Atlanta United brought Kevin Kratz to the club via trade with Philadelphia earlier this month. The German midfielder has extensive professional experience in Germany after starting his career with Bayer Leverkusen’s academy. He joined the Union as a free agent in September, but did not appear for the club before the end of the season.
He tells Dirty South Soccer that he’s looking forward to the challenge of coming to Atlanta and helping to start a club from scratch.
“It was like this at Sandhausen, my last club. They usually do it this way, they’ll change about 8-12 players per year. It’s soccer, you’re on the field and everybody knows what to do. It takes time for the tactics.
I think with the setup that we have with the new training facility, it’s a great place where we can be the best that we can be. I think we’ll have a lot of meetings to get to know each other. I don’t think it will be a problem. We’ll have the whole preseason, and the friendly games, where we can get to know each other on the field and there’s enough time to get it together before the season starts.
We’ll have to learn quickly. With a totally new team and all new players, we’ll have to talk to each other a lot about situations both before and after training. I think we’ll have a competitive team right from the start.”
Kratz has followed American soccer and MLS for some time before coming to the U.S. last summer. He trained with a few teams, including Minnesota United, before landing in Philadelphia.
“For the last four or five years, I’ve been really interested in MLS and American soccer. I have an American agent, Justin Stone. I had a good time in Germany and I wanted to try something else. I’ve been on vacation in America and it’s a great country.
The first game I saw over here was with David Beckham and the LA Galaxy. There is so much potential here and I really wanted to be part of it. I’m happy that I am right now.
The league is growing. The players don’t come in at the age of 34 or 35 as much now, you see Giovinco now who is one of the best players. They’re coming at a good age. I think it’s a really good league and I’m happy to be part of it.”
Kratz learned a lot about the league during his short stint in Philadelphia and had nothing but good things to say about the Union.
“I had only learned a little bit about all of the drafts, MLS system, and salary cap. In Philadelphia, I only had a short, intense, but great time there. The Philadelphia Union family was very professional and everything was great. I was happy to be part of it and to get a closer look inside of a MLS team. With the playoff game we had in Toronto, it was great to see that.”
When asked about the differences between MLS and what he was used to in Germany, Kratz said that there was not as much of a difference in the level as he thought there would be.
“The difference, I think it’s more athletic than European leagues, especially German soccer. The team tactics was a little bit different. The quality of the players, I think, is nearly the same. You always have some great players in Germany, or all over the world. You can see that they are building up the youth too.”
With his trade to Atlanta worked out well ahead of it becoming official earlier this month, Kratz was able to get settled in his new hometown.
“I already found an apartment. After Philadelphia, I had time to get settled here in Atlanta. I found an apartment and everything is set up. I’ve been able to explore the city a little bit like the (Centennial) Olympic Park, I made it to the (World of) Coca-Cola and the Aquarium. My parents are visiting right now and I have to show them a little bit of where their son is going to be living.
Everything I have learned so far is very positive, I really like it here. I’m really happy to be here and I can’t wait to get started with preseason.”
Speaking of his new home, Kratz has already started getting to know his new workplaces.
“When I came here, they showed me around at the new stadium, which is going to be awesome. I sent the YouTube link where they fly in to some of my old teammates in Germany. They said, ‘Okay, wow, that looks like it will be a great stadium!’ I can’t wait to get started there.
This morning, I drove by the Bobby Dodd Stadium where we are going to play until the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is finished. I think it’s going to be a great soccer stadium with the seats close to the field. I can’t wait to get started there too.”
One of the things Kratz has been noted for throughout his career is his passing ability. Coming up through the youth system at a club like Leverkusen, that is not a huge surprise. Also, when Kratz talks about one of the players who has had a profound impact on his career, it makes even more sense.
“There was a German player, Bernd Schneider. He was a national team player and played with Bayer Leverkusen. I went through the Bayer Leverkusen youth academy. When I was with the second team, I think he was around 32 or 33 years old. He wasn’t playing for the first team and he said, ‘I want to play, I’ll go down to the second team and play with the young kids.’ That inspired me, he wasn’t the old professional who thinks he had earned everything and was better than everyone else. He came down to play soccer and was great on the field. The way he was talking on the field to us, it helped me a lot and gave me hints about what’s necessary to make your way up and be a professional.”
One of things he learned from Schneider was versatility and being willing to fill whatever role his club needed.
“I’ve played a few different positions. I like it as a #6, or as a #8. But, if I’m needed on the right or left or as a #10, I’m happy to do that too.”
At Kratz’s last stop in Germany with Sandhausen, he featured primarily as a #10.
“I played a lot as a #10 because we had a coach who liked to have two #6’s who are working hard defensively. I work defensively, but I always like to go forward and create chances to get shots on goal. He wanted that kind of player more as a #10, so he put me there. It was a great time there.”
Kratz will have a new coach in Atlanta in Tata Martino. You could hear the excitement in his voice when talking about his new boss.
“I’m really happy he’s our coach. He’s worked with the best players in the world. I met him the other day. Just from talking to him for a few minutes, he will have a plan for how to build up the play and how to defend and press, like Barcelona does. I’m looking forward to see how he wants to do this here. I’ll have to learn quickly, but I’m looking forward to working with him.”
He also talked about Martino’s progress in learning English. It sounds like Tata will be just fine by Opening Day.
“He had an interview. Everybody’s told me, ‘Yeah, he’s working on it.” He started answering the questions in English. I think it’s like all of the big coaches when they move to another country. I saw it with Guardiola in Germany, it was only 4-6 weeks before he was answering the questions in German. That’s the same with Tata Martino. I think he’s doing the same thing, he’s learning quickly. The way he answered, it sounds like he’s had it for a few months now. I think by the start of preseason, he’ll be fine.”