Joe Gyau
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Joe Gyau on life at Hoffenheim, Dortmund, the USMNT, and FC Cincinnati

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FC Cincinnati winger Joe Gyau has packed so much into the first 27 years of his life that his career resembles that of a man 10 years his age.

Gyau made his first team debut for Hoffenheim at 19 alongside a 20-year-old Roberto Firmino. His full USMNT debut came three weeks before his Borussia Dortmund debut, when Jurgen Klopp subbed him on for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 27 predictions and preview ]

He tore his meniscus weeks later in his second cap for Jurgen Klinsmann, and battled two years to get back onto the field. Gyau went to the 3.Liga then back to 2.Bundesliga before relegation saw him make a move back home to Major League Soccer.

What we’re saying is it takes a lot to surprise him. The match that sealed Duisburg’s relegation to 3.Liga last season did just that.

So begins our conversation with Gyau.

ProSoccerTalk: A little background for the reader. You and I connected because I was headed to Germany with a soccer team and we had tickets for the Duisburg-Heidenheim match. I thought it would be neat for them to meet an American who’d made it to the top level and you were cool enough to agree to it, even inviting us to training.

This was months beforehand, and Duisburg was unbeaten in four matches. By the time we got to Germany, losing the match would’ve meant relegation. It was a sensational game, but Duisburg lost 4-3 and we witnessed an incredibly intense ending where fans were screaming across the pitch at players, beating sticks against the barriers that kept them from getting onto the field.

Understandably we didn’t meet. What was that like?

Joe Gyau: “Being in a relegation battle is one of the most pressured, anxious feelings that you have. You know that week-in week-out, for the well being of the club you’ve gotta get some points. Going into that game, we had won against Holstein Kiel 2-0 away. We knew if we won, we still had a chance. We left it all out there. Obviously the fans are heated. We had to go there to show them appreciation for supporting us. We had to show face out of respect. But that situation being in the 2.Bundesliga or Bundesliga is bragging rights for the city. The people felt like we let them down. They let us know that. They were screaming. They were mad. Some of the players felt attacked and they lashed out at the fans. It got really hectic.”

PST: That’s the point where, honestly, I was worried. The supporters were still packed in there, chanting in the players’ direction. A few fans hopped over the barrier and the ones in the stands were shaking the poles that hold up the protective netting (around the 4:20 mark of this video). What are you thinking at that point?

Gyau: “When I was walking over, I knew they were pissed. You know they’re really passionate about everything. For some people the club is their life, you know? They go to the stadium every weekend. And they felt like us getting relegated was them losing a big chunk of themselves. Walking over there, I recognized some of the fans from our training ground to watch practice. It’s funny how nice they were at the training ground compared to the cuss words then. I wouldn’t say I was scared, but it was shocking to see how enraged they were. Then in the locker room, it was just dead silent. Everybody’s got their heads down. The president, the coach, the general manager, they’re in the locker room and everybody’s quiet.”

PST: Duisburg has been the class of 3.Liga this year and looks to be getting promoted straightaway. Have you been pulling for them? And do you generally root for your former clubs?

Gyau: “(With Duisburg) There’s no bitterness at all. They had a great season this season. I still have friends that play there and we still talk. To see them get back in there is bittersweet with what happened in Copa 19, but that’s good for them. In Hamburg (on loan to FC St. Pauli). I met lifelong friends. At Dortmund I had the best moments of my career, and I was at Hoffenheim for four years. You could say that’s where I grew up. Germany is my second home. My wife’s from there.”

PST: Knowing that, and with an experienced career and name over there, why did you decide to come back to the United States and FC Cincinnati?

Gyau: “After being away for so long, my late teenage years and most of my 20s, I just wanted to switch things up and give my people over here a chance to see me a little bit closer (Gyau was born in Florida and grew up in Maryland). I was also at a good enough age that I could transfer markets.”

PST: I’m always impressed by the guys who come off a European season and then jump right into an MLS stretch run. I know there was a little break between 2.Bundesliga and your August debut, but what were your first impressions?

