As Told By Preston Zimmerman (Part II)

Struggles in Austria...

(*Note: Preston has graciously agreed to answer any questions that you post for him in the comments below.) (Part I) (Part III)

TSG: Okay, so then Hamburg sell you to what I’ll call your “nightmare club” in Austria? Spill it on Austria.

Preston: Well, thanks. It would be good to set the record straight.

TSG: Go ahead.

Preston: Thanks.

Basically what happened is my agent at the time couldn’t find a club for me.

Hamburg came and spoke to me and they didn’t want me on their books, and they had a relationship with a club in Austria and they wanted to loan me out.

I knew nothing about the club. The very next day Hamburg had consummated the deal with Kapfenberger SV and they said I just had to sign some personal terms.

At the time I thought it was a good idea and a good situation. So I went there and became a starter and started for 23 or so games.

I can’t say anything bad about playing there. I had playing time and an opportunity. I played and scored against Red Bull Salzburg and did some other good things…but…

It all came to a sudden end and they wanted me to sign a contract through 2012.

I had already communicated to them that I was only there because I couldn’t find a second league club in Germany and I couldn’t find that connection.

Everyone knew that I was going there to get experience, but not to settle down.

That was the plan and it wasn’t supposed to hurt anyone’s feelings. I didn’t like the atmosphere at the club and the culture in Austria is not really what I wanted either.

They wanted me to sign a contract until 2012, and when I didn’t things went sour…fast.

Once I said no, I got benched despite starting all the games before that. And then the coach would start hollering at me after training and also trying to get me to sign the contract.

I’d keep telling him that I’m not going to agree to a contract and you’re my coach, not the management.

He chastised me in front of the team.

Matt, this story could go on for hours.

TSG: We’ll take the short or long version.

Preston: It sort of came to a head after losing against Vienna.

He benched me for the first half and then the second half I came in, but didn’t score.

He came into the locker room after and wanted me to fight him!

He even pulled some other guy’s hair who didn’t play well!

So we get back to the club–it was a road game–it’s 11pm at night and we’re out on the pitch, it’s snowing and we’re sprinting up and down the pitch non-stop carrying medicine balls!

Then we have a meeting a little after midnight and he says…well, he demeans me in front of the team saying I have no respect for the team and the coach, and if that’s my attitude (about the contract) I can go find a new club.

He put his hand out and I shook it. I thought I was fired.

TSG: Wow.

Preston: We then had a meeting when I came back and he blew up on me and basically wanted to fight me again!

Well, then I was 100% sure I was fired.

So I didn’t come back to training anymore, and he started threatening me through other players on the team saying if I didn’t come back to training he was going to have UEFA suspend me for six months.

By then I had a lawyer who advised me that I was fired by what happened, and that I shouldn’t say anything and not to go back.

It went on and on and it went into the media and he crucified me there.

He said I went to England on a trial. Meanwhile, I don’t even have the papers to be able to play in England!

I’d go walk places around town and people would come up to me and get in my face and ask why I was doing what I was doing.

But, bottom line: I was fired and I didn’t get any of the money owed to me.

Also, the apartment was from the club and my car too. I got everything out of my apartment because I thought they would take that.

And then I went home to Washington.

I tried to get into teams, Regensburg in Germany’s third division was interested, but no team would take me even though I had the papers that I was fired. Teams would check with Austria and they would say I broke my contract.

[At the time of publication, Kapfenberger SV had not responded to email requests for comment]

TSG: So let me interrupt and ask a question: how do you prevent a situation like that? Can it be prevented?

Preston: I’m sure it could have been prevented, but Hamburg did the deal more than my agent.

It could have been I guess, but no one was really involved more in the situation. My agent wasn’t helping me because he’s not the one that got me to Kapfenburg.

On to Mainz...

TSG: So then you had a friend at Mainz who finally quote “hooked you up?”

Preston: Basically.

I don’t want to name him, but he’s in good standing with a club.

