For most MLS fans–especially neutrals–Saturday’s matchup between the Chicago Fire and D.C. United doesn’t spark a ton of interest. It’s a battle between 13th and 14th in the Eastern Conference. In Europe it’d be a relegation six-pointer, but here, it’s just two teams trying to climb out of the early season holes they’ve dug themselves.
But for listeners of a certain MLS podcast, D.C. vs. Chicago is something very special. For the second and final time in 2022, it’s Zee Soccer Podcast Derby. Fire midfielder Fabian Herbers and D.C. United wingback Julian Gressel–two Germans who’ve made a life for themselves as pros in America–have hosted a weekly podcast for a little more than a year now.
Zee Soccer Podcast (“Zee” is the word “the” pronounced in a German accent, although neither guy really has one) started in the beginning of the 2021 season. The two were figuring it out in the fly, and the episodes were interesting, but a little bit weird and clunky at times. Since then the two have become a lot more polished, and the show has become a must-listen. You want to know what MLS players really think about each other, their coaches, who’s-making-what, and what’s going on in the locker room? You have to listen to Fabi and Jules.
“We came in starting the project without any expectations, but I think it’s gotten more fun over the time we’ve done it, and I think it’s about consistency,” Herbers told CHGO. “We aim to do it every week and I think the consistency is key in that part; that you grow your followership and sometimes you have some real good topics that sometimes the media doesn’t really get.”
One of those topics came earlier this season. Zee Soccer Pod blew up after a match between the Fire and Inter Miami, when Herbers went off on Miami superstar striker Gonzalo Higuain. A bit of back story, here: in a game last season, Herbers asked for Higuain’s jersey. At halftime, Higuain said no problem. After the game, though, Higuain rudely blew him off.
Then, after the Fire played Miami again this past March, Gressel asked Herbers if he’d asked Higuain for his jersey a second time. That’s when Fabi unloaded on the Argentine superstar:
“Fuck that guy,” Herbers said on the show. “This guy’s so pathetic. I don’t know, just, I mean, obviously he’s a presence on the field, and every time like a teammate of his makes a wrong pass or something or doesn’t pass the ball exactly to him, he’s just standing there, looks at him in his, like, negative mood, and just making like his by his whole body language is just terrible.”
Because Higuain is one of the most famous names in the sport, that quote landed everywhere. Google “Fabian Herbers Higuain,” and you get page after page of news stories from all over the world, in German, Italian, Spanish and several other languages. On fan forums some sided with Higuain, but most people related with Herbers, and why not? Most of us have never been pro athletes, but a lot of us have worked with terrible people who rest on their laurels, don’t work hard, and yell at others because they can.
The kicker came last month, when Gressel decided to keep the bit going. After a D.C. United-Inter Miami match, Gressel asked for–and got–Higuain’s jersey, with the Argentine seemingly oblivious to who Gressel was, or the controversy he’d unknowingly started.
The Higuain situation got the most attention, but the two consistently deliver interesting content every week. On the last couple episodes they’ve had particularly good guests–Charlotte FC (and former Fire) midfielder Brandt Bronico, and Wolfsburg’s Kevin Paredes, Gressel’s old teammate in D.C. Because they’re talking to fellow players and not reporters, the show’s guests tend to let their guard down a little more. Bronico talked about his departure from Chicago after the 2020 season, when he was told he wasn’t in the plans anymore, and how that helped him to land back home in Charlotte. And Paredes–an American–talked about what it was like living in Germany as a 19-year-old, with a couple of Germans living in America asking the questions. You get the sense Gressel and Herbers love helping their fellow players share their stories and opinions.
The two talk about their personal lives, too. Gressel is a dad, and talks about the joys and difficulties of fatherhood. Herbers has talked about his dating life, his travels, injury struggles, and even his recent bout with Covid after returning from a trip to Mexico during the international break.
“It’s been a fun journey so far,” Herbers said. “It’s growing and a good project that I have together with Jules.”
Soldier Field Saturday
Herbers got the better of his co-host earlier this season at Audi Field in D.C., with a 2-0 Fire win. Saturday’s game at Soldier Field (7 p.m. CT) will be the last time the two face each other this season, unless both teams somehow drastically turn things around and make the postseason.
“[D.C. is} a dangerous team. I think usually they play with five in the back and obviously Julian Gressel puts in a lot of dangerous crosses from that side,” Herbers said, praising his friend and co-host. “I think it’s a team that’s just picked up rhythm and it’s up to us to disrupt that rhythm now and ourselves create some momentum going forward.”
Whatever happens, we’ll find out what really happened on the pitch when the latest episode of Zee Soccer Pod drops after the match.
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