AMSTERDAM – When he first arrived in January at new club FC Ingolstadt 04, a relegation-threatened German second-division side, Edson Buddle heard the same question over and over again.
"When I got here, everyone – in MLS and over here – would say, 'Why are you here? You were in LA,'" Buddle told MLSsoccer.com by phone from central Bavaria.
Having played out his contract with the LA Galaxy, the 29-year-old impressed on a week's trial with Birmingham City before signing with a club unknown to most American fans before Freddy Adu trained there in January. To boot, they had just three wins from 18 matches and looked like taking the plunge.
Coming off an MLS Best XI season that contained 17 Galaxy goals and a World Cup trip, Buddle chose to challenge himself with a whole new environment. With 11 Ingolstadt appearances, seven of them starts, he believes he has identified the adaptations needed for success.
"The German league is a bit more physical," he said. "In the US, we have good athletes, but the Germans are more tactically aware in how they play. We just haven't developed as much with tactics. It's what they stress here, in how they build up and defend collectively."
Of course, he concedes, those German minds are never forced to think the game in the muggy Dallas smolder of mid-August.
"It does make a difference," he stated, giving MLS players a degree-of-difficulty point. "You have to manage your body and keep the ball. Maybe their tactics would change [in American summer heat]."
As it stands, all things soccer are plenty cool with Buddle these days. Ingolstadt are unbeaten in six, out of the drop zone and welcoming the American well. Thus far, though, he has only been able to score against countrymen. The New York native hit on his debut against Duisburg's David Yelldell and beat Luis Robles at Karlsruher.
"I'm comfortable," said Buddle. "I'm getting opportunities to score goals, so that's why I'm not worried the goals won't come. It's a team sport."
It doesn't hurt that he can settle in while skipper Stefan Leitl catches fire. The veteran midfielder has seven goals in the last 10 games, taking pressure off the strike stable.
"Hopefully, the goals will come sooner or later and we have a guy that's hot," Buddle said calmly. "The captain has been scoring a lot of goals lately."
So what exactly happened to turn the sinkers into swimmers? Buddle's winning smile? In a small way, perhaps ... yes.
"The attitude, just because the team wasn't doing so well, wasn't high [when I got here]," he recalled. "The morale was low. I think the coach did a good job of bringing us together into training and we worked hard. Everyone said I was always smiling and being positive – but it's not the worst team situation I've been in.
"You can feel you have a good team and the ball doesn't bounce your way. But if you work on the little things and work for each other and stick together, it can turn around."
The change in fortunes has Ingolstadt four points clear of the relegation mire with five games left. Despite their current trajectory, Buddle isn't ready to plan ambitions for 2011-12.
"I'm not thinking about what happens next season yet," he stated. "The first thing is to stay in the second division. It's still a new experience for me. I think if we can win two or three games from the ones we have left, we should be OK. But we know we're not safe yet. We need to keep pushing to keep this undefeated streak going."
Off the pitch, the adjustments have come a little slower. The club has him in German class, but day-to-day matters remain a bit frustrating at times.
"It's not easy," shrugged Buddle. "You can't just go to the store and buy things. You need to use Google translate to know what things are. You kinda take those things for granted."
Though not unhappy with his Ingolstadt play to date, he knows his best has not shined through yet, in part because of factors away from the game.
"Those little things make a difference for me," intimated Buddle. "Some guys can not have all the things together and be excellent on the field. I like to have those things settled when I go on the pitch."
He also gets a little help from the other Americans playing club ball nearby. Teammate Amaechi Igwe, who is close to an injury return, has had some extra time to offer Germany guidance."I ask him a lot of questions," said a grateful Buddle. "He's been very helpful."
Long-lost pal Robles has also pitched in with ex-pat tips.
"He's doing his thing, got married," said Buddle, seeming impressed. "He speaks the language pretty well. I hadn't seen him since my first [USMNT] camp in '03. I always wondered what happened to him."
With MLS underway again, he excitedly says that catching up with Galaxy happenings back home livens up a lot of his free time.
"Of course! I watch MLS on the net all the time," Buddle exclaims, as if there was no other way. "MLS helped me get to where I am now and I'm very thankful. Now, I get to be a fan!"
So here he is, three months into the adventure of his choosing. Despite the hurdles and changes to come to terms with, Buddle now has a rock-solid answer for that nagging question.
"I'm definitely happy with the decision I made," he asserted. "I'm only going to play this game so long and I wanted to try something new. I'd been in MLS so long. Just to be here and the life experience is good for me. I always wanted to learn a different language. Hopefully, I can take this experience and pass it on to someone else."