CHESTER, Pa. – When Kai Herdling found out that the Union only practice once a day, the surprised German footballer had a question for Peter Nowak.
“He asked me if he could come in the afternoon to train by himself,” the Philadelphia manager said Wednesday, two days after the club announced Herdling would be joining the Union on loan from Bundesliga side 1899 Hoffenheim. “I said, ‘Yeah the facilities are for you – do whatever you want. But nobody is going to be here, except for maybe the coaching staff.’”
Herdling’s eagerness to train twice a day is a testament to his work ethic and his roots in the ultra-competitive Bundesliga. Before being loaned to Philly, the 27-year-old midfield/striker was one of the top attacking players for Hoffenheim II, the club’s reserve team. Nowak expects that overseas experience to be beneficial to the Union as they look to get their offense in gear.
“With all of the youngsters we have in the locker room, I think he will be a good role model for them,” the Union manager said. “And from the playing side, he’s a guy who can be a striker, a playmaker, someone who always wants to be around the ball. He’s very technical.”
The deal came about, Nowak said, because of the Union’s strong relationship with Hoffenheim, a club that has visited Philadelphia and has also invited Union players like Zach Pfeffer to train with them during the MLS offseason.
When talking about how to build that partnership further, Nowak said Herdling’s name came up as a player who could benefit from playing elsewhere for a short period of time and also someone who can make an impact in MLS.
The loan runs until June 30, at which point Hoffenheim, the Union and Herdling will decide together whether to extend the deal through the end of the season, or perhaps even on a more permanent basis.
“I think it’s a win-win situation for all of us,” Nowak said.
While the Union already have a lot of forwards and attacking midfielders, Herdling will help add depth in the position, especially with the recent injury to Roger Torres and the looming departure of Gabriel Gómez for Panama’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
According to Nowak, Herdling – who trained with the club for a few days before the loan deal was finalized – already has his international transfer certificate but needed to go back to Germany to get his work permit visa. The Union manager is unsure if the German will be available for Saturday’s game against Chivas at the Home Depot Center (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online) and also appeared unsure, at least at this time, how exactly he’ll fit into the lineup.
“I don’t want to go overboard and say what we’ll be with Kai,” Nowak said. “We’ll have to see where he fits.”
One thing the Union manager did seem sure about, however, is that the team’s newest player will have no problem adjusting to his new surroundings and meshing with his new teammates.
“I think Kai is a great guy,” Nowak said. “We’ve had him in training and he speaks English. It’s going to be a good fit for us.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org