In an interview with transfermarkt's American team, Swabia native Kai Wagner voiced his criticisms of America's MLS playoff schedule when discussing Philadelphia Union's elimination at the hands of NYCFC.
After lamenting the manner in which his American club lost out on a chance for the title, the former Würzberger Kickers defender also expressed a desire to return to Europe in general, Germany in particular.
Wagner's wish, combined with increased interest in Hany Mukhtar of Nashville, means that two German MLS stars might be headed back to the Bundesrepublik this January.
For a native of a small Swabian valley town, the American style of post-season playoffs can seem a bit odd. Kai Wagner's long-term MLS team finished in second-place in the Eastern Conference table, yet still had to face teams far below them in a grueling playoff schedule.
To make matters worse for Wagner, a positive COVID test forced the 24-year-old to sit of a crucial semi-finals match against NYCFC. All told, 11 Philadelphia players--including the captain and first choice keeper--had to quarantine. Despite putting up a good fight, the "Serpents" lost the match 1-2.
"It was the worst experience of my life," Wagner divulged in an interview with transfermarkt.us, "Sitting out, watching, and hoping for the best. We were all vaccinated and the symptoms were mild. It wasn't even like having a cold."
When it came to the German's views on the MLS playoff structure, Wagner admitted it too proved difficult to stomach.
"It certainly makes things more exciting," Wagner conceded, "but it's not really fair. Last year we dominated during the regular season, but the [November] international break means that you enter the playoffs rusty."
"Then the first round bye is almost a disadvantage," he continued, "Personally, I'd like to see the best teams from the East and West play one another. That would be fairer."
"The most important thing is that you have a home game," he added in a tacit endorsement of two-legged-playoffs, "You don't have traveling support like you do in Europe."
On the topic of Europe, Wagner made clear that he would like to return to Germany in the January transfer window. The defender, who did score three goals in 39 appearances across all competitions for Philly this year, might awaken the interest of several clubs in the top two divisions.
"I want to make the move to Europe in January," Wagner said, "I wish to prove to myself that I can play in Europe and I'm honest enough to say that I want to do it now. I also want to be closer to my family."
A quarter century after its founding, America's "Major League Soccer" (MLS) is finally shedding its reputation as a retirement community for stars of the European game. In Wagner's case, the still young fullback considered it a great stepping-stone for his career.
"I knew straight away that this was a great opportunity," Wagner said when reflecting on his decision to hop across the pond in 2019, "Today people would laugh at the small transfer fee [Philly sporting director] Ernst Tanner paid for me."
During his stateside stint, Wagner increased his market value from €100,000 or less to an estimated €3 million in three seasons. Another German, Hany Mukhtar of Nashville FC, increased his value from €2.7 million at Brøndby IF to an estimated €6.5 million in two MLS seasons.
In an interview earlier this year, Mukhtar revealed that he too was mulling a move to the Bundesliga.
Wagner noted that "there have been some talks, but nothing concrete yet."