Limited by injuries, Flo Lechner was unlucky not to get too many chances to really show off his worth and ability as a starting fullback for the Revolution in 2012. However, the loud and charismatic veteran still left his mark on the team from the bench and locker room before being waived last month. The outspoken German gives his two cents on the attitude at the club, the level of MLS, ownership, turf, and dispenses advice for other European players making the jump to the U.S.
A few weeks back, we were able to get in touch with Florian Lechner, who had just been waived by the New England Revolution and gone through the Waiver Draft process. The veteran fullback was more than happy to conduct an "exit interview" with The Bent Musket and give us an inside look at the Revs' locker room in the 2012 season. Flo was an excellent and accommodating interviewee, as well as a charismatic and compelling character on the field, and we wish him all the luck and all the best in his future.
TBM: How did you find the general attitude of the club when you first came in as a trialist and eventually when you became part of the club?
That's a good question. I think the whole team and the club tried to look forward because the last couple of years, there were not a lot of positive things and they didn't make the playoffs. So I think that the whole squad and the whole team tried to be positive and start a new team and build a new team, and try to get into the playoffs. That was my first thought when I got to Tucson in the first two weeks of preseason. Then I came in at the end of March, got my visa and came over, and they had a really good feeling and everybody was really positive, trying to do better than last year.
Last year - I just heard about it - but it was really, really bad, and not just about soccer. The locker room was bad. I didn't see that this year, any kind of bad mood or bad feelings there.
TBM: No bad mood or feelings?
No, no. I didn't see anything really bad. Everybody was looking forward, everybody was positive, but it was sometimes kind of difficult. We had a long time without a win. Then, for sure, everybody had to look within themselves and think "what can I do better? What can I do to make the team better? What kind of mistakes have we made? What's the problem?"
For sure, when you're on a team with professional athletes, some people will be upset that they aren't playing, but that wasn't a big part of our locker room.
TBM: What was the club's major obstacle to success last season?
The biggest problems we had were small mistakes. Small mistakes with huge consequences. Sometimes we were the better team, and then we had one mistake on a set piece, or in the last minute, and I think that killed us. We played very well, we had good possession, we had good combinations, but I think the problem was that at some points we weren't focused enough.
Sometimes I had a feeling that we weren't always concentrated on winning the game, that we didn't always have the will to make that happen in the last 10% or so. Our focus on the moment wasn't always the best.
TBM: How did you feel about playing on turf? Did that contribute to injuries?
I don't know, I'm not a doctor, but playing on grass and playing on turf is totally different. For sure, to play on turf is harder on the joints, knees, and ankles, but you have to take it. We played on turf, and the other team played on turf, so I don't care about that. But for sure, it's more fun to play on grass and more healthy to play on grass than on turf.
TBM: Did MLS meet or exceed your expectations in level of play?
I had heard from different players that the level is not as high as in Germany's first league, and that's right. But it's not worse than the second division in Germany. People in Europe say that the MLS level is kind of the third and second division in Germany, and that's not right. It's better, it's really better. There are teams, or players, that can play in the first Bundesliga in Germany, and then there are young players that can play maybe in the third league. The range is really big, from world-class players to rookies, and I think that's the biggest...I don't know if it's a problem, but if you have two, three, four, five injuries, the whole squad is not as good. It's maybe a stupid example, but with Bayern Munich, they have 25 players and it doesn't matter who is playing.
Here, you have maybe 25 players, and there are 14, 15, maybe 16 really good players, and then you have younger players or players that don't have a lot of experience, but they have to learn and they have to make mistakes. For me, to compare it to Germany, it was better than what I was expecting. Europe is more technical, and MLS is more, kind of..."physical." Europe is physical, too, but they play more intelligently, more possession, they don't always press all the time.
TBM: What piece of advice would you give to any players coming over from Europe to play in MLS?
Don't complain about everything. Be focused on yourself and on the team, and look forward. The system is very different, the trading system, and the yellow cards. Here, if you get a yellow card in a game, and then the MLS can say "oh, that was more than a yellow card" and then you get suspended for one game, that's kind of a different rule. But if you start to complain about it, then you lose your focus. So, the main thing is just to be focused on the game and how you play it, because that's why you came over and that's why you love the game of soccer. Just be focused and don't complain or compare it to Europe.
TBM: Playing for so long in the Bundesliga with big-time game experience, what did you think about the level of refereeing in MLS this year? Was it better, worse, or just different from what you were used to?
I want to be honest, but I also want to stay in MLS! If you look at games in the English Premier League, and then you look at MLS, and you see fouls in MLS and in the Premier League, sometimes in England they don't even stop the game to say that it's a foul, and in MLS sometimes you get a red card for that. It's kind of...strange. I think a problem is that MLS has the rules for the referees and gives the referees the advice on how to call fouls, and in Europe the whole system is covered by FIFA and the FIFA rules.