Somehow I popped up in a conversation and they were curious what happened to me after I was at Hamburg.

But with my history it was still difficult. Why claim a player with my background who might be a headache?

TSG: Wait let me go back…qualify just how difficult the Vienna situation was?

Preston: Worst time of my life, obviously.

It was hard because I had to stick by my guns and for ten months I couldn’t play while it got sorted out, plus I wasn’t making any money.

They [Kapfenburg] even tried to make Mainz pay money for me when I wasn’t even under contract anymore.

TSG: And let me remind our readers that you’re all of 20-years-old at this time.

Preston: Yup.

I had to bum around Europe. I thought, “Is this what I have to go through?”

I was desperate. I went to Turkey on trial. I even thought about an offer from Azerbaijan.

I just wanted to play football.

TSG: Were you going to stay in Europe at all times or were you considering coming back to MLS?

Preston: I was staying in Europe.

A lot of people don’t understand the reason I live in Europe isn’t based exclusively on football. I love Europe and it’s not just about the football.

One of my goals in life was to learn another language and now I know German.

It’s not a bash on MLS. It’s just that I want to live here.

I decided I’m not going to give up and that team in Austria is going to know they messed up. I’m going to stay and make it.

TSG: Now you’re in a better situation?

Preston: When I first got to Hamburg I had great wages and then I had nothing, and now I’m back to where I was.

Everything has sort of gone the way it’s supposed to except that spell in Austria, I guess.

I wish it didn’t happen, but I can’t worry about that anymore.

TSG: So, to refresh, the plan is to now play out the year?

Preston: Basically I go to work in peace now.

I don’t do interviews because so often the media has got it wrong. You guys are an exception, of course.

I’ll see where it shakes out in January. I just want less chaos.

I know that I’m safe in Mainz and no one is out to get me. They want me to succeed.

TSG: Okay, let me shift topics for a second. You had that great spell in Austria. You’re now at Mainz and about to get at least a little first team action. You played striker and are an attacking player.

Has Bob Bradley or USSF reached out to you at all about playing for the national team?

Zimmerman with the U-20's...

Preston: You know, first, my head’s not there.

I got called in back when I was 18 to a camp in Switzerland. I didn’t make the team day roster but it was  fun experience.

TSG: So you’re not ready for it?

Preston: I’m more mature now and not naive, but I’m not ready to take it on right now.

When there is a game or camp I don’t expect to be called in.

TSG: No aspirations at all? What if they called you in?

Preston: Right now, the most important thing for my life is to have an established profession for me here and get my life going in Europe. It’s my goal.

As far as what comes after that, if I get into a camp, great.

When I was playing my best though in Austria and scoring goals I thought I might get called in, but I didn’t hear anything and no one that I know of has come to watch me.

But, one of my problems is I want to do things my way and it’s important that it’s my way and sometimes it makes problems for me.

And I don’t want to get anything because I kissed anyone’s ass. I want it on merit.

And I think a lot of people will reach out and swallow their pride to try and, you know, make some stuff happen.

Maybe you have the feeling I’m a jerk or something?

TSG: You know it’s great hearing an honest opinion and our readers are going to appreciate your honest opinions in an interview setting because you could just as easily offer some canned or non-committal responses.

Preston: I run into problems with my disposition sometimes. [laughing]

I don’t dream about scoring a goal for the national team in the World Cup. I dream about winning a championship as a foreigner here in a top European League.

It’s not to say I have anything against the national team.

I don’t know how to say it in a positive way so I don’t get killed by people reading this.

It’s just where I am right now. Maybe people won’t like that answer, but…

TSG: Preston, at the risk of being advisor-ish–I don’t know if that’s even a word…

When people are honest that’s what people care about on our publication. They don’t like to hear the whole sing-song or people/players not speaking on their true feelings.

People can smell that out in a second.

