Last Saturday, SV Blau-Weiss Wiehre Freiburg beat FC Portugiesen Freiburg 3-0 to win the Kreisliga B Staffel 3 and earn promotion to the ninth division of German soccer.
The celebration lasted well into the night – despite the early wake-up call facing many of the team's players the next morning.
"Some players didn't sleep at all. I slept two hours," assistant manager Marcus Ehret said Friday. "Sunday morning we had to be at the train station at 7 a.m."
After a long day of travel, the celebration is continuing during a two-week visit to the U.S.
That includes a friendly against the Madison 56ers of the National Premier Soccer League on Saturday night at Breese Stevens Field. Kickoff for the 56ers' first international match in six years is set for 7 p.m.
56ers general manager Cristian Brei worked with the Madison-Freiburg Sister City Committee, celebrating its 25th anniversary, to set up Blau-Weiss Wiehre's visit.
"We are very excited," said Brei, a native of Romania who has contacts throughout Germany thanks to his work as an agent for professional players and coaches. "This is a game that's not about the 56ers, it's about growing soccer in Madison within the whole soccer community and the partnership between Madison and Freiburg."
The team spent a few days in the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois, falling 2-0 to the NPSL's Quad City Eagles in a friendly Wednesday night, before coming to Madison on Thursday. The players are all staying with host families in the area for four days before they head to Chicago on Monday to conclude their tour with matches against the Green-White club and the Chicago Inferno of the USL Premier Development League.
While the trip has been scheduled for months, Blau-Weiss Wiehre manager Jan Lindemann said the timing ended up being perfect.
"We won the league, then go to America for two weeks. It couldn't be better," said Lindemann, adding that he's hoping the tour helps with team spirit and togetherness when they start six weeks of preseason training in July.
The Kreisliga B Staffel 3 is part of the 10th division of German soccer and most of the 16 teams are in Freiburg, a city of 230,000 in the southwest part of the country near the borders of France and Switzerland.
"We play almost the whole season in Freiburg," said Ehret, whose team features primarily players between the ages of 20 and 25. "Two teams are in the direct neigborhood – if you shoot over the goal, the ball lands on the field of the other team."
In other words, the 56ers traveled more miles for their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match last week in Des Moines, Iowa, than Blau-Weiss Wiehre travels in a few seasons.
"If you have make a journey like this to play soccer in Germany, then you're really in a higher league," said Ehret, a 32-year-old goalkeeper who played as high as the sixth-division Verbandsliga before his was stalled by shoulder injuries.
Blau-Weiss Wiehre went 23-3-4 and outscored opponents 110-30 in winning the league this season, but needed the victory last Saturday to secure the title – FC Portugiesen Freiburg is in second place with two matches remaining.
Four days and more than 4,000 miles later, they took the field in Davenport, Iowa, against Quad City.
"They were better than us," Ehret said of the Eagles. "I have to say we don't have all our players with us, because many players couldn't come with us. There are some players (on the 17-man roster) who didn't play one game with us this season - so we don't have our best team.
"The second half was hard for us. Many players were very tired, no power anymore. For us it's a journey for fun and it was a fun game. We had a really long and hard season, and it was really hard until the end."
Lindemann said his team struggled against some of the Eagles' quicker players and is expecting the same against the 56ers on Saturday night.
"Some of the players are too fast for our players," said the 33-year-old Lindemann, who also works for DFB-Mobil - a German Football Association program that trains youth coaches. "They are hard to handle for our players, the pace is too much for some of the guys. I think we have to manage them as a whole team, stay good in defense, that's what we're going to do."
Brei had dinner with Lindemann, Ehret and club president Bernhard Bucher on Thursday and Friday, gathering ideas the whole time. German soccer has developed quite a reputation of developing talented players and teams and making ticket prices affordable for fans, all while avoiding the financial problems that have plagued so many teams in other countries.
"I asked them tons of questions, because I need to know what and how they get it done," Brei said. "I admire what they do in Germany ... From the first division to the 10th, they do things right."
The team officials also discussed the possibilities of developing a partnership.
Bucher noted that Blau-Weiss Wiehre has a good relationship with SC Freiburg, the city's team in the top-level Bundesliga, while Lindemann obviously has connections in the DFB through his job.
The German club has a partnership with English youth club Guildford City Boys & Girls FC that started in 1979 and sees the clubs rotate sending teams and coaches to the other sister city each year.
"I'd like to have something like that," Brei said. "Now, will it be possible to do it every year? I don't know. But for sure we are interested in some sort of partnership, because I think they do things right. And also we have the Madison-Freiburg connection, so why not go there?"
For now, the Blau-Weiss Wiehre contingent are enjoying their trip - especially Bucher. "He says always, 'We are in America. Look outside, we are really here,' " Ehret said, sparking laughter.
The team has made more than one trip to the Memorial Union Terrace, appeared on WKOW (Ch. 27) on Friday morning and will watch the all-German Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund on Saturday afternoon - all along with 56ers players.
Bucher and Lindemann had been to the U.S. before, but this is the first visit for Ehret.
"I'm really, really happy to have this opportunity to be here," he said. "I have been in many other teams playing in higher leagues, but I have never made a journey like this.
"It's really exciting to be here. I have to say, it's like I imagined it a little bit. But I also have to say it's a great difference between Quad City and here. ... Madison is more like Freiburg, a student city."