Postcard from Europe: Time can't catch Wood in Munich
AMSTERDAM – The first professional goal in the career of 1860 Munich attacker Bobby Wood consisted of him running freely from midfield to fire a late 1-1 equalizer at Aalen late last month. Not only was it exciting, it was contextually appropriate.
Thanks to knee surgery back in March, the 20-year-old saw his development stalled for much of 2012. To make matters more nervy, Wood (above, right) had to start the final year of his contract rehabbing with the second team, where he remained until mid-November.
"I was pretty worried about it," he told MLSsoccer.com from Bochum ahead of Wednesday's DfB-Pokal round-of-16 tilt. "Everything was going wrong, the injuries were bad at a certain point."
Like the team's share in Aalen, Wood has managed to pull his year out of the fire by running freely with time melting away. The knee injury became a thing of the past after the youngster bagged six goals for 1860 II, and he was summoned to the first team only a month ago.
After a substitute appearance in his comeback at Union Berlin on Nov. 24, Wood consecutively made his first three 2.Bundesliga starts for the Lions. Things have gone so well upon his return that the club quickly rectified the dwindling contract situation, inking the Hawaii native to his first pro deal this past weekend.
"My goal when I came here was to have this opportunity, so it feels really good," said Wood, now signed until the summer of 2016. "It's the first step to start everything, so I just have to keep doing what I'm doing."
Of course, what he's doing now is different than what he'd done before the injury troubles started earlier in the year. Coming into this season, Wood had earned only eight substitute outings at 1860, with the longest running 19 minutes and five of them counting as little more than stoppage time scraps.
Suddenly, just when his year and perhaps even his 1860 stay were in jeopardy, he's been able to enjoy 318 minutes of league experience in a few short weeks. Wood now gets to approach playing time in a new manner and says his rate of development is currently at an all-time high.
"Obviously, it's a way different game," he stated. "You can take your time and get into the flow of the game. I'm learning a lot from the older players."
Wood is also picking up lessons off the field, such as the one about playing for a second division club in a top flight town. Since the Lions last played in the Bundesliga back in 2004, city rivals Bayern Munich have grabbed the domestic crown four times and appeared in two Champions League finals.
The teams also share Allianz Arena, a sleek 70,000-seat marvel that glows blue or red depending on which club is playing that day. Wood says 1860 supporters are the tops, but admits that the local media sometimes seems to evaluate the Lions in Bayern's light.
"There's a lot of pressure [playing in Munich]," he said. "There's a lot of negative stuff written in the press. I'm still kinda new to it, but it's something I try not to listen to."
Instead, he will enter the new year focused on chasing down the third spot in the table, which grants the holders a promotion playoff against the Bundesliga's 16th-place finisher. With Braunschweig and Hertha Berlin running away for the two automatic elevators, a bronze finish seems the best shot to get 1860 back in the big time like everyone expects.
Just past the season's midway point, 1860 stand five points back of their target in sixth place. After playing Bochum for the cup quarterfinal slot, they'll head into a winter break that last until February, leaving Wood plenty of time to plot a healthy, happy new year.
"We want that [promotion playoff] spot," he declared. "Five points can be switched in two weeks, so that's nothing. We just need to keep our heads down and be consistent.
"We're in a big city, our stadium is one of the best stadiums in Germany. As a club, it would be nice to be back up in the first division, but we have to make it happen."
If recent history is any indication, Woods has now figured out how to do that in a timely manner.