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Zee Soccer Pod: Fabian Herbers and Julian Gressel have a new podcast, and they’re not holding back

The MLS Germans have teamed up for a new show, and it’s a must listen for MLS fans wanting to know what life is like in the league as a player

FC Cincinnati v Chicago Fire
Fabian Herbers #21 of Chicago Fire battles with Yuya Kubo #7 of FC Cincinnati during a game between FC Cincinnati and Chicago Fire at Soldier Field
Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Fabian Herbers was not happy.

On the first episode of “Zee Soccer Pod,” the new podcast the Chicago Fire midfielder hosts with fellow MLS German player Julian Gressel of D.C. United, Herbers unloaded on what he said were unfair negotiation tactics by MLS owners in the latest collective bargaining talks.

“In this negotiation I was even more emotionally involved than in my own contract negotiation that I had back in the summer,” Herbers said on Zee Soccer Pod. “I was emotionally more involved, and so really into it. It really drained all the energy out of me, because of the unfairness of the proposals.”

In December, the owners invoked a “force majeure” clause to blow up the previous CBA after less than a year, saying financial losses from the pandemic stood to hurt the league long-term. Herbers described the MLS owners’ tactics after that point as take it or leave it. Accept these terms, or we’ll lock you out. Gressel said what a lot of others have mentioned, that a lockout would have hurt the players much more than the owners, especially in the short term. But Herbers thinks a lockout could have killed the long term growth of the league.

“Do you think (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic would ever come to MLS if he heard there was a lockout?” Herbers asked. “Bastian Schweinsteiger? All those stars? Even those good South American players that the league gets? If there was a lockout for a month, or two, or however long it would be, do you think in the future people would consider to go to MLS?”

Herbers was especially irked after the negotiations were over, when FC Cincinnati signed Brazilian forward Brenner for a reported $13 million. As the child of two hardworking parents who ran a restaurant in far western Germany growing up, Herbers used a restaurant analogy to explain why it really bothered him.

“If I’m a restaurant, and I tell all my guys you have to take a pay cut, and we’re really struggling this pandemic, all the servers, the chef, everybody has to take a pay cut, and tomorrow I bring in a new bar lady, and pay her ten times as much, what area all the servers and the chefs gonna think?” Herbers asked.

DC United v Atlanta United FC
Julian Gressel #31 of D.C. United kicks the ball during the second half of a game against the Atlanta United
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The podcast isn’t just complaints about MLS life. The two Germans, who became friends after both landing in the league, talk about cooking, family, travel, the pandemic, and more.

I got to know Herbers a little bit after interviewing him a few times last season, including a lengthy interview about growing up in Germany, the transition to college in the U.S., and how he actually thought his dream of becoming a pro footballer was over after coming to the States. Fire Coach Raphael Wicky and Director of Performance Ben Donachie have both raved about Herbers’ football IQ, but he’s actually more interesting when he’s not talking about soccer. You get a real sense of that listening to him chatting with Gressel.

If that’s not enough of a sales pitch to listen to the podcast, the first official episode ends with Fabian talking about his dating life. He shares a story about a Valentine’s Day gift that’s... well... I won’t spoil it. Just go listen for yourself.