Gyau: “It was a short break because that summer I was with the national team. I typically keep myself in pretty good shape but getting right back into games I definitely needed a week or two. It was definitely a different style of play. It was a more open game, a little less tactical than I was used to in the Bundesliga. There was more space and I kinda liked that. There’s a lot of Central and South Americans as opposed to a lot more of a European-based pool.”

PST: I’m glad you brought up the call-up. After dozens of youth national team appearances, we saw you make your USMNT debut for Jurgen Klinsmann in impressive fashion versus the Czech Republic 2014, then suffer an awful knee injury in your second cap. There were multiple surgeries and grueling rehab. Then you get back into the fold with Gregg Berhalter against Jamaica in 2019.

Gyau: “It was a great moment, just getting that call. It kind of put the cherry on top of everything because that was one of my main goals after my injury was to get back to where I was. The two years, that whole process of rehab, was an unforgiving process. Getting that cap was the reward and it was great to revel in the moment. The game was in DC where I’m from and my whole family was able to come.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

PST: Let’s go back to the start. You signed for Hoffenheim at age 17. Your father and grandfather were both professional players, so you had some advice and expertise to lean on. What made you choose Hoffenheim?

Gyau with Ryan Babel and Sandro Wieser at Hoffenheim (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images).

Gyau: “Germany was the first league that gave me a really concrete offer. I had gone and tried out at Chelsea before, but I was like 13 and my whole family would’ve had to relocate. Hoffenheim came at the right time. I was 17, able to be on my own, and I always wanted to play in Europe.”

PST: Hoffenheim was a loaded side, even simply by ‘Americans abroad’ standards. You subbed on for Fabian Johnson for your first appearance and Danny Williams was on the pitch at center midfielder. You’ve played with and against a lot of stars. Who stands out the most in terms of the wow factor.

Gyau: “When I was at Hoffenheim. Ryan Babel was an absolute monster when he was just coming off his time at Liverpool. And then I got to play with Firmino when he first came from Brazil. You could see his raw talent and as it became more refined where the flicks and tricks started working in the game. Aubameyang at Dortmund was a monster. Mkhitaryan as well, I was there for one of his best seasons. And for the national team, just being able to link up with Jozy Altidore was a great thing.”

PST: What makes those players so special? Everyone at that level is good, but what makes those players pop?

Gyau: “It’s about work ethic, confidence, and positive reinforcement. I’ve come across lots of players who have equal amounts of talent but maybe the situation with the coach isn’t great. The coach was behind Firmino 100 percent, at Dortmund the same for Aubameyang. You could see it.

“When (Aubameyang) first came to Dortmund he was playing on the wing cause Lewandowski was still there. He was still scoring and doing his thing, but it wasn’t what you see now. After Lewandowski left, that’s right when I came. They put him up top. Marco Reus would be behind him or Mkhitaryan and that’s when most of the plays would end up around him and he was always a natural finisher. He came into his own, and Jurgen Klopp always gave him the positive reinforcement to be able to excel. The guys always had it, but the reps and the experience pushed them to the next level.”

Joe Gyau
Gyau (right) with Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Photo by Team 2 Sportphoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

PST: Surely you’re tired of being asked about Klopp, but we all hear the Liverpool players raving about him. Does that match with your experience with him at Dortmund?

Gyau: “Man, just getting to know the guy, that’s the player’s ideal coach. For me, I was working with him and (now Schalke boss) David Wagner. Both of them were personable guys. They took me under their wing. They give you free reign. They still had their system but they let players express themselves. They let you work the way you work within their system. If you work hard, they are always going to be behind them. It’s one of those things where you go out on the field and you want to give 100 percent because you see how genuine they are and Klopp was really genuine.

“I remember when I got my first cap against Czech Republic, Klopp called everybody in the locker room and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got young player Joseph here, he made his international debut and had a great game.’ Everybody gave me a round of applause.

