An existential question for German American soccer fans

German-born and raised Tony Michels, vice president of the German Society on Spring Garden Street, roots solely, constantly, and loudly for Germany. But on Thursday he has to be careful: His American wife supports the U.S. soccer team.
German-born and raised Tony Michels, vice president of the German Society on Spring Garden Street, roots solely, constantly, and loudly for Germany. But on Thursday he has to be careful: His American wife supports the U.S. soccer team. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 27, 2014

Like others who share his heritage, Ralf Wiedemann agonizes over what for German Americans is the pressing question of the day:

Whom to root for during Thursday's critical World Cup game between the United States and Germany?

The winner advances, the loser could be out, and a tie benefits both.

That set of circumstances, enhanced by the unusual connections between the teams - beginning with the Americans' German coach - provokes a sense of anxious ambiguity among fans who would surely cheer for one team if they weren't cheering for the other.

Wiedemann, 46, is a lawyer at Montgomery McCracken in Center City - and honorary German consul for Southeastern Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey.

He was born here to German parents, grew up speaking German and English, was raised in a soccer-loving culture on Long Island. As a boy in the late 1970s, he rooted for the New York Cosmos, led by the great Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, Der Kaiser, generally considered the greatest German player of all time.

He travels to Germany every few years to see family and friends.

And on Thursday?

"Diplomatically," said the diplomat, "I'm hoping to see a good game. . . . In a way, I can't lose. Whether one team or the other wins or it's a draw, I'll be pleased."

German-born and raised Tony Michels roots solely, constantly, and loudly for Germany. But on Thursday he has to be careful: His American wife supports the U.S.

Michels, 60, will join dozens of fans to watch the match at the Spring Garden Street headquarters of the German Society of Pennsylvania, where he serves as vice president. He came to the U.S. six years ago, but he still holds a lifetime season ticket for the Bundesliga's Borussia Mönchengladbach, once the club of American star Michael Bradley.

"I hope both teams succeed and make it into the next round," Michels said. "I would like to have another game against the U.S. - in the final."

The Americans would advance to the knockout round with a win or tie. If the U.S. loses, the Americans could still advance, but that would depend on the goal differential among teams.

"I'll be rooting for a 1-1 tie," said Dan Zulker, a New Jersey accountant who normally roots for Germany, his great-grandfather having immigrated from Hamburg. It's complicated - his natural loyalties lie with the U.S., but once Thursday's game ends and the next round begins, "I'll be rooting for Germany."

That complex coupling extends to the links between the teams.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was a world-class striker in the Bundesliga and other European leagues in the 1990s, and helped lead the German national team to the World Cup championship in 1990.

Fascinated by life in the United States, he moved to Orange County, Calif., after his playing days ended in 1998. He continued to work in German soccer, commuting to Europe, coaching the national team to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup.

Klinsmann's wife is American, and his two children grew up here. His player selections for the U.S. team included five German Americans - Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, and Julian Green.

Germany's coach, Joachim Loew, is Klinsmann's friend and former assistant.

Since both the U.S. and Germany would advance with a tie, conspiracists have suggested the teams will embrace an unspoken agreement to spend 90 minutes passing the ball back and forth - a scenario the U.S. coach dismissed.

"We want to beat Germany," Klinsmann, 49, told reporters. "We want to be first in our group, so we're not thinking about a tie."

Others are thinking about just that.

"The U.S. has certainly surprised me. I didn't expect a whole lot from them, and I'm definitely impressed," said Doug Hager, the German-born, American-raised owner of Brauhaus Schmitz restaurant on South Street. "But from Day One I've been pulling for Germany."

Hager was born in Aschaffenburg, the son of a German mother and U.S. serviceman father. He grew up in Philadelphia, moved to Germany from 2004 to 2006, then returned to this city.

"I'm really cheering for both," the restaurant owner said. And besides, he said, on a day when his establishment will be packed with soccer fans, "I'm mostly cheering for Brauhaus Schmitz."


>Inquirer.com

Find more World Cup coverage, including standings and results, at www.inquirer.com/worldcup


jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906

@JeffGammage

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