Postcard from Europe: Taylor toughing it out in Germany
AMSTERDAM — Since leaving Chivas USA in 2007, SC Paderborn 07 attacker Matt Taylor has logged plenty of miles in western Germany trying to establish a career for himself in one of the world's most competitive soccer countries.
Now at his fourth stop abroad, the 29-year-old may have finally found the club to match his ambitions and playing attitude.
Down as low as the fourth flight only 11 years ago, second-division Paderborn are also trying to blaze paths. Led by manager Roger Schmidt, they go after tasks in a very American way. To put it politely, the team is expected to play in a manner that will draw groans from opponents spotting the Schwarz-Blau next on their schedule.
"Our team understands that we have to fight for every point, every win," Taylor told MLSsoccer by phone from Germany on Wednesday. "We're not going to have a $25 million roster. The attitude for us is, we need to bring something else to the table. We're going to counter and get our set-piece goals.
"Some other teams may have a quality we lack, but we make up for it in other ways, with organization and tactics and work rate."
Paderborn are in eighth in the 2.Bundesliga table through eight games with the second-best defense in the league. The turnaround is no accident.
"Every game this season, I think we've run more than our opponent," said Taylor. "We've won more of our one-on-one battles."
As of yet, though, the Paderborn attack is still gelling — despite a four-goal rout at nearby Bochum last weekend.
"I think we just got an early goal against a team that is down," Taylor stated. "It's tough. There's a new coach, new players, a new system."
In Schmidt's blueprint, Taylor has the specialized role of providing offense in certain situations and against certain opponents.
"We run usually with a one-striker system and a second forward/attacking midfielder," he noted. "Three guys rotate in that position. If [Schmidt] puts me in, he wants a goal and he thinks we're going to be putting pressure on and having a lot of balls into the box. On the road, I might get less minutes to play because he's going to play a bit more defensive. Close to goal is where I do my best work."
While not inked to the lineup card, Taylor is finally playing the position he likes. Despite enjoying his first 2.Bundesliga stop at Koblenz during the 2008-09 season, the UCLA product rarely got to stand in his preferred place off the lead striker. Things only got worse in that respect as he switched clubs each summer since arriving in Germany, with stints at FSV Frankfurt and Rot Weiss Ahlen.
"When I went to Frankfurt, it wasn't a very good time," recalled Taylor. "I played everywhere, I played left midfield, right midfield. And then they realize I'm really not a [center] forward. At Ahlen, I played pretty much the whole season as a lone striker."
That Ahlen stint in the third flight did get him back on the up elevator, though. His 17 goals in 30 matches started a small bidding war that eventually brought him to Paderborn. And it seemed to be a perfect fit: Taylor, a blue-collar, steady climber of a player, joining a blue-collar, steady climber of a club.
"The first goal obviously is to secure 38, 39, 40 points to know you're safe," said Taylor. "Our goal is to not play against relegation, to not have to grind it out those last two to three games. Also, the [German] Cup is big to a club like us. If we can go get another win in the cup, that would mean a ton of money to the club and just getting the name out there."
Taylor did that with a hat trick in their first-round rout of former side Ahlen. Next is a bout at league leaders Greuther Fürth for a round of 16 place on Sunday.
When he's not making the second run into the box, Taylor likes to explore the European game. He trains it over to Belgium to visit former Chivas USA teammate Sacha Kljestan or up to Dortmund for a Champions League tilt.
As much as he's enjoying this whole adventure, Taylor says he definitely wants to get back to Major League Soccer at some point. He knows it will be like visiting a sprouted-up old neighborhood.
"I have two years left on my contract here," he offered. "Hopefully, it goes well and I can score some goals. In two years, I think I might be ready to head home. I watch some of the highlights and I'll check out the scores. I still have friends in the league and I enjoy keeping up with them."
"It's getting bigger and better. When I left, there was only like 12 teams. I wasn't around for all these teams in Canada and Seattle and Portland, with unbelievable fans filling up stadiums. It's great to see how far soccer has come back home."
As nice as things look homeward from a distance, Taylor is unquestionably happy with his career choices and current home base.
"I took a bit of a chance and it worked out," he declared. "I've had highs and lows here. Now, I think I've made a good name for myself."