“After I got hurt he called me into his office. He knew that I was devastated and he said, ‘Hey I know the doctor didn’t give you good news but just know I’m behind you 100 percent. Whenever you come back I’ll be waiting for you. We’ll be ready. It was comforting because a coach doesn’t have to say that, especially to a young guy coming up. You don’t have to take him into your office and give him any type of reassurance but he took his time to do that.”

PST: You’ve also spent time in recent years with Sonnenhof Großaspach in 3.Liga and on loan from Hoffenheim a while back with FC St. Pauli. The latter is known for being a different kind of club. What do you recall from then?

Gyau: “Probably one of the best times I had in my career. Hamburg as a city is great but the club, the people, the stadium, the fans, they have their own progressive views. The support that you get game-in and game-out. The history behind it. You have St. Pauli and then HSV. The city is split in half and if you’re on that St. Pauli side, they love you. I’m 19, 20 at the time playing at the Millerntor. No matter you’re winning or losing the fans are cheering you on and positive.

“Not every club has that type of tradition that atmosphere. I remember there were times during the season where there was an amusement park outside the stadium. The Hamburger Dome. We’d be playing a game and before the game there was a roller coaster and people are going crazy. Then they come in for the game and afterwards the amusement park is rocking again. Then you have the Reeperbahn, and the restaurants. It’s just a buzzing city.”

Joe Gyau
(Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/GettyImages)

PST: Wrapping up, FC Cincinnati has a year under its belts and you had a full offseason plus additions of Siem de Jong, Yuya Kubo, and Jurgen Locadia. How are you feeling the club will look once it’s back to playing soccer?

Edit: FCC announced the hiring of Jaap Stam a day after this conversation.

Gyau: “We definitely have a real talented team this year and we’ve been given a chance to mold together. We had a couple late transfers. We’re not able to train full team yet but everyone’s able to grasp the philosophy behind the club all at once. Playing with Locadia, that dude can strike it with both feet, he’s mobile. We have a good group of guys, a good balance. I’m excited to get back when things get back rolling. And the fans here are also crazy. Our last game against Orlando, or when we played against Columbus, it’s 20,000 fans every game. It’s good to jump from getting a lot of fans in Germany right into the same atmosphere.”

PST: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noted since you’ve arrived in MLS?

Gyau: “In Germany it’s more strict. The fans really critique things so much harder than they do over here. The fans here are hoping to see a good game and ready to have fun. You would never see what happened in Duisburg happen over here. You wouldn’t see fans spitting on people, and it’s totally different style of play. They make the field so compact in Germany.”

UK government gives PL green light for contact training

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The UK government has given the Premier League and the Championship the green light to resume contact training after publishing stage two of its return to training guidance.

This is a big boost for the Premier League ‘Project Restart’ plans ahead of a pivotal week of meeting and votes about playing the remaining 92 games of the 2019-20 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Since last week all 20 Premier League clubs have been taking part in small-group training at a social distance as clubs agreed unanimously to return to training as part of stage one of the protocols.

Late Sunday the UK government released guidelines on stage two of training for elite athletes as contact training is now permitted. Per the stage two guidelines, athletes are allowed to ‘opt out’ of training ‘without any resulting discrimination.’

It is not known whether or not players who contract COVID-19 while in stage two of training may have to quarantine for 14 days. That is said to be something which will be discussed in full detail in the coming days in the Premier League meetings, while below is a little more from the UK government explanation on stage two.

  • Stage Two training can be described as the resumption of close contact (interaction within the two metre social distancing boundary) training where pairs, small groups and/or teams will be able to interact in much closer contact (e.g. close quarters coaching, combat sports sparring, teams sports tackling, technical equipment sharing, etc).
  • The progression of training into Stage Two is vital to prepare fully for the return of competitive sporting fixtures in many sports. Close contact training is required to replicate match formations and conditions, so that the sport-specific demands can be placed on the body, mind and senses. Close contact training develops the sport-specific fitness which is an essential element for player safety and a reduced risk of injury during competition.
  • It is anticipated that engaging in this type of training would start with smaller ‘clusters’ of 2-3 athletes and eventually progress to larger groups of 4-12 athletes, and ultimately full team training, without social distancing possible at all times. Under Stage Two conditions, as per Stage One, social distancing will continue to be the expectation at all other times aside from technical training.

