 1-1 (8-7) win.

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Froese’s perspective in speaking about his season is incredibly chill. His 10 assists are a career-high and he’s set a German Cup record for most assists by a player outside the Bundesliga, but he’s not terribly concerned about what’s next.

“If a club wants me in a higher division that’s cool, but for me I need to go out and personally enjoy it,” he said. “Because I don’t know if I’m gonna ever play again at this level against such a good opposition, so heavily watched. At the end of the day it’s my journey. It’s just kinda dreamy sometimes but it’s cool.”

Froese constantly mentions how the game goes quickly and chances aren’t guaranteed, referencing the big picture. He was altered by the passing of his father Joe on Sept. 8, 2018, and proudly shared his father’s obituary.

Joe Froese’s tale is a remarkable story that informs Froese’s considerate and deliberate nature in conversation. Joe Froese was “committed to practical ways of promoting environmental sustainability, peace, social justice, and shared wealth.”

The elder Froese bicycled across the U.S. and Canada, wrote a book about Cuba, “was arrested for helping to turn a buffalo loose at a nuclear weapons base in South Dakota, designed and introduced solar ovens for widespread use in Eritrea and Cuba, and participated in post-earthquake housing construction in Nicaragua” (Kianz, for his part, is involved with an organic coffee and condiment farm in Cuba).

“My dad passed away two years ago and from a personal perspective it’s given me an idea of how important it is to enjoy life,” Kianz Froese said, referencing the coronavirus pandemic providing eerie similarities.

“But I had this experience before because I slowly watched the life of my father pass away. Life goes by quite quickly. I knew when I was coming here everyone was going to say, ‘Oh fourth division. That’s not much. blah blah.’ It became less relevant what people thought of me and my personal journey became more relevant. I enjoy playing soccer and being in Europe, learning new languages, and challenging myself. Here is where the best of the best usually are, and I wanted to see where I line up.”

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There’s little doubt that this latest part of his journey is almost too silly for an author working in fiction. Froese’s Saarbrucken have conjured four upsets with the Cuban-Canadian playmaking featuring prominently.

It’s almost too much for the brain to manage in the moment.

“We win these games and we start crying,” he said. “It means a ton to us. I’ve watched the coach cry, I’ve watched every single player cry with me as we all hug each other on the field. These are moments that money can never ever buy and only sports give that.”

He knows the odds are stacked against Saarbrucken when Bayer pays a visit in early June. The lack of preseason alone is a huge ask, not even considering Bayer’s status as a constant European competitor.

So Froese and his team will take it as it comes. For the player, he knows nothing’s guaranteed and that his ride from teen debutant in Vancouver to top assist man in the German Cup has been anything but straight-forward.

“Soccer is a crazy thing,” he said. “Who knows if the club will even offer me a new contract and who knows if somebody else is going to come and sign me? The game is just the game. It’s fast. What are the odds? It’s really hard to say. You’re playing roulette. It’s like walking into a casino and throwing your life on the line and seeing where you land. All you can say is you know you have a family and you love them and we’ll see where it continues. That’s the art of the game.”

Transfer news: Dembele to Man United; Promes to Arsenal

Dembele to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news Ousmane Dembele has been linked with a move to Manchester United, while Quincy Promes to Arsenal is an intriguing report.

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First up, let’s start in Manchester as it appears that Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United could be the back-up option if Borussia Dortmund continue to dig their heels in on Jadon Sancho.

Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc has said that Sancho, 20, will be staying with the Bundesliga giants this season as they didn’t receive a bid for the England international before the Aug. 10 deadline they set clubs. Zorc also revealed that Dortmund have extended Sancho’s contract to 2023, so Dortmund aren’t in a rush to sell him.

Man United are still said to be keen on Sancho, who would cost over $140 million, but a back-up option is in the works as the Red Devils baulk at paying a huge fee up front for Sancho.

Ousmane Dembele, 23, has struggled for form and fitness since arriving at Barcelona from Dortmund and it appears the French forward is available.

Per the report from ESPN, ‘informal talks’ have been held about a season-long loan deal for Dembele with an option to buy. This would make a lot of sense for Man United and Barcelona. United get a hungry, and talented winger, who is eager to play for a permanent move and if it works out it will be a lot cheaper than signing Sancho.

