VfL Wolfsburg has been the official Volkswagen soccer team for over 70 years, evolving from a team comprised of workers from the VW factory in Wolfsburg. Since its inception, the team has progressed from the amateur ranks to regional leagues, before finally reaching the Bundesliga in 1997, winning the in 2009.
Last month,Wolfsburg sent its youth development team to compete in the Florida Cup, a six-team international tournament, allowing the squad some much needed practice during the league’s mid-season winter break. The young wolves represented themselves well, winning both their games, helping to a win in the Florida Cup Challenge over Brazil and USA/Argentina together with Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
The trip to Florida was particularly enjoyeable for Orrin McKinze Gaines II, the team’s only American player. Gaines, an 18-year-old native of Texas, moved to Wolfsburg to take up a spot on the VfL youth team during the summer of 2016, marking his first time living in Europe.
Gaines, who has played midfield for the U-19 US National Team, admits that being the lone American on a team of German speakers can be challenging, but it’s a trial he approaches with vigor.
“It’s been a tremendous experience,” he says. “I’ve learned a little bit of German so far. It’s improving, but not there yet.”
Practices and coaching are conducted in German, so Gaines’s vocabulary is heavily soccer focused. The young American relished the opportunity to play and practice between games in the warm Florida weather, encountering a few more English-speakers than he usually does during his training in Wolfsburg.
“To be in a different environment helps, I think,” he explains. “Florida Cup is great because you get to play against players from all over the world and you get to experience playing against teams with different playing styles. You get to compare yourself to some of the best players in the world, so it’s been a phenomenal experience.”
VfL Wolfsburg played its first game on January 8th in St. Petersburg, besting the Tampa Bay Rowdies with a final score of 2-0. On January 12, the team faced an even greater challenge, competing against the Brazilian first league team, EC Bahia. After a hard-fought match was left scorless at the end of regulation, scored three penalty kick goals to Bahia’s two, earning the team its second win of the tournament, securing the Florida Cup Challenge trophy for .
Trailing the team’s footsteps and enjoying a warm Florida holiday was a group of devoted VfL Wolfsburg fans from Germany who delighted in the team’s strong showings during their Florida Cup matches. Coach Rüdiger Ziehl was quick to express his gratitude for the extra support during the team’s trip.
“It’s perfect. There are about 50 very enthusiastic fans with us. It is a good opportunity for the fans to see that the young talents team is good, that we are fighting, and that we are giving all the best for the club.”
VfL Wolfsburg also made moves off the field, signing a declaration of intent for future cooperation with the Volkswagen Group-sponsored Chattanooga FC team during their Florida trip.
“We want to work together to exchange ideas about how to develop young players,” said Ziehl of the trans-Atlantic partnership. “We have many good coaches and good players here in Wolfsburg and there are many good players in the U.S., so it would be good to see some more Americans like Orrin McKinze Gaines II come here and play with us.”