Speaking about the stage two guidelines, UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “This new guidance marks the latest phase of a carefully phased return to training process for elite athletes, designed to limit the risk of injury and protect the health and safety of all involved. We are absolutely clear that individual sports must review whether they have the appropriate carefully controlled medical conditions in place before they can proceed, and secure the confidence of athletes, coaches and support staff.

“Given the wide ranging input we have received from medical experts, we believe these pragmatic measures should provide further reassurance that a safe, competitive training environment can be delivered, as we work towards a restart of professional sport behind closed doors when it is safe to do so.”

Premier League clubs, players and managers will meet in the coming days to discuss the protocols in place around a return to contact training and clubs are due to vote on Wednesday whether or not to sanction the move to stage two.

This is a big boost for the Premier League and Championship as both had been waiting to get the green light from the government before their clubs could vote on the plan for a return to contract training.

All 20 Premier League clubs will meet on several video conference calls to discuss the protocols around a return to full-contact training as players, managers and the Premier League will discuss the details with medical experts. Several Premier League stars have revealed their angst about returning to training.

Per the guidelines, moving to stage two provides more risk of COVID-19 infection: “Due to the increased risk of transmission under Stage Two conditions, the COVID-19 officer must have a clear policy for managing a COVID-19 positive individual and abide by Government guidelines and reporting requirements.”

The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus. Two positive COVID-19 tests had arrived after 1,014 players and staff in the Championship were tested.

Premier League players will again be tested on Monday and Tuesday and the results of those tests will be key in seeing how the strict protocols at training grounds are working.

Now that the UK government has given clear guidance to the Premier League about how it can return to contact training, it is now down to clubs, medical experts, players and managers to all agree on the safest path forward.

There is still a long way to go until games return but this is another step on the path towards the 2019-20 season returning.

Transfer news: King to Man United; Tagliafico to Arsenal

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In the latest transfer news Josh King has been linked with a move to Man United this summer as several top clubs are circling, while Ajax and Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico could be heading to Arsenal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have a beauty of a report which states that four of the Premier League’s top six clubs want to sign Bournemouth striker Josh King.

King, 28, was the subject of a late bid form Man United in the January window but the Cherries turned it down as they needed him to help with their relegation battle. Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe admitted it was tough on King and the players also revealed he was it was tough to see the move blocked, as he came through Man United’s youth academy and the Norwegian international is close with Man United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. King has scored 46 goals in 154 Premier League appearances for Bournemouth and has been instrumental since they were promoted to the top-flight in 2015. King loves Man United and this would clearly be a good fit for all concerned.

Per the fresh report, Man United are keen on King because he can play centrally and wide and with Odion Ighalo’s future uncertain amid his loan move from Shanghai Shenhua, Solskjaer wants to add one more striker this summer. King has one year left on his contract and Bournemouth are expected to cash in on him but Chelsea are also said to be interested, as well as two other ‘top six’ clubs.

Bournemouth rejected a $25 million offer for King in January but they would snap anybody’s hand off for that this summer given the financial situation due to the coronavirus pandemic and the fact King will have just one year left on his current deal. Bournemouth have already been burned by not extending Ryan Fraser’s contract and he is set to be out of contract on July 1.

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Heading from Manchester to London, Arsenal are said to be interested in Ajax and Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico.

The Gunners continue to be linked with plenty of defenders and even though it is believed Mikel Arteta will not have a big transfer budget in the upcoming transfer windows, Tagliafico for $25 million is a steal.

According to the Sun, Arsenal want the 27-year-old as Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar recently said that Tagliafico, Andre Onana and Donny van de Beek are free to leave this summer if their transfer value is met. Tagliafico is said to be keen on a fresh challenge and wants a move to the Premier League.

Do Arsenal need a left back? Teenage star Bukayo Saka has been splendid out of position at left back this season but both he and Arsenal are keen to move him back into his natural position as a left winger, while young Scottish left back Kieran Tierney has struggled with injuries throughout his debut campaign in the Premier League.

