ALSO ON SLAM!
Monday, August 14, 2000
Bundesliga becomes focus of interest
Toronto midfielder-forward Paul Stalteri made Canadian soccer history on the weekend, becoming the first Canadian to score in the 37-year history of the Bundesliga.
It was a banner weekend for Canadians in Germany as Calgary's Kevin McKenna (Energie Cottbus) and Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich) also saw first division action.
"Basically a dream come true," Stalteri said of his first-team debut Saturday, a 3-1 Werder Bremen win over defender McKenna and newly promoted Cottbus.
"I just wanted to go out and have a good game ... I didn't want to go out and go through the motions and say I had a game under my belt," Stalteri said Monday from Mexico City, where he and the Canadian team play Mexico in a World Cup qualifying game Tuesday. "I wanted to go out and show the people and the coach that I could actually do something when he decided to play me."
The goal came in the 34th minute. Stalteri controlled a looping pass from the left with his chest, then banged it into the far corner before 31,000 delighted fans in Bremen.
The 22-year-old former member of the Toronto Lynx has been with Werder Bremen since November 1997. Last season he was in and out of the first team squad but never played a regular season game.
"I knew I would always have a chance eventually and I knew this year my chance would come," he said. "I just didn't know it would come the first game of the season."
McKenna, playing sweeper for Cottbus, also made history as he and Stalteri became the first Canadians to see action in a regular season Bundesliga match.
Calgary teenager Owen Hargreaves joined them later in the day when he came on a substitute for Bayern Munich.
With three Canadians seeing first-team soccer action in the Bundesliga, Germany has suddenly become a world point of interest for Canadian soccer. While there are more Canadians playing in the Scottish Premier League, the Bundesliga is a superior league.
In England, by contrast, Canada's lone representative in the Premier League is Craig Forrest, a backup goalie at West Ham United.
Stalteri has become a fixture on the Canadian team under head coach Holger Osieck. He has played in all 23 games Osieck has coached and has crossed the Atlantic nine times since May 29, 1999, to play for the Canadian World Cup or Olympic team.
He got his chance Saturday when Brazilian striker Ailton was unable to play.
"Once Ailton got injured, I had two great weeks of training," said Stalteri, who wears No. 35 in Bremen. "That basically confirmed my place in the team."
It was a far cry from some weeks before when the club hinted he might not even crack the first team squad because of the time lost to national team duty for World Cup qualifying games against Trinidad and Tobago and Panama.
"So I knew I had to fly in training for two weeks just to have a chance," Stalteri added.
There was little chance to celebrate after the game Saturday since he and McKenna had a 5 a.m. flight Sunday. They went from Bremen to Frankfurt to Toronto to Mexico City, a trip that lasted some 24 hours.
Stalteri woke up at 3 a.m. Monday in his Mexico City hotel before falling asleep for a few more hours.
Both Stalteri and McKenna are quickly learning the pressures of top-flight soccer.
Stalteri's manager, who has nine players away on international duty this week, is already putting the heat on him to get back to Germany as soon as he can after Tuesday's game.
As for McKenna, who is just 20, the first reviews were mixed. The six-foot-four defender was filling in for injured Hungarian international Vilmos Sebok and manager Eduard Geyer appeared less than impressed, according to the official Bundesliga Web site.