We’ve done one or two interviews where I can tell the player is not being forthright and just offering canned responses. And, you know what, those are the articles that weren’t well received on our publication, and the ones afterward where I thought, “Man, unless I have to, I’m not talking to so-and-so again.”

This will read well because you’re honest.

Preston: Well, this is why I can’t give interviews because I can’t hold my tongue. [laughing]

TSG: Having an opinion, in my opinion, is much better than not having opinion. I applaud you for being frank with us.

Preston: I know exactly what I want to do and how I want to do it.

And if it means next year I’m in a weird place like the Czech Republic, then so be it, because that’s what’s right for me.

TSG: Beyond next year, in five years where do you see yourself?

Preston: Starting on a team in a first league somewhere. Doesn’t necessarily mean England or Germany.

I’ll be having fun and doing my thing and I will be established.

TSG: Married or kids?

Preston: I hope so. I don’t really have a plan on that right now.

Who knows, maybe I’m in Japan or China, but I’ll be having fun doing it.

Nutmeg!

TSG: Alright, let’s wrap it up with some lighter fare. Best player you’ve ever shared the pitch with?

Preston: Rafael Van Der Vaart, hands down.

In training he would do the most ridiculous things.

I can’t even…when I trained against him I didn’t want to kick or foul him because I had too much respect.

The first day in training when I got there he was trying so hard to nutmeg me and I was trying so hard not to let him do it and I opened my legs one time and, bam, he did it.

Also Elkin Soto who plays for Mainz first team as a center midfielder, best touch I’ve ever seen.

Same kind of thing, I have so much respect for him. If he has the ball in training and he goes by me or something I’m not going to kick him. I have too much respect for him. He can’t be injured for us, no way.

TSG: Hang out with Jared Jeffrey at all?

Preston: Yeah sure, we go out and eat and stuff. It’s good to have another American there.

TSG: Speak German when you guys are out?

Preston: C’mon. Mine’s a little better than his right now though.

TSG: Do your parents come over at all?

Preston: Yeah sure, they’ll come over on separate trips and watch two or three games at a time.

It’s great because I left home early, when I was 15, so they see me play now more than before almost.

It’s good to have someone at the games who’s actually coming to watch me.

TSG: Do you miss anything from the States?

Preston: I don’t know. There’s an Army base around here so we can get some American food and such.

But I’ve been here for five years in Europe and I’m really used to how everything is here.

Maybe Mexican food? Perhaps Chipotle?

TSG: Too funny, the thing you miss most about the States is Mexican. Ha.

Thanks for the time Preston, truly one of the more memorable, dramatic and fun interviews we’ve done at TSG.

Preston: Hey, wait, thanks. I don’t really give interviews anymore and I appreciate you reaching out and explaining your Web site.

TSG: Hey, thank you man. This was a great conversation.

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39 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ryan R. on 2010/10/26 at 11:18 PM

    I put country over club when it comes to my support, but it’s good to see Preston be completely honest about the situation. The fact is that while we’re supporters, that is their job, their livelihood and it’s something they’re invested in every single day so I can’t blame Preston for having complete focus on his club play while potential US appearances or camps are just floating around out there in “maybe land.” Matthew, you hyped up this interview several times since you spoke with Preston and it lived up to its billing and then some. Thanks you and Preston for both parts of this great interview.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jason on 2010/10/27 at 9:59 AM

      Yeah I agree. Country over club. Oh well. At least he’s honest about his views. Bob please take this into account in the future. I would like to see someone on the field for us who “wants” to be there and not dreaming about winning a champ.

      Thanks for doing the interview Preston. You seem like a fun person to be around. Snappy responses much like myself. haha!

      Reply

      • To be fair, this is where he said he is at “right now.” He feels like he has matured to where he can handle his career better than he has in the past. That doesn’t mean he can’t continue to progress as a player and a person to where he wants the responsibility of representing the US. He’s just been through so much at such a young age that stability and club success is more important to him at this point.