Maybe the best thing would be to make a whole thing about the rules for referees, and maybe some lessons or to go to a referee school. In Germany, before the season starts, they have meetings about new rules, and that's what happens in Europe and in every league. Maybe that would be better, maybe it would help MLS to get closer to the system in Europe.
But to get back to the question, sometimes it was...crazy situations...and you don't have good situations with the referees, but that happens in Europe, too. I don't want to yell at the referees, though, because it's a hard job and I know it's a hard job. I never want to be a referee!
TBM: This past season, it seemed like the team really jumped out to a good start, had a pretty good record, playing really attractive, passing soccer. But it seemed like once the winless streak happened, the team went to a much more direct and defensive style. Was that a conscious decision? Did you notice that, too?
Not really. Jay Heaps gives us the plan for the game, and at the beginning of the season we were really offensively good, but then we had a couple games in the season where we gave up set pieces or had little mistakes that killed us. Then we tried to get better on set pieces or improve our defensive play. We didn't change our style of game, though, it was just our game plan against teams that were better with long ball or possession or set pieces.
TBM: Revolution fans tend to complain about ownership and that they appear to be absent or not care that much. In your experience here, did you think that the ownership was involved, or that they cared?
I don't know, to be honest, because I don't know what's happened last year, but I heard that last year they didn't have a weight room, and this year we have a big weight room. And I think that the practice field was changed a little this year, too, but that's what I heard. Like I said, I wasn't here last year. I think the football team, the Patriots, is number one, and the Revs are number two. That's what you feel. I think that's what you feel in the whole United States, that soccer is underneath baseball, basketball, and football, and you can make more money with football.
I don't know if they care about any small things, I don't know, I can't see it because I'm just a player, and from the player the next step would be the coach, then Michael Burns, then from Burns to the ownership. That's a different level. We can't see it as a player if the Kraft family cares about anything or not, we just play and practice, but we can't see if they're doing more or if they should be doing more.
TBM: What was your favorite part of playing with the Revs, and what was your least favorite part?
After my first injury, I came back and we hit a couple games we didn't lose, like four or five games in a row, we had like two ties and we won against Columbus and New York. That part of the season was my favorite because I played. I had a feeling we were going in the right way, and we were focused on the little things. For me, it's difficult to say because I was unlucky with the two injuries, the stupid injuries. First, I took a hit from Pepe Moreno and he broke a little bone in my foot, and then the second I just twisted my knee against New York. I didn't play a lot, I had only ten games, I thought I could play at least 25 or more, that's what I wanted to do but the problem was injuries.
That was the negative part of the season, being injured, and I couldn't help the team even though I would have liked to. The whole time, though, we had a really good locker room, the guys are great, we don't have any problems in the locker room or on the field. They're young guys, you can help them, and some guys they would like for you to talk to them. It was a good year. The end of the season was disappointing, though, because we were way better than second-to-last place.
TBM: You mentioned Pepe Moreno - you were with the team while all that ridiculousness was going on, and then later on he fired some shots at the team in the Colombian press. From your perspective, what was all that about?
To be honest, I don't really know at all. I flew in with him the first day I arrived in Foxboro, and I didn't know that he was supposed to show up a couple weeks before. Then I heard he signed a long time before and he didn't show up, I don't know what happened there. At the time he was with the Revs, he gave his best, and then he had a couple of little injuries, I don't know. He was kind of introverted, but maybe that's part of his personality.
And then, as for what happened after he left, honestly I have no idea what the problem was or why they had problems with him or the Colombians. One day he was there, and the next he was gone, and Jay said "we released Pepe Moreno, it was not an easy decision" and that was it, we didn't hear anything from him or the club. From the Colombian media, I don't read it and I have no idea what the problem was.
TBM: What's next for Flo Lechner?
I have an opportunity to go back to Europe, in Germany, but I would like to stay in MLS. I had injuries this year, but I would love to play here and I would like to stay here. I played my whole career in Germany and saw so many different leagues, players, and cities in Germany, and I know everything about Germany. I have maybe three or four or five years left to play, and I would love to continue my career over here. I don't know if I can do it, it will be kind of difficult. I was in the Waiver Draft and no team picked me up, so maybe I will have to go on trials again, but I would love to stay here, and maybe I can start coaching, too. I coached in Germany, a youth team, and I had a lot of fun here this year with clinics. I like that in America, there are so many kids that love the game and love to play soccer. I think there's a huge chance for the kids and for America to get better at soccer. I love to coach, and maybe I can make it in the future for my second career, so if I can stay in the states and play in MLS and start coaching a little bit that would be great for me.