October 06, 2016
It was 5:15 p.m. on a Thursday evening when the Philadelphia Union sent out a press release announcing the acquisition of German midfielder Kevin Kratz on a free transfer.
There were no prior rumors, or leaks, or even thoughts that the Union would add to the roster in mid-September with just five regular-season games to play.
Who was Kevin Kratz, and would he play a role in 2016? Was this a move with next season in mind? What position does he even play? Sporting Director Earnie Stewart mentioned Kratz's "valuable depth in multiple positions across our midfield" in a brief quote from that release.
We know that the 29-year-old veteran came through the youth ranks at Bayer Leverkusen, where he trained alongside Union midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta. Kratz eventually left for second division side Alemannia Aachen, then earned promotion to the Bundesliga as a starter for Eintracht Braunschweig. When Braunschweig was relegated, he moved to tier two SV Sandhausen before eventually coming to Philadelphia.
Kratz trained briefly with the Union in September but returned to Germany to complete the visa process.
He spoke with a small group of media following training on Wednesday afternoon:
PhillyVoice: Kevin, how did you end up in Philadelphia? Why did you want to come here?
Kevin Kratz: "Well, I'm happy to be here finally. My visa process took a little bit longer than I had thought, but finally, I'm here. I met the guys, I think it was two and a half or three weeks ago. I was here for training, met the guys, got a feeling for (the club), and yea, I liked it. Nice guys, they made it easy for me to adapt and come in. I haven't seen much of Philadelphia right now, but there's still time to go and look at the city and get to know it."
Delco Times: How did the transfer come about? I know the Union have had success in Germany with Tranquillo and Oka Nikolov.
Kratz: "I think most of it was my agent, Justin Stone. He really worked hard on getting me to the U.S., and that was my dream – to come here and play in a different country. I've had a few clubs in Germany but I wanted to have a new experience, with a new culture, and that's how I ended up here."
PhillyVoice: What do you know about Major League Soccer and the sport over here? Did you watch MLS games in Germany?
Kratz: Of course, yeah. I've been working with my agent for three and a half years now. I'm really into Major League Soccer right now. I think I've gotten to know the system, the playoffs and the salary cap. I really read a lot about it and I've seen many games. In Germany, it's on Eurosport; that's the channel where you can watch the games. It's later in the evening sometimes, but I could record them and watch them the next day. I think I'm pretty (familiar) with Major League Soccer."
PhiladelphiaUnion.com: What did you know about this club before you joined?
Kratz: "I talked to Quillo when I came here, because I knew him from Leverkusen. He told me, 'Kevin, training is a good quality, the facilities are good and the new building with the locker room and all of that, the stadium is nice'. He mentioned a few things and now I'm able to have my own impressions."
Delco Times: Tell us about the relationship with 'Quillo. I know it was awhile ago at Leverkusen, but how well did you know him?
Kratz: "He was always the guy who took care of the younger players. There were some older players at Leverkusen that (kept to themselves). But I came up from the second team and the youth (academy), and we were in training camp with the first team. He was always like, 'Kevin, if you need anything, just let me know, I'll take care of it'. He's done the same here."
PhillyVoice: Where would you say you've played most of your career? Are you a holding guy, an attacker, or somewhere in between?
Kratz: "The last two years I played more like a number ten. But my first professional years I played more as a six with two center midfielders. Then I played on the right side, left side, number ten, so many positions in the midfield, yea."
PhillyVoice: Did you have conversations about the coaching staff about what your specific role would be?
Kratz: "Yea, you know Bedoya came in a few months ago, and Mo was injured, they told me, 'Kevin, (you're here) in case we need anything in the midfield, in different positions'. I hope I'm the right guy to help out there, and push in training, so that these guys who are playing right now are fit and know that there is someone behind them so that they have to show well on the weekends. But I have to get the system and all of that. I talked to the coach a few times about how they want their center midfield to go back, or go wide to get to the ball, and how they're going to do it. So I'll have to learn quickly."
Delco Times: How tough is it to jump in at the end of the season? There are only a couple of games left. That's a different situation than in most leagues.
Kratz: "Yea, it's interesting, I'll say it that way. It's a new facility, new system, and it's a bit different than Germany. I couldn't really tell you about the differences right now, but I have to get to know more. But I'm here. I'll talk to the players, talk to the coaching staff to know my position and know my role on the field, then I hope I can show well if needed."
PhillyVoice: Was there anything specific about the United States or North America that you were looking forward to experiencing? Do you like American sports like football or baseball?
Kratz: "I'm into it now. I'm trying to. I've been on vacation a couple of times in the U.S. and met a few players who were here and talked to them. They say it's a great chance to increase your personality and see another kind of soccer. But it's growing here in the last couple of years and I'm happy to be a part of it. I'm really excited to work with the team over the last couple of weeks to have success."