        Reply

  2. Excellent interview. He seems like he’s come through the tough time in Austria with a good attitude.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Russ on 2010/10/26 at 11:33 PM

    A truly fascinating character. We in the American Soccer sub-culture tend to put the USMNT on a golden pedestal as the be-all end-all of our community so it’s interesting to hear a marginal YA like Zimmerman shrug it off. Sounds like he’s got a dream and a plan so good for him.

    Excellent piece. It’s really cool to be able to flesh out some of these anonymous names from youth national team match reports. I’m sure there’s more stories like this floating around out there so keep digging and we’ll keep reading!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Russell on 2010/10/26 at 11:41 PM

    Good to hear about the kid. And it was interesting to read a first hand and honest account of an american trying to make it in europe.. It sounds like he has his head on straight and understands where he’s at.. I have the feeling we’ll eventually see more and more of him. Interesting bit about him and Benny.. It almost made me wish you got his account on what happened with Subotic.. I had the feeling he might just tell you what he thought.

    Reply

  5. Posted by DW on 2010/10/27 at 12:32 AM

    this was really a great interview, the fact that Preston takes his path in his hands in a profession where people are usually guided blindly, is really respectable. he just seems to be a guy that doesn’t want to get pushed around or forced into anything, and to have that strength at his age is remarkable. i wish him the best and look forward to seeing him do big things. Good luck P

    Reply

  6. Posted by JG on 2010/10/27 at 5:24 AM

    Great, great interview. Preston really comes across as a likable guy, imo. As you said, so many athletes just give canned responses that do a disservice to the fans and to themselves in many ways. We know you guys are just regular people with likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams that go way beyond the next match you are playing. It’s always great to read an interview that lets us see that.

    Reply

  7. Posted by SteveM11 on 2010/10/27 at 5:28 AM

    This kid sounds awesome. Man, I hope we see him on the USMNT just because we need some independent (non-BB/Sunil) thinking and playing. The funny thing about this interview is that he was so worried about coming off as a jerk and it was the opposite.

    That team in Austria is run by douchebags. Way to try to bully a young foreigner. Another reason not to ever spend my tourist money there.

    Reply

  8. Posted by SteveM11 on 2010/10/27 at 5:30 AM

    Awesome interview, TSG, BTW.

    Reply

  9. Posted by SteveM11 on 2010/10/27 at 5:57 AM

    I have 2 questions for Preston and would be stoked I’d he answered either:

    1. Since your in Germany: Sophie’s choice—in a concentration camp you have to choose between me and Matthew from TSG. Now Matthew is a better soccer player, but in the inevitable fights for survival remember I’m half Mexican and half Alabama redneck. Who lives?

    OR

    2. You are going into the Cantina in the original Star Wars and you’re going to have to fight the pig-nosed guy and Walrus man (“he doesn’t like you…I don’t like you either”), but you have to choose either Alexi Lalas or Harkes to be your tag-team partner. They are both in WC 1994 shape but neither has a blaster or the ability to use the force. Who would you rather have at your side and why?

    Reply

  10. Every kid who thinks about going to Europe at a young age because one team is interested in him should be forced to read this experience. Kudos to Preston for sharing and getting past the obstacles, but this is why MLS is such a wonderful option for young players. They don’t have to deal with the language barrier. They don’t have to wonder where they will go if the one team their agent has contact with makes changes and cuts them loose. They aren’t just another number in a shell game.

    Stay home, gain leverage, let yourself mature and go when the time is right, not when the first offer comes down the pike. Lots of Americans end up in Europe after 2-4 years playing at home. That dream isn’t unattainable if you have patience and prove your worth. Following that path might spare young players some rough lessons, even if it means some agent can’t put a notch on his belt for bypassing MLS.

    Reply

  11. Great interview. As everyone else has said it’s nice to see some honest answers out of a professional athlete. I remember watching the U-17 WC with him and Arvizu tearing it up and thinking/hoping that these guys would move on to bigger and better things. I knew he’d gone to Hamburg and then done well in Austria (for a while) but then he just disappeared; glad to find out what really happened.