Barcelona get to save some face and move Dembele on, as Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are their undisputed front three. Dembele has the talent and he ripped it up at Dortmund before arriving as Neymar’s replacement. He hasn’t played since November and has since had surgery on a hamstring injury, so if the French forward can stay fit then he would be a great short-term option for Man United until Dortmund soften their stance on Sancho.

Imagine Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood up top, with Dembele coming off the bench to give one of them a rest.

Switching to north London, Quincy Promes has been linked with a move to Arsenal from Ajax.

Promes, 28, has long been linked with a move to the Premier League and the Dutch winger has added end product to his skill in recent seasons for club and country.

According to The Sun, Arsenal are willing to pay $32.5 million for Promes as the former Feyenoord, Spartak Moscow and Sevilla winger will give them extra cutting edge in attack. He joined Ajax last summer from Sevilla and was a big hit in his first season in Amsterdam.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang yet to sign a new contract, plus the future of Alexandre Lacazette uncertain, Arsenal may only have Eddie Nketiah and Nicolas Pepe to rely on for goals next season.

Promes has always been a tricky, direct winger but he scored 16 goals and added seven assists in 28 games before the Dutch top-flight was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Arteta is said to want to add extra experience to his Arsenal side which is stacked with talented youngsters such as Nketiah, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli the future of the club.

Update on Declan Rice to Chelsea for $65 million

Declan Rice to Chelsea
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Declan Rice to Chelsea is a transfer report which keeps rumbling on.

The latest Declan Rice to Chelsea rumors state that the Blues have bid $65 million for the West Ham and England midfielder.

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Rice, 21, dazzled for the Hammers this season as David Moyes arrived in December to take charge and steered them away from relegation trouble with Rice scoring goals, creating and dominating midfield.

The holding midfielder, who can also play at center back, was a big part of that success and West Ham aren’t keen to sell their prized asset to their London rivals.

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have the following update on the current situation.


West Ham have dismissed reports they have received a £50m bid from Chelsea for Declan Rice.

Rice is not for sale according to West Ham, and any £50m bid would be laughed off with the club hopeful the midfielder will stay for many years.

Rice will return to the club on Monday for pre-season training with the rest of his team-mates.


So, that is that then. Right?

Rice is a Chelsea fan and came through their academy with the likes of current first team stars Mason Mount before being released at the age of 14. He is close with plenty of the young players at Chelsea and has never hidden his love for the Blues.

Reports all summer have suggested that Chelsea boss Frank Lampard wants Rice to be his main man in central defense and even though his best position is in central midfield, you could see him developing into a fine ball-playing center back in the future.

If West Ham don’t want to sell Rice, who has a contract until 2024 and the club have the option to extend it by another year, they don’t have to.

Moyes is keen to build his entire team around Rice. However, Chelsea will clearly pull on the emotional heartstrings of Rice being a boyhood Blues fan and if he wants to take his career to the next level, leaving West Ham for Chelsea (just like Frank Lampard did all of those years ago) would clearly do that.

Chelsea badly need defensive reinforcement and stability and if they can offload plenty of their current defenders, bringing in Rice would be a smart move.

Portland beats Orlando to win MLS is Back championship

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Soaked in sweat and doused in water, the Portland Timbers hoisted the MLS is Back trophy at midfield and then headed toward a giant TV screen filled with fans cheering from afar.

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It was a huge Zoom party. It might just be the way to celebrate championships in 2020.

Dario Zuparic’s first goal of the season gave Portland a 2-1 victory against Orlando in Major League Soccer’s return tournament finale Tuesday night, capping a month-long event that showed sports can be played safely inside a bubble.

“I always think the more difficult the fight is the more beautiful the victory is at the end,” said Portland’s Larrys Mabiala, who scored the game’s first goal.

Orlando was slow to react to Diego Valeri’s corner kick in the 66th minute, allowing Eryk Williamson to collect the ball, change direction and take a shot that Jeremy Ebobisse deflected to Zuparic’s feet. Zuparic didn’t have to do much to get it by Pedro “The Octopus” Gallese, who had made two fantastic saves in the lead-up to the corner kick.

