A cynic’s guide to picking a Bundesliga team

Leander Schaerlaeckens
·6 min read

We get it. You’re a Bundesliga fan now. You hadn’t set out to become one and didn’t think you ever would be. But now that German professional soccer – and Korean baseball – is the only live sport on TV, you’re all-in.

But, uh-oh, you need a team. What team? They all seem very… German? There’s no telling them apart. And you really need a bandwagon to jump on before the action resumes this weekend.

Not to worry. We’re here for you. We’ve been waiting for this moment for years. We’ve got this. If, like us, you’re cynical, let us guide the way for you. We’ll break them down in their current order in the standings.

Root for this team if you like …

1. Bayern Munich

… predictability. You’ve got so much going on that when you turn on the TV and root for your team, what you really need is a safe bet. Something certain and secure, that isn’t going to let you down. Bayern Munich so dominates the Bundesliga that it’s the favorite to win the league for an eighth year in a row and a 30th time overall. Great uniforms, too.

2. Borussia Dortmund

… patriotism. Dortmund features an American, 17-year-old attacking midfielder Gio Reyna. He has seamlessly slotted in after USMNT captain Christian Pulisic was sold to Chelsea last year to give his countrymen another reason to root for the affable Black and Yellow. Also: if you like budding superstars who say absolutely nothing of note.

3. Borussia Mönchengladbach

… horse-racing. The Bundesliga’s other Borussia is nicknamed The Foals and has black-and-white crests and mostly white uniforms, which makes them look fairly horse-like. Sit far from the TV, take off your glasses and it’s almost like you’re watching the ponies.

4. RB Leipzig

… unconstrained capitalism. RB Leipzig is the centerpiece of the Red Bull energy drink company’s network of soccer teams. Just 11 years ago, the company bought up a fifth-tier team and began pumping in money, purchasing American defender/midfielder Tyler Adams along the way. But here’s the twist. Because of rules in German soccer, the team couldn’t be named Red Bull, like the New York Red Bulls or Red Bull Salzburg. So they had to go by “RB,” which technically stands for RasenBallsport but fools absolutely nobody.

Are you a capitalism stan? Then Timo Werner and RB Leipzig are your guys. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Are you a capitalism stan? Then Timo Werner and RB Leipzig are your guys. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

5. Bayer Leverkusen

… drugs. As in, medicine. Leverkusen is one of only two German clubs that has an owner because it was grandfathered into the rule outlawing majority ownership by anybody other than the club’s members. Bayer, as in the club’s name, is also the pharmaceutical giant. As Snoop Dogg put it, the more dedicated, the more medicated.

6. Wolfsburg

… sensible cars. Wolfsburg grew out of a factory team at a Volkswagen plant in a city built entirely to accommodate its workers. Volkswagen remains the club’s owner, making it the only other corporately owned team – RB Leipzig found a loophole to adhere to the rules. Oh, also, they have John Brooks, the under-appreciated USMNT defender!

7. Freiburg

… emotional rollercoasters. In the last three decades, Freiburg has been promoted and relegated between the Bundesliga and the second-tier 2. Bundesliga an astounding nine times. If you enjoy drama, these are your guys.

8. Schalke 04

… perpetual disappointment. Sure, sure, American prodigy Weston McKennie plays there and manager David Wagner has an American passport, too. But Schalke is mostly known for being one of the biggest clubs in Germany with an ever-packed 62,000-seat arena and a huge global following, yet never quite living up to that label.

9. Hoffenheim

… overly sensitive owners. Dietmar Hopp, a software billionaire, bought a village team and spent so much money that it became a Bundesliga mainstay. In Germany, that sort of thing is frowned upon and opposing fans let him hear about it. So Hopp has pressed charges against those fans for defamation and actually gotten them convicted and fined.

10. FC Köln

… billy goats. Years ago, a circus owner donated a billy goat to the club during the Cologne Carnival and named it Hennes, for a player. Since then, the club has been the billy goats and has retained a mascot of that same species and by the same name. After Hennes VIII retired after last season, the rule of Hennes IX commenced. All hail Hennes IX.

11. Hertha Berlin

… chaos. Another team that should by all rights be a giant, Hertha has never been able to get its act together. The club’s on its third head coach of the season, after former USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann spent a short and unhappy spell there, in spite of huge investment in the team.

12. Union Berlin

… a lovable underdog. On the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, Union was the people’s club as the rival of Dynamo, the club propped up by the Stasi, the communist government’s secret police. We stan the non-stormtroopers.

Union Berlin is a club of the people. (Photo by Mathias Renner/City-Press via Getty Images)
Union Berlin is a club of the people. (Photo by Mathias Renner/City-Press via Getty Images)

13. Eintracht Frankfurt

… eagles. Eintracht has a cool-looking eagle in its crest. And eagles are sick. Have you ever met anybody who doesn’t like eagles?

14. FC Augsburg

… toothpaste. Manager Heiko Herrlich had to miss Augsburg’s game against Wolfsburg on Saturday because he broke the team’s strict hotel quarantine to go out and buy toothpaste.

15. Mainz

… nothing. There’s nothing interesting about Mainz.

16. Fortuna Düsseldorf

… promising American goalkeepers. Zack Steffen, whose parent club is Manchester City after a pricey move from the Columbus Crew, is on loan at Düsseldorf and its starting goalkeeper. Sure, he’s out injured for the rest of the season as the club tries to stave off relegation, but what else is there to say about Düsseldorf?

17. Werder Bremen

… falling giants. Werder have spent more seasons in the Bundesliga than anybody else and are second in the league’s all-time standings. Yet this season, which has included American prodigy Josh Sargent at striker, has been such a calamity that Werder is threatened by relegation.

18. Paderborn

… a genuine underdog. Two decades ago, Paderborn was still an amateur team. A few years ago, after climbing to the Bundesliga, it nearly suffered three consecutive relegations before somehow climbing right back to the top circuit.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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