Thriving in the German Bundesliga
Adam Straith hopes to have his own Hoffenheim tale to tell one day.
The Victoria-raised central defender is currently on loan from the Whitecaps residency program to FC Energie Cottbus's under-19 team in Germany, and the first big-time Bundesliga match he went to see featured Hoffenheim, the rags-to-riches village side that once toiled in the eighth tier.
"They're an incredible team and the whole story is great," said Straith, who dreams of a rise from the relative obscurity of Canadian youth leagues to the biggest international soccer stages.
The former Lower Island Metro player appears to be making his mark.
Thanks to Whitecaps residency director Thomas Niendorf's German connections, Straith was among five Whitecaps youth players to get a look with Cottbus in mid-July. He stuck, along with midfielder/forward Kyle Porter and defender Greg Smith.
Paperwork kept the trio out of the lineup for the first three games, but Straith and Porter have been mainstays since then. For what it's worth, Cottbus started 0-3 and was outscored 10-2. They've since gone 5-2, outscoring teams 13-6.
"I wouldn't say it's just me and Kyle," said Straith, "but it's been good. Watching the team struggle when we couldn't play was tough, and now we've helped turn it around."
These are certainly exciting times for Straith. Two weeks ago he was named to Canada's under-20 roster for its Switzerland camp and he started, and scored, in a Wednesday friendly against the Swiss.
Canada's under-20s are gearing up for the March CONCACAF championship and, if all goes as planned, the FIFA U20 World Cup in the fall.
"It was a pleasant surprise," Straith said of being named to the camp roster. "It was in the back of my mind but I couldn't say I was expecting it. Playing for your country is always something you think about."
The biggest adjustments to life in Germany, he said, were being so far from his family (and not having Internet in his residence to communicate with them easily), learning the language (he takes German lessons two hours a day), and getting used to the food ("It's a lot of bratwurst. We buy our own food.")
He lives with his Whitecaps teammates, though, as well as former University of Alberta player Eddy Sidra, who is with Cottbus's amateur team, and that has eased the transition.
He's also been able to experience something he never could in Canada -- watching half a dozen Bundesliga games live, including a Cottbus clash with Berlin in front of 60,000 fans.
"It's incredible," he said. "Just really exciting and inspiring to see the whole atmosphere."
In a smaller way, the Whitecaps residency program has been to Straith what Dietmar Hopp, the big-money backer, has been to Hoffenheim. Straith said the technical and professional aspects of the Whitecaps residency program have prepared him exceptionally for the transition to Europe.
The biggest difference, he noted, is the day-in, day-out level of competition.
"It's being able to [deliver] perfection every weekend," he said of the increased demands in Europe. "That's one thing we're lacking in Canada, especially at the youth level -- getting the high-level youth games every weekend."
And those high-level games are giving Straith high hopes that his personal Hoffenheim story can continue.
© The Vancouver Province 2008