The goal started the celebration on Portland’s sideline and sent Orlando into panic mode. The Lions had a chance in the closing minutes, but failed to get the equalizer.

“It’s a group of players in a lot of pain right now,” Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said. “Things didn’t bounce our way. We made a couple of mistakes.”

The Timbers, who spent 39 days in the MLS bubble and remained on West Coast time, hugged and danced after the final whistle. They raised the silver trophy while hooting and hollering. But the lasting image will be players and coaches waving at a camera and reaching hundreds back home.

It ended a wild month for the MLS, which managed to play 51 matches in 45 days at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World.

No family. No friends. No fans.

But it was by most accounts a rousing success, especially considering how it started. FC Dallas and Nashville were forced to withdraw days before the start because of positive coronavirus tests.

Players, coaches and support personnel were tested regularly inside the MLS bubble. The league reported just two positives out of nearly 35,000 tests following the initial setbacks that threatened to derail a tournament that came with a $1.1 million purse.

“We just told ourselves we need to make it worth it,” Mabiala said, adding that his son has been calling, crying and clamoring for him to come home in recent days.

Portland will get $328,000 in prize money to split. The Timbers also earned a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, their first since 2016.

Orlando settled for $150,000 to share.

Orlando’s appearance in the finale was a surprise considering the team finished 11th out of 12 in the East last season and fired coach James O’Connor. Pareja took over in 2020 and made an immediate impact.

Pareja convinced his players, including star Nani, to settle into the bubble several days early. They won the tournament opener, a group-stage victory against Miami, and ended up spending nearly seven weeks quarantined in the bubble.

Portland’s experience – the Timbers won the MLS title in 2015 and were runners-up two years ago – showed in the finale.

Portland’s first shot on goal found the back of the net. Valeri delivered a perfectly placed free kick into the box that Mabiala headed past Gallese in the 27th minute. It was Valeri’s 93rd assist with the Timbers.

But considering Portland has managed just three clean sheets in its last 23 matches, it was no surprise to see a defensive breakdown just a few minutes later.

Nani worked the ball down the left side following a turnover and created enough room to get a crosser into the box. Mauricio Pereyra got a foot on the ball and then took advantage of a fallen defender to tie the match.

The equalizer came shortly after Portland’s Sebastian Blanco exchanged words with Pareja during a hydration break. Referees stepped between them, and they later apologized and hugged it out.

The league resumes its regular season Wednesday night with Dallas playing at Nashville. The league’s 26 teams will play 18 games apiece. A majority of the games will be played without fans because of local regulations. Teams will be subject to a rigorous testing protocol and will use charter flights or buses to limit outside contact.

“We have to see if it works,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “If it does, we go through with it. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to adjust.”

Nuno ‘proud of the boys’ after Wolves’ magical UEL run ends

Nuno Wolves
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Nuno proud, but frustrated: Wolves’ 2019-20 campaign kicked off 383 days ago, on July 25, and finally ended on Tuesday in a late, heartbreaking defeat to Sevilla in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

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From those early-round UEL qualifiers, to another fine season in the Premier League (finishing 7th), to reaching the quarterfinals, it’s been an incredible, dramatic, exhausting road for Nuno Espirito Santo and his players.

Speaking after the game, Espirito Santo revealed he was experiencing equal part pride and frustration at the way their season had just ended. Pride for meeting the challenges they faced along the way, and frustration for the missed opportunity — quotes from the BBC:

“We have frustration, in the last minutes it is something that has happened to us many times. We required focus on a set piece. I am proud of the boys, we played a tough team and we had moments, small details, small margins.

“That happens in football. We came this far and now it’s over. Let’s rest and look to the future. We need more players to help us, it’s a small squad.

“Sevilla made us run, we made a big effort to control it but of course there were players who gave everything and the legs and brain doesn’t work so good. We must be proud of ourselves, admit we made mistakes during the season that we need to rectify to compete at a high level. We must work harder and become stronger.

“We are here because we did things good the previous season. European football is something that we chase because we want to improve and compete agianst the best. The Premier League is challenging enough, it’s like playing the Champions League every week.”

The Wolves players will now have the next week or two off before reporting for the first day of 2020-21 preseason later this month. The 2020-21 Premier League season is currently scheduled for Sept. 12.