BERLIN (AP) — Wolfsburg is benefiting from some American influence in its club-record 10-game unbeaten run to start of the Bundesliga soccer season.
The Volkswagen-backed club has been led at the back by United States international John Brooks, who scored in Wolfsburg’s 5-3 win over Werder Bremen two weeks ago.
“The last couple of weeks were his best performances since he’s been here in Wolfsburg,” sporting director Marcel Schäfer said in a video call this week. “Very dominant, very aggressive. He scored goals. He is a huge factor that we have one of the best defenses in the Bundesliga.”
Wolfsburg has conceded one goal on average per league game, a record bettered only by Bayer Leverkusen and Leipzig.
The 27-year-old Brooks, who was born in Berlin, joined Wolfsburg from league rival Hertha Berlin in 2017. The 20 million euro (then $22.4 million) transfer fee was a record at the time for an American player. But he endured a difficult start after losing his place in pre-season. Wolfsburg signed French defender Maxence Lacroix, who impressed upon his arrival from Sochaux.
Schäfer said the club had several talks with Brooks, whom he regards as one of the Bundesliga’s top defenders, to up his game.
Brooks is one of only four Wolfsburg players to have played in every league game this season, and he’s the only one to have started each game.
“He wasn’t in the coach’s plans,” Schäfer said. “But he was patient. Then when he got his chance, he performed.”
Brooks and the 20-year-old Lacroix now form Wolfsburg coach Oliver Glasner’s preferred central defense pairing.
As well as getting improvements from existing players, Glasner has also benefited from the arrivals of Lacroix, former Borussia Dortmund forward Maximilian Philipp (on loan from Dynamo Moscow), and 22-year-old Ridle Baku from Mainz. Baku’s outstanding performances led to his Germany debut on Nov. 11.
“We have great options, a great squad,” said Glasner, who previously criticized club management for not signing a forward with “speed and depth.”
The club responded to that criticism with a statement on Nov. 13 to say Glasner, Schäfer and managing director Jörg Schmadtke had a “constructive exchange” about the issues and would not be making any further comment.
Schäfer, a former defender who made eight appearances for Germany, won the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg in 2009 during a successful 10-year spell before joining the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017.
Schäfer spent just over a year in the United States and it made a big impression. He said Wolfsburg now holds individual training programs specifically catered to each player on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“That’s what I learned in the U.S.” Schäfer said. “In Germany everybody tells you, ‘OK, we want to develop our players, we want to make them better every single day.’ But if you look at the training sessions, it’s a normal training session.”
The sporting director referred to American forward Ulysses Llanez as Wolfsburg’s top prospect following his impressive performances for the reserve team last season. The 19-year-old Llanez is spending this season on loan at Dutch club Heerenveen.
Schäfer said German players can learn from Americans like Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, who have the ability to beat players in one-on-one situations.
“The pure nature of soccer is to handle one against one, in defense, in offense, as a striker, as a defender. And that’s what we miss a little in Germany right now,” Schäfer said. “The players I mentioned before – Reyna, Llanez, Pulisic – they’re pure soccer, nature’s soccer players.”
Schäfer said many more Americans were going undiscovered because of the prohibitive cost of playing soccer in the country.
“I have three kids and I was very surprised that I had to pay to let them play soccer … it’s not the right system. Some parents are not in the situation to pay $2,000 a year to let their kids play,” said Schäfer, who said his family had Wolfsburg membership for 60 euros ($72) a year.
“It’s not fair to some kids because they don’t have the money,” Schäfer said. “Money should not be the factor.”
Wolfsburg is currently in fifth place in the 18-team Bundesliga, though it could be even higher. It did well to twice come from behind to draw 2-2 in Cologne on Saturday, but should have gone on to win the game after dominating the second half.
Within the club, there’s a feeling that there is still room for improvement.
“If we were a top team, we have to win the game. We didn’t do that,” said Dutch striker Wout Weghorst, who scored for the fourth consecutive game.
Wolfsburg next hosts Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP