Winger Stefan Aigner: Getting Fit, Impressions Of MLS, And The Rapids Way

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Photo Credit: John A. Babiak @Photog_JohnB

Editorial (August 19, 2017) – Winger Stefan Aigner has finally arrived in Denver. The new Colorado Rapids attacking additon was in training for the first time this week. Yesterday, he sat down for a Media Round Table to discuss coming to Colorado, what he can bring as a player, and many other topics.

Winger Stefan Aigner: Getting Fit, Impressions Of MLS, And The Rapids Way

While the Rapids season hasn’t been what they’ve hoped for, they’ve already started building for the future. Sporting Director and Interim General Manager P├ádraig Smith outlined The Rapids Way throughout the week.

That will involve changes in the attack in the years to come. That comes with new and quality players. Smith mentioned that an attempted signing fell through in the preseason due to a medical issue. Once that happened, they were looking to make something happen in the Sumer Transfer Windown:

“We’d been looking for a wide player who was a threat on both the goal side and the assist side. We had a couple of targets there in Europe that we were actively talking to. Once the 1860 Munich issues started to unravel, we quickly identified Stefan,” Smith told Last Word on Soccer.

On a three and a half year contract with Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), Aigner fits into that vision well.

The Appeal Of Denver:

Aigner was very impressed with the off the field aspects of joining the Colorado Rapids: “There’s a lot of similarities between Munich and Denver,” he said during the Media Round Table through a translater.

Munich has a population of about 2.6 million, while Denver Metro is about 2.9. Both are within an hour drive of the mountains.

“I’ve been here for a couple weeks. Initially, I was here three weeks ago for a tour of the environment: Boulder, the mountains, Denver, places to live. I can tell there’s a very high quality of life. I’m excited to be here.”

He very clearly saw what Colorful Colorado has to offer and was attracted to it. This isn’t the first time the amenities off the field have felt like home for a European player coming to the club. It may have been what tipped the scale as Smith alluded to on Friday:

“We thought it was maybe a bit ambitious. He had a number of offers. We were persistent. We did keep in almost daily contact. Once we got him over [in Denver], we were very confident. We were thrilled,” Smith explained.

If Los Angeles and New York based teams can use those markets as a recruiting tool for foreign signings, so can Colorado. That trip last month for 3-4 days clearly sold it for Aigner and his family.

First Impressions Of MLS:

As always when a player from a big European league comes to MLS, fans and pundits want to know what that player things of soccer in America.

Born and raised in Munich, Aigner was forged in the now famous German Youth Academy systems. He played for a number of years for his local 1860 Munich and has spent almost his entire career in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. But after he was out of contract with 1860, he was looking for something new:

“After playing in the Bundesliga for four years, I was very excited for a new opportunity. When the States came calling . . . I was very excited for the opporunity. Even after the first training, I’m impressed by the quality of the league. It’s a good challenge for me,” he said.

Aigner was also complementary of the league, pointing out the change in what types of DP players come to MLS:

“With the amount of players coming over at an age where they can develop and play for a couple years longer. Now in Germany, fans are starting to follow it a bit more. It’s growing in that sense.”

While he’s not at the level of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Aiger is just 29-years-old. He’s now a part of that wave of Europeans coming over when they still have several years to give.

Getting Fit:

Aigner hasn’t played all summer. Getting back to fitness will take some time and he was quick to point that out: “There’s no timeline for me coming back.”

Getting fit for the style of play in MLS isn’t easy coming out of an off-season. Furthermore, Aigner will have to get used to the altitidue. The Rapids are on the road for seven of their final twelve games, which does complicate things.

“In the last two months, I haven’t trained much. I’ve done running on my own, but I haven’t trained. I didn’t want to get hurt and not be able to get a contract somewhere. Now I’m just excited to get into training. Once I can get back to top fit, then I can bring the level I’ve shown in the past. Until then, it’s about getting fit, getting used to the altitude.

The’ve given me the freedom to come back whenever I feel ready. I need to feel out my body and get back into traiing. Get back to that high level I can bring before I get back into a game. I don’t want to rush it, because I’ve had injuries in the past where I’ve rushed coming back. It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help the team. I need to feel for myself.”

Where the Rapids are in the standings is probably a factor here too. They’re out of the playoff picture right now, and anything less than a 2015 Seattle Sounders run won’t cut it. At this point, they’re taking a cautious approach. Get fit. Get used to the team and the altitude.

The goal right now is probably to get him 90 minutes fit by the end of the season. Then go into January with a proper off-season.

Fiting In With The Rapids Way:

Aigner is a very unique attacking player as a winger. In the last sevearl years, he has almost the same number of goals as assists at the club level. This is exactly what the front office was looking for:

“To be a threat on both sides is unique. We want him to play his natural game. He fits in very nice [with the Rapids Way]. We told him about the evolution more toward the attacking style that we’re trying to implement here: We were looking for a player who could stretch the field, have the Soccer IQ to come inside and create as well.” Smith told Last Word on Soccer.

Aigner can’t really explain how he is a threat to both score and create for teammates. It’s just who he is:

“It’s not really due to one thing. I’m just working to make myself better and help the team no matter what. Whether it’s goals or assists, I don’t care.” Adding on an aside about his fitness, he said “I sprint a lot during the game. It’s about how fast I can recover. It’s a little bit of fitness, a little bit of muscle.”

It doesn’t really matter how Aigner plays his game, as long as he plays it. He’ll be an excellent threat on the wing for this club. With his ability to create, he’ll make those around him better. Aigner also sees a lot of potential in helping the younger players. His leadership qualities (he captained Eintracht Frankfurt e.V. a few years ago) were a big selling point as well.

“I think I can help the younger players. Then I can show some younger players and help them out. I’ve been impressed with the level of training so far. I think [Kevin] Doyle and [Alan] Gordon are very helpful with the younger players, helping them develop.”

All in all, winger Stefan Aigner checks every box for the Colorado Rapids. All he needs to do is improve his English so he can do some fan engagement.

Last Words:

No Set Pieces: Aigner is technically listed as a Forward for the Rapids. While he is skilled at passing from the run of play, he did confirm he’s never really taken set pieces in his career. Don’t expect him to take corners or free kicks. I doubt he’ll be taking PKs as well.

1860 For Life: Aigner was asked about growing up in Munich with Bayern Munich being a big club. He was quick to point out his allegiance: “Never Bayern. It was 1860 Munich.” 1860 were in the Champions League when he was growing up. He spent time playing there as a youth and on two stints as a professional. Don’t show up to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park wearing a Bayern kit and expect him to sign it.

Locker Room: Aigner was placed next to forward Kevin Doyle in the locker room. Considering some of the shenanigans from earlier this year, this is probably a safe neighbor to have.

Leadership Through Communication: Smith called Aigner a “natural leader.” He might not be captain, but his communication with teammates will be key. He’ll have to get more comfortable with English. He’s a soft spoken person from what I can tell. Still, he’ll be very active talking with the young players around him.

Happy Wife = Happy Life: Smith confirmed Aigner won’t be relocating alone: He’s moved over with his wife and young son. That’s really great when they come over as a family. His wife is a big fan of the mountains as well. We’ve seen this hurt players in MLS in the past. It’s nice to see Aigner will be comfortable off the field. It should help boost his play on it.

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