    Hopefully it keeps getting better and better for him.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Jake C. on 2010/10/27 at 7:36 AM

    Both parts of this were fantastic. I wonder how Preston’s youth experiences might have affected his current views on playing for club vs. country? Either way, very candid interview. Now I just need to see him play.

    Reply

  13. Posted by ALA on 2010/10/27 at 7:59 AM

    Both parts were great. I hope Preston does fantastic where ever he ends up. I’m glad he was honest about everything, and he totally did not come off as a jerk. Thanks for that. Best of luck, and hopefully you’ll make a team where we’ll be able to watch you here in the States as well!

    Reply

  14. Posted by Jared on 2010/10/27 at 8:03 AM

    What a great piece! I’d like to thank Preston for being so candid. That’s certainly refreshing. I’ve followed his career since he was 16 or so and had no idea about the Austria “situation”, but was curious what had happened to him. Sounds like he’s in a much better situation now and wish him all the best going forward.

    Preston, I was curious if you have seen a shift in how Europeans view American soccer players over the past few years? Is it getting any better like we’re often led to believe? What has to be done to take the next step?

    Reply

  15. Posted by patrick on 2010/10/27 at 8:20 AM

    wow. great read. great guy. we are all rooting for him to have personal success.

    Reply

  16. Posted by Kevin O' on 2010/10/27 at 8:53 AM

    Good stuff yet again. And I’ll add great week of interviews so far! You know, I often longed for a soccer site that posted interesting articles with insider contacts. You guys are doing a phenomenal job of unearthing players and giving voices to a young man like Preston who before this article was a U20 wonder kid I barely remembered. I’m grateful for your hard work in particular Matthew.

    Preston, your maturity for age 21 is impressive. I’d love to hear Jozy or Freddy say the comments about wanting a European championship more than a goal in the WC. You’re dwarfing them on the mental side of the game. Because you’ve already realized the rest will take care of itself if you just take care of yourself and keep a positive attitude. You’ve learned not to expect anything, you earn it. I don’t doubt we’ll see you up front for us sooner than later. Just stay away from Oktoberfest and women with broad shoulders!

    Reply

  17. Posted by FutbolAmerica on 2010/10/27 at 9:19 AM

    I really enjoyed reading this. As a former sports professional myself (professional skier) that spent a fare share of time overseas in Europe I can atest to the atmosphere of being in uncomfortable situations. Although something to re-iterate on is that it’s not from not knowing their language, they just have this disrespect for people coming over being so ill-taught in the culture itself.

    I am curious though; in the future do you see yourself going back to striker? Or do you see yourself as more of a Clint Dempsey ‘striker when-I-have-to’ or ‘midfielder when-needed’ position?

    Reply

  18. Posted by Steve nj-dc on 2010/10/27 at 9:37 AM

    I have a question for preston: what are you most looking forward to improve in your game to help get your play to the next level?

    Reply

  19. Great read here, good stuff Matt. And good luck to Preston, hopefully we’ll get to see him in some televised matches one way or another very soon.

    Reply

  20. Question:
    Do you ever try to reach out to other Americans in Germany? I know you said that you don’t want to be known as “the Americans,” but a lot of clubs and leagues sign a lot of players of the same nationality and it seems to work for them. We know a lot of guys in England stay pretty close also. With so many (experienced) guys in Germany now, maybe it would help everyone if you guys stayed closer.

    To me it seems only beneficial to have friends like Steve Cherundolo and Michael Bradley.

    Reply

  21. Posted by kaya on 2010/10/27 at 11:20 AM

    I don’t really see what’s the big deal about not losing sleep over the national team in his situation or why he thinks anyone wouldn’t like his answer. It seems like a pretty healthy attitude to me.
    I can’t argue with the mexican food thing, either… though I would’ve guessed he’d be a border state boy with that response. I’ve always told people in europe if I lived there I’d open a taqueria…
    I didn’t have a good impression of Austria (which I’ve never visited) before, and it hasn’t improved.

