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Preview: VfB Stuttgart v. 1. FC Union Berlin, Bundesliga Relegation Playoff, First Leg

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Mercedes-Benz Arena, Stuttgart Thursday, May 23 20:30 CEST, 2:30 p