BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, June 22, 2012
After signing a new professional contract with Hoffenheim this past spring, American winger Joe Gyau is now focused on the upcoming preseason where he aims to break into the club's first team.
Gyau, 19, is coming off a season where he made significant progress at Hoffenheim. In the second half of the campaign, the American made the bench for three Bundesliga games and earned his first professional minutes in a DFB Pokal match in a 1-0 loss to Greuther Furth.
For the upcoming 2012/13 season, Gyau will have a lot of confidence as he is now under a professional contract through the end of the 2014/15 season.
"It's a confidence booster," Gyau told YA on his contract. "It shows the team is really behind me. Now I just have to go out, play, and do my thing."
This past year has been an emotional roller-coaster for Gyau as it saw some amazing highs and some disappointing lows.
In addition to the contract, the biggest high for Gyau came on February 8 when entered into the DFB Pokal match against Greuther Furth as a 79th minute for fellow American Fabian Johnson. Prior to that, he was typically accustomed to playing for Hoffenheim's U-23 team in the Regionalliga.
That game was his first ever professional minutes and it was a memorable experience for Washington, DC native.
"Since it was the quarterfinals and there were big stakes, it was an intense game," Gyau recalled. "The coach kind of just threw me on the field. He gave me a chance. It was great. The intensity level was high but I loved every minute of it. It was my first game as a pro. I'll never forget it. It was the real deal."
On the disappointing end, this past year Gyau had to say goodbye to his close friend Charles Renken who left Hoffenheim to sign with the Portland Timbers. Gyau and Renken were both in US Soccer residency together and signed with Hoffenheim together.
They were roommates in Germany and spent a lot of time together. When Renken left Hoffenheim, it was hard for Gyau.
"It was difficult," Gyau said. "Charles and I came here together and we were living in the same guest house. When he left, I had to get my own apartment. I didn't have anyone to talk with everyday but my German is good."
The biggest disappointment, however, for Gyau did not involve Hoffenheim. It was in March when he was with the US U-23 team for Olympic qualifying tournament. 12 months earlier, he was part of the US U-20 team that failed to qualify for the U-20 World Cup when they lost to hosts Guatemala in the quarterfinals.
This past March, however, the team was eliminated in stunning fashion. In a game against El Salvador in group play, the US team needed a win to advance to the semifinals. Clinging to a 3-2 lead four minutes to second half stoppage time, El Salvador equalized on a soft long shot that snuck past US keeper Sean Johnson and sent the Americans home.
For the second straight summer, Gyau will be missing out on a top tournament and the disappointing feeling still lingers.
"We kind of underestimated El Salvador," Gyau explained. "It was the same thing that happened against Guatemala with the U-20s. We came out against El Salvador and we thought we were going to beat them right off the bat."
"We scored that early goal but you could still see they were pressuring us. We weren't playing our game. We came back nicely but it was bad luck at the end."
"The guy shot it in the 94th minute," he added. "It was a good shot but I thought for sure Sean [Johnson] had it. So I had already turned around getting ready for the punt. Next thing you know, I hear people screaming. It was crazy."
Instead of dwelling out on missing the Olympics, Gyau is instead looking at the silver lining in that he will now be able to play with Hoffenheim for their entire preseason. Since he is on the verge of making the club's first team, missing the preseason to go to the Olympics would have hurt his chances.
Gyau realizes that the preseason is a crucial time for young players and he is looking forward to the opportunity.
"It's a huge disappointment to miss the Olympics but looking on the other side, it's good that I'm going to be with the team the whole time for the [preseason] to get a fair shot," Gyau said. "If I was at the Olympics, it also would be a great stage for other teams to see me but it would also be difficult leaving [Hoffenheim] for such a long time."
Gyau is enjoying his time at Hoffenheim and he is confident he is making progress. He is in contact with US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and he knows US scouts had been over to watch his games for the reserve team.
He also talks to US internationals Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams on a daily basis when with the club and he appreciates the camaraderie among the American players.
On and off the field, Gyau is excited for the upcoming season and he looks forward to making strides in the Bundesliga in the months ahead.
"The focus is on [this] season," Gyau concluded. "When I come in for preseason, they're really going to give me a fair chance. That'll be my big shot. It's a young team and we have a great coach. Getting a chance to play some real, high-level soccer - that's what I'm really excited about."