    Reply

  22. Calling Chipotle “Mexican” might be pushing it, but no denials it’s delicious.

    Oh, and this is the best sports interview I can ever remember reading. Maybe I’ve never heard of the kid before, but I feel like I got a sense of a situation I never would otherwise — which is just excellent. Bravo TSG, and thanks Preston for the honesty.

    Side note: Those that do not understand the significance of employment over friendship with Americans and UNMNT playing time should google ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy.’ When this kid gets his job straight — we’ll see plenty more of him on the international scene.

    Reply

  23. Posted by moosecat on 2010/10/27 at 11:54 AM

    that story with his Austrian club is some great/crazy stuff. a lot of people coast through life and don’t overcome character building moments like PZ experienced there. let’s hope it made him a better person.

    Reply

  24. Posted by moosecat on 2010/10/27 at 11:55 AM

    who really does want to play for tUSMNT and have to deal w/ Bradley and tUSSF?

    Reply

  25. Posted by Erik the Orange on 2010/10/27 at 12:44 PM

    Fantastic. Really compelling stuff, thanks for sharing, Preston. If you happen to read my post, I think one of the most difficult things in life is finding a way to maximize your quality of life without sacrificing things that are true to who you are. Knowing what you want (and what you don’t want) is a tremendous start to finding that level of peace you’re lookin for. Those things that drive you will change as you go on, but being introspective and knowing what works for you is key. Kudos to anyone that starts that journey early in life…some never take a step.

    Reply

  26. Posted by Shane on 2010/10/27 at 2:13 PM

    Good interview.. Surprised the lad put’s club so much higher than country. I understand Club writes the checks, but one would think representing one’s country is the highest honor..

    Hopefully things work out for you in Germany.

    Reply

  27. Posted by michael on 2010/10/27 at 2:17 PM

    excellent interview! Preston seems like he has a good head on his shoulders. I hope he meets all of his goals!

    Reply

  28. Posted by dude on 2010/10/27 at 2:58 PM

    I totally understand where he’s coming from with his focus on playing in Europe. If all US players care about is playing on the national team, there would be no players making inroads into Europe, and if there were they might not have the drive to succeed. He’s trying to establish himself on a European team, if he gets good enough he’ll be called in regardless.

    Reply

  29. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/10/27 at 3:40 PM

    How did he have papers to work in Germany and Austria but not England?

    Reply

  30. Posted by scweeb on 2010/10/27 at 3:58 PM

    Ha ha i wonder if he will come read these comments! hope he does so he can see people here are going to support him in his progress in the club game.

    Reply

  31. Posted by michaelcecire on 2010/10/28 at 1:49 AM

    Great piece. Many kudos to Preston and TSG.

    Reply

  32. Posted by Smitty on 2010/10/28 at 10:50 AM

    I totally get where Preston is coming from with his response to the USMNT question. He knows that if he takes care of business in his professional gig, he can become someone that the USMNT won’t be able to ignore.

    Reply

  33. Posted by eddie on 2010/10/29 at 6:11 AM

    For George Cross: England has much tougher requirements for getting a work permit. Key is playing in 75% of your national team games, that team being in the top 70 in the FIFA rankings.

    Excellent interview – good luck Preston.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/10/29 at 12:03 PM

      Thought there was a special rule in place for “younger” players..
      But thanks for the response.

      Reply

  34. [...] or focus on MLS first? I mean there is the Luis Gil situation. We just talked to Preston Zimmerman, who had nothing short of an absolute nightmare–no hyperboole–with a coach threatening hi…. And of course there is the popular Freddy Adu saga as [...]

    Reply

  35. [...] (Part II, Part III) Preston Zimmerman lays it out there… [...]

    Reply

  36. [...] Told By Preston Zimmerman – Part I – Part II – Part [...]

    Reply

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