The Bundesliga gets the early start among the major European leagues, so here's what you need to know in advance of Friday's kickoff. There are six players with US National Team caps starting the 2013-14 season in Germany: Timmy Chandler at Nurnberg, Steve Cherundolo at Hannover 96, Fabian Johnson at Hoffenheim, Jermaine Jones at Schalke 04, Michael Parkhurst at Augsburg, and David Yelldell at Bayer Leverkusen.
USMNT players in the Bundesliga
There's a long tradition of US National Team players appearing for German clubs. Well, it's long relative to the era of American soccer players able to move overseas to play professional soccer. Since the late 1980s, there's usually a US National Teamer representing a German team and the names of German clubs appear on the resumes of many standout American players.
Topflight soccer in Germany
First, let's explain the Bundesliga setup. The Bundesliga is Germany's top division with 18 clubs. It's been around since 1963, the year soccer turned professional in the former West Germany. The league relegates to the 2.Bundesliga but with a twist. While 17th and 18th-place relegates automatically, 16th-place enters into a playoff with the 2.Bundesliga's 3rd-place finisher. The 2.Bundesliga relegates to the regional leagues, with Germany not sharing England's multiple levels of nationwide leagues. Geographically, Nurnberg is in Middle Franconia, Hannover is in Lower Saxony, Hoffenheim is a suburb of Sinsheim in the Rhein-Neckar region, Schalke is in North Rhine-Westphalia, Augsburg is in Bavaria, and Bayer Leverkusen is south of Schalke in North Rhine-Westphalia. If that helps not even a little bit, here's a link to a map of the Bundesliga. Hey, they didn't teach us German geography in grade school either.
Are Any Of These Clubs Contenders?
Not for the title with Pep Guardiola returning to coaching with defending Champions League winners Bayern Munich. We're all well aware of how the Bundesliga raised its profile with two teams in the Champions League final, but it's still Bayern and then everybody else. That said, Schalke finished 4th last season and is saying all the right things about improving on that in 2013-14. Bayer Leverkusen is also in the conversation for teams that can compete with Bayern Munich and most people's choice for second Borussia Dortmund. At the other end of the table, Hoffenheim won the relegation playoff last season and there's not a lot of backing for Augsburg and Nurnberg to stay out of trouble in 2013-14.
How Tough Is The Bundesliga?
It has the reputation for being Bayern Munich's league to win every other year and that's something the biggest club in the country is trying to change in 2013-14. Bayern wants to be a dynasty, and they're spending heavily to get there. That makes it difficult for everybody else, with Bayern more than happy to make sure the best German players end up wearing their shirt. As flattering as it is to play up the Bundesliga as the most competitive league in Europe, there's still the same situation where their clubs have to balance expectations with finances. There's also the oddity for major European soccer that the capital and largest city doesn't have a competitive soccer team. Hertha Berlin is back in the Bundesliga this season, winning promotion. Sure, Turin's Juventus and Manchester's United are the biggest teams in their leagues, but Rome and London still have competitive clubs with long histories in the topflight.
So Where Can I Watch It In The States?
The 2013-14 season is on GolTV.