Top TFC draft pick owes big debt of gratitude to Jurgen Klopp


Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

TORONTO – If not for some divine intervention from Jurgen Klopp, Toronto FC probably wouldn’t have drafted Tim Kubel.

TFC selected Kubel in the second round of last week’s MLS SuperDraft, using the 28th overall pick on the right fullback from the University of Louisville. Kubel enjoyed a successful four-year stint with the Cardinals, scoring 21 goals and tallying 26 assists in 82 games. He was also a two-time semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, the U.S. soccer equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Before coming to the United States to pursue an education, Kubel was somewhat of a soccer prodigy in his native Germany. He left his hometown of Stuttgart when he was 15 in order to join the youth academy of Borussia Dortmund, one of the top teams in the Bundesliga.

Originally a striker, he ended up changing positions after former Dortmund coach Klopp, now in charge at Premier League side Liverpool, saw him play and was convinced he was better suited to being a right-sided defender.

“It was a great honour back then to play for them. They told me I had a bright future. I came as a striker, but then there wasn’t much [physical] growth. I’m 5’9 and was locked in, and they told me I was little bit too small. So, I moved out to the right wing, played there and fortunately for me, our right back got injured, and I played that position,” Kubel explained.

“The first team coach Jurgen Klopp saw me and told me that’s my future position.”

When someone of Klopp’s reputation speaks, people tend to listen. Kubel kept playing as a right back at Dortmund before joining the youth academy of Schalke, another big Bundesliga club, before eventually heading to Louisville in 2014.

“Ultimately, I came to America because I knew I wanted to travel, I wanted to see something before I had a wife and kids. America seemed to be the perfect opportunity for that and I got my degree the last four years,” Kubel said.

The German prospect was serious about his studies as a business major. He had multiple offers from MLS to become a Generation Adidas player, a distinction given to NCAA underclassmen who sign a pro contract with the league – GA players usually earn a much higher salary than the league minimum, so there is extra incentive for non-seniors to leave school early in order to pursue pro careers.

“My main focus the last four years was my education. I had two GA offers the last four years, and declined them because I wanted to get my education. I’m really happy that it worked out that way and I’m finally in Toronto,” Kubel stated.

Toronto is pretty happy, too, as Kubel is the type of player who appears to fit the team philosophy.

“[TFC] is a team that acts and doesn’t react. They want to reinforce their game plan; they want to put opponents under pressure. That’s exactly what I did at Dortmund… that’s exactly the same philosophy as German soccer – high press, very technical players,” Kubel said.

“I’m a high-energy player, high intensity. I love high pressing … I love to press. As long as my legs can take me, I’m running.”

The majority of MLS draft picks, historically speaking, don’t pan out. For most, making the transition from the college ranks to the pro game is too much, and, according to TFC coach Greg Vanney, that gap is widening.

To be sure, Kubel will have his work cut out in trying to earn a roster spot with the MLS Cup champions. But he’s not the typical MLS rookie due to his time with the Borussia Dortmund and Schalke academies.

“He’s been around [the professional game]. Part of our drafting him was understanding that he knows exactly what it looks like to be at the professional level. He’s had that experience and hopefully that will serve him well as he comes in to work to earn a spot,” Vanney stated.

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