goalkeeper Jay Nolly, midfielder Kenny Cutler and forward Jamie Watson -- are set to embark on a great soccer adventure on Wednesday. In the first interaction between German Bundesliga side Hannover 96 and RSL since the clubs announced a cooperative partnership in January, the trio will spend two weeks training with the top-flight side in one of Europe's toughest leagues.
Nolly, Cutler and Watson all had important roles for RSL in their rookie campaigns in 2005, and the three hope to use the experience gained in MLS to their favor when they work out with a team that features national team players from around the world, as well as U.S. national team defender Steve Cherundolo. It's sure to be a eye-opening experience taking the field with such seasoned professionals, but the overwhelming emotion exhibited by the three on the day before their departure was excitement.
"It's really exciting," said Watson. "I've been looking forward to it for a while. It will be good to see what it's like."
Nolly, Cutler and Watson are expected to train with the first team during their two-week stint in Europe. For players who only recently entered the professional game, experiencing it at its highest point is an opportunity that is not being taken lightly.
"It will be great to see the level," said Nolly, who saw action in five matches for RSL this season as their primary backup goalkeeper. "For a goalkeeper, I think it will be a little more challenging. I'm basically up against the whole team. There will be a lot of intensity and they won't be giving me as many breaks. The year (in Salt Lake City) will help me. We've been training and I'm ready to go."
In addition to seeing life on the training ground, the three RSL youngsters will also have a chance to experience first-hand the European match experience. Hannover, which currently sits 12th in the 18-team Bundesliga, will host Mainz on Saturday at their state-of-the-art stadium, AWD Arena. The RSL trio is expected to be in the stands when the match kicks off.
"It will be nuts to be in that environment," said Watson. "These are the games I'm always watching on TV, so it will be crazy to actually be in the stadium."
One player that Watson and his compatriots will surely keep a close eye on during the action is Cherundolo. The 26-year-old has found success in the upper echelons of Germany soccer, using that experience to propel himself into a regular contributor to the U.S. squad. As the only American on the Hannover roster, Watson says they will rely heavily on his guidance and assistance.
"He'll be the guy that will look out for us. It's really cool that he's doing that for us," Watson said. "We're all really grateful. He doesn't have to take time out of his life for us young kids, but it's really cool that he is. He's a class guy."
All three Germany-bound players see the next two weeks as a chance to improve their own personal skills as well as maybe raise a few eyebrows.
"It's always exciting to think about what it would be like to play over in Europe," said Cutler. "That's where the best players in the world go. I want to impress whoever is there."
"Maybe some other team's coaches will get a look at us," added Nolly. "That ultimately is a big goal for all goalkeepers here -- to be the next big American in Europe. This is a great opportunity."
Watson also pointed out that he and his teammates feel a need to perform well, as they are the first RSL players to be welcomed to the prestigious club since their partnership was reached.
"We need to make a good first impression so that they will be eager to send players to us and to invite more of our guys back. There's a little bit of pressure, but we'll be fine. We're all excited and anxious. It's total excitement."
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.