DÜSSELDORF, Germany — United States men’s national team players Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales featured in Fortuna Düsseldorf’s 2-0 victory Sunday over rival 1.FC Köln. Both Americans played a major role in front of 51,114 spectators at the Merkur Spiel-Arena.
It was a heated affair both on and off the field between two cities separated by just 30 miles. Flares were lit several times by Köln fans and both supporters groups created an intense atmosphere.
“The derby is an important game for us. I told the team beforehand that it will be an intense game,” Düsseldorf head coach Friedhelm Funkel said. “I told the team to keep a cool head.”
After the game, Steffen said the atmosphere was “amazing.”
“It was smokey. It was everything: intense on the field and a lot of fun,” the goalkeeper added.
“I love heated games like that,” Morales said. “You have to be willing to run and be committed physically.”
Düsseldorf opened the scoring in the 38th minute after Morales was brought down inside the penalty box.
“I saw the room, and my timing was perfect,” Morales said about his run preceding the penalty. “It is too bad, because I wanted to score.”
Instead, Rouwen Hennings scored from the penalty spot. For Morales, however, it was still a satisfying moment after returning from injury.
“It’s always tough times when you injured,” Morales said. “But as always, you have to prepare yourself for the next time you get a chance. Today was a good first start.”
Steffen said he thought Morales did well, battled the entire game and is very important to the team.
“He brings a physicality and intensity,” Steffen said. “These are the games you live for.”
In the second half, Köln pressed Fortuna deep into the defensive third in an attempt to turn the game around. As a result, Steffen kept busy and produced a vital save to keep his side ahead in the 60th minute.
“It was my time to come up big for the team,” Steffen said. “And then the other guys did a great job in the other parts. I had to come up big to make that save”
A vital save, just before Fortuna wrapped up the game. From the resulting corner, Fortuna defender Kaan Ayhan won the ball, spotted Erik Thommy’s run and got the ball to the winger for a goal after a 50-yard dash across the field.
“It was a great goal after winning the ball in transition,” Funkel said.
The three points in the derby carry Fortuna out of the relegation zone and into the 13th spot in the Bundesliga standings.
The match calendar, however, remains difficult for both Steffen and Morales. The two will meet fellow U.S. teammate Weston McKennie’s Schalke team next weekend and then join the USMNT for a Concacaf Nations League match against Canada, a game the U.S. wants to serve as a make-up for the 2-0 defeat suffered in Toronto last month.
Morales missed that game with an injury and now hopes to be called up for the return game.
“For every soccer player, it is a dream to represent your country,” Morales said. “I am just trying to be prepared.”
When asked about wanting to set things right against Canada, Steffen said, “Yeah, of course. We want to play better. More as a team and show our fans that we want it. We obviously have a lot to settle with them.”