Among the San Jose Earthquakes five international signings this off-season, Florian Jungwirth arrived with the least fanfare. But throughout the preseason, the German defender and two-year Bundesliga veteran has been the most consistent of the newcomers, and Saturday evening, he’s expected to start for the Quakes in their season opener against the Montreal Impact.
“It’s a very good feeling that the coach trusts me,” Jungwirth said following Thursday’s training session. “From the first week I’ve been here, we’ve spoken a lot about that. But on the other hand, it’s a big responsibility for me.”
The 28-year-old former Darmstadt starter, whose nickname is “Flo,” arrived in San Jose with a big smile on his face, having dreamt for nearly three years of the opportunity of playing in MLS. He hadn’t necessarily targeted the Earthquakes as his destination, but he felt right at home from the very beginning, and his transition has gone as smooth as could be imagined.
“Yeah, it’s been really, really good,” said Jungwirth. “We have a crazy team with some nice guys. They have all made me feel welcome here. From the first day, I have felt a part of this Quakes family. I’m really honored by that.”
Head coach Dominic Kinnear did not hesitate to play Jungwirth upon his arrival from Germany, especially since Flo was in good match fitness following the first half of the 2016-17 Bundesliga season. He featured for San Jose in their Desert Friendlies as part of their Tucson preseason camp, and off the field, he bonded quickly with his new teammates, impressing Kinnear on both accounts.
”It’s been good,” said Kinnear. “I think he has really wanted to fit in, and the guys have accepted him. Obviously, his command of the English language has helped him immensely. He’s a talker on the field, which is helpful in a very positive way. People here understand he is out to help the guys. And in the locker room he has been a very good fit.”
Jungwirth has played at nearly all levels of Germany’s youth national teams, but he hasn’t made an appearance with the senior squad. His entire professional career has been played in his native land until now, and he has featured as a defender and a midfielder in that time. With Darmstadt, he was tasked more with defensive midfielder responsibilities, but with the Quakes, Flo will be asked to play center back to start the season, siding up with mainstay Victor Bernardez.
“Yeah, it’s a good partnership,” said Jungwirth. “I like Victor, and I think he likes me a bit. We speak a lot during the match, and I know his skills. He is a very strong guy, and that complements my style as well.”
Kinnear paired Jungwirth with Bernardez to start the Earthquakes final preseason game, a convincing 4-1 victory over the Sacramento Republic FC last weekend. Whereas Big Vic is known for his punishing play, Flo showed an ease in positional awareness and more than once snuffed out a Republic attack before it could really develop. The two will face a bigger test when the Impact come to town, but the coach has every confidence they can deliver.
“They are two solid defenders,” said Kinnear. “You want them play well together and have a good partnership.”
The most obvious attribute the German has when out on the field is his constant chatter with his fellow defenders. He may not be a native English speaker — nor a Spanish speaker — but his teammates listen and react. As a center back, with goalkeeper David Bingham behind him equally vocal, Jungwirth commands most the action in front of him.
“I try my best to communicate with my teammates during the game to help everyone organized,” said Jungwirth. “That is one of my skills. I want to help the team and become a big part of the team and the league too.”
The Earthquakes have made the decision to go with the Flo, and he is more than excited to show supporters in San Jose and others around MLS what he is all about.