Bundesliga side Werder Bremen has recently been linked with the signing of Leon Flach, a midfielder for MLS side Philadelphia Union. On paper, this is a good move for all parties. Philadelphia is continuing to make a healthy profit off of its develop-and-sell method. Flach would get a new contract in a better league, also increasing his chances of being called up for the United States national team.
For Bremen, this is a signing with a high reward but a decent risk. They need depth in midfield, although they are bringing in Liverpool midfielder Naby Keïta. Flach is also young (just 22), and he can definitely develop as a player in the Bundesliga. However, he’s far from a finished product, and while Bremen has money, Philadelphia is reportedly holding out for more than $3 million (about €2.75 million). That’s not an insignificant fee, but is Flach worth it?
Before arriving in Philadelphia, Flach played for another German side: 2. Bundesliga club St. Pauli. He mostly featured in the reserves and academy, playing all over the field, primarily in defensive positions. By the time he joined the Union, Flach had played just nine games in Germany, mostly at left-back.
With Philadelphia, Flach has mostly featured as a center-midfielder in a diamond midfield. However, he has also been used as a defensive midfielder, or even as an emergency left-back. As a result, he tends to focus on his defensive duties, rather than pushing forward.
Just look at his stats: in his first year in MLS, Flach won the seventh-most tackles in the league, with 52. In his second season, he improved, winning 53 tackles — while also recording more interceptions (from 39 to 50), winning more of his duels (from 52.8% to 56.1%), and committing fewer fouls (from 43 to 34). What doesn’t get as much recognition is his relentless running: Flach covers a lot of distance and his energy rarely fades, even late into the match.
Flach’s defensive skills would work well in Bremen. While they finished 13th, a comfortable distance away from relegation, they relied heavily on the goals of Niclas Füllkrug, and ultimately had one of the worst defensive records in the Bundesliga. The midfield was not at fault, but Flach could definitely lighten the load of Bremen’s defenders.
Here’s where things get dicey. Despite featuring as a center midfielder more than a defensive midfielder, Flach doesn’t provide much going forward. The official MLS website, which counts assists differently than the rest of the world — including the pass before the traditional assist as one — says he has seven over the course of two and a half seasons. Transfermarkt, which uses more traditional methods, counts three.
Goals are even rarer for Flach. His first goal was an awkward volley which the goalkeeper fumbled into the net. His second, to be fair, was a beautiful game-winner in the MLS playoffs. He also scored once for St. Pauli, but he will never be a regular on the scoresheet.
To his credit, he has also been improving in attack. In his first season, he turned the ball over 43 times, but improved to just 26 in his second (if he plays the full season this year, he’s on track to match that tally). His passing accuracy has also improved every season, and he managed to increase his shot accuracy in his second season.
Flach won’t blow anybody away with his attacking capabilities, but he doesn’t need to. Bremen had a very strong attack last season and should again, even if Füllkrug leaves. Additionally, the club has plenty of more attacking-minded players, and Flach wouldn’t be brought it to lead the lines. His passing needs a little strengthening to keep up in the Bundesliga, but he’s going to continue to grow as a player.
Even for those who don’t rate MLS that highly, Flach still has a ton of experience. Despite being just 22, he’s already played over 100 matches for Philadelphia (almost 8000 minutes). This includes a continental competition, the CONCACAF Champions League, where Flach has played against many of the best teams and players in North America.
He has earned all of these minutes on one of the MLS’s top teams. Philadelphia has sold some promising players abroad, like Paxten and Brenden Aaronson, and the midfield is loaded with plenty of promising stars, namely Jack McGlynn, and experienced veterans such as former US international Alejandro Bedoya.
In addition, while he has somewhat surprisingly been snubbed by the US national team, he does have international experience at youth level for both the US and Germany.
In my opinion, Leon Flach is worth the reported $3 million that Werder Bremen would have to pay to bring him to Germany. In addition to his obvious talent and potential, there’s little things that make the move make sense.
As a German-American, Flach speaks the language and is familiar with the culture. He even played relatively close to Bremen — St. Pauli is in Hamburg, which is about an hour away. He would need little time to adjust to the surroundings, which is always a (understated) risk with bringing in new players. Just look at James Rodriguez, who disappointed with Bayern because he didn’t like the weather in Munich.
Flach is also a hard worker and not overly flashy. He does the dirty work in midfield without needing much praise or calling attention to himself, and is a highly professional player. In the Bundesliga, of all places, this would be appreciated — he’s not going to cause controversy. Flach just does what he’s supposed to do — and that’s why Bremen should sign him.