In Köpenick there is still the calm before the storm. Two weeks after the start of the season, a blue sky continues to shine over the green trees around the stadium at the Alte Försterei. Autumn, when 1. FC Union has to play every three days almost every week, is still a long way off. “We’re trying to make the best possible use of the training times in August so that the boys will understand each other blindly on the field,” said coach Urs Fischer on Friday. After August, after all, there will be little time for that.
But the summer is relentlessly rolling on, and one could almost say that the season is finally starting this Sunday with the away game in Mainz (3:30 p.m., Sky). After the unconvincing cup appearance in Chemnitz and the euphoric derby home win against Hertha, Union now has its first mandatory task in the league.
In the days before, the people from Köpenick put the finishing touches to their preparations for the upcoming challenges. Small construction measures were carried out in the old forester’s office to make the stadium suitable for the Europa League, and the last chess pieces were also being moved in squad planning. On Thursday, the club announced the loan of Dominique Heintz to Bochum, on Friday the transfer of Andreas Voglsammer to the English second division club FC Millwall.
The farewells did not come as a complete surprise. Fischer had already admitted last week that the squad might still be a bit large, and on Friday he became almost philosophical when he spoke about the departure of the two players. They would have decided that themselves and travelers should not be stopped.
However, it remains to be seen how severe these losses will be. While neither Heintz nor Voglsammer were considered an essential part of the team, both have had their share of Union’s recent successes. Voglsammer in particular is a player who “was always ready to go to the limit and scored crucial goals for us,” said Fischer. He didn’t just mean the spectacular goal against Hertha in the cup at the beginning of the year.
Heintz’s departure is even more surprising, as he brought a valuable dose of Bundesliga experience to a central defense that has not yet worked well. Timo Baumgartl, who was seeded last season, is likely to be out for a little longer after his testicular cancer diagnosis in spring, although he was able to take part in the team’s warm-up program for the first time this week.
Nevertheless, Fischer still sees his team as “well positioned” in central defence. After all, with the experienced Robin Knoche and the new signings Danilho Doekhi and Diogo Leite, he still has plenty of options. After Heintz’ departure, the new players just have to integrate a little faster into the team.
Leite in particular seems to be doing well so far. He started ahead of Heintz in the derby against Hertha, which may have contributed to his desire to leave, and the coach raved about the young Portuguese defender afterwards. “We think he’s done very well so far and deserves his chance,” said Fischer.
But the emotionalized backdrop of a derby on the first day of the game is hardly a sufficient litmus test for everyday league life. Like the whole team, Leite still has to show that he can consistently deliver. So the trip to Mainz comes in handy.
Because as Fischer feared on Friday, the game should not be a football festival. “At Mainz I see a lot of similarities to our game,” he said. “It’s going to be a game that’s really about intensity and tackling. You have to be well organized. It’s going to be a really close game.”