Tagliafico can also play as a left-sided center back and with the Gunners experimenting at times with a 3-4-3 formation, he would give them flexibility and defensive options. It is clear Arsenal need to improve defensively and Tagliafico is a very solid left back who is good on the ball and is also a goal threat at the other end of the pitch.

Cologne deny Fortuna with amazing late comeback (video)

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Relegation-threatened Fortuna Dusseldorf thought they had secured a massive win away at FC Cologne in the Rhine Derby on Sunday as Kenan Karaman and Erik Thommy struck in each half to put them 2-0 up, but the hosts struck twice late on to grab a dramatic 2-2 draw.

Anthony Modeste and Jhon Corodba were the heroes for Cologne, who blew a 2-0 lead last week to draw 2-2 at home with Mainz but this time out they were on the other end of a comeback.

It didn’t look like being Cologne’s day for vast swathes of the game as at 1-0 to Fortuna, Florian Kastenmeier saved Mark Uth’s penalty kick in what looked like a key moment for Uwe Rosler’s Fortuna who are embroiled in the Bundesliga relegation battle.

The draw sees Fortuna move onto 24 points as they sit in 16th place, which is the relegation playoff spot. After a big win for 17th place Werder Bremen this weekend, plus heavy defeats for Mainz, Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt above them, the Bundesliga relegation battle has become extremely intriguing. A note for USMNT fans: midfielder Alfredo Morales put in a tireless 90 minute shift in central midfield.

Cologne sit 10th on 34 points and are in the hunt for Europa League qualification.

Fortuna went ahead early on as Karaman found some space in the box and his shot deflected in as the away side led at the break.

Cologne were handed the perfect opportunity to get back into the game in the second half as Uth first hit the post, then was denied by Kastenmeier before he was scythed down in the box as a penalty kick was awarded.

Uth, who scored a penalty kick last week, appeared to take the ball off Cordoba and Kastenmeier produced a fine save down low as Fortuna celebrated wildly once the ball was cleared.

Buoyed by that penalty save, Fortuna went up the other end moments later and doubled their lead as the ball found Thommy at the back post and he curled a sumptuous effort into the far corner.

Fortuna believed they were home and dry.

With 88 minutes on the clock, the Cologne comeback began as Modeste headed home superbly to make it 2-1 and give his side hope of grabbing a point.

 

In the 91st minute the equalizer arrived in similar fashion.

Fortuna ran out of steam and another cross from the right found Cordoba who nodded home to snatch a point for the hosts.

The draw felt like a win for Cologne and it was a sickening blow for a Fortuna side who badly need all three points in their battle against the drop.

Crucial week ahead for the Premier League

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The upcoming week is a huge one for the Premier League as a key vote and serious talks are set to take place with regards to restarting the 2019-20 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

All 20 clubs will meet on several video conference calls to discuss the protocols around a return to full-contact training, subject to government approval, as players, managers and the Premier League will discuss the details with medical experts. The UK government have yet to release details about stage two of a return to training for professional athletes and several Premier League stars have revealed their angst about returning to training.

Clubs will then vote on a return to full-contact training on Wednesday and depending on the outcome of that vote, that will shape further talks. If full-contact training is given the thumbs up, it is expected that on Thursday clubs will then discuss the plan to either restart the season in mid-June or curtailment plans which would see the table potentially decided on a points-per-game basis.

The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus.

Players will again be tested on Monday and Tuesday and the results of those tests will be key in seeing how the strict protocols at training grounds are working.

All 20 clubs unanimously voted in favor of a return to small-group training and they are all said to be in favor of a return to action, although some have publicly aired reservations.

The next few days seem pivotal as to whether or not the final 92 games of the Premier League season will be played and all eyes will be on the vote on Wednesday, if the UK government can provide details on the new protocols.

With the Bundesliga off and running, La Liga set for a June 8 restart and Serie A planning for a mid-June restart, the Premier League are correctly being cautious when it comes to a restart. Sooner or later they need to vote on a path forward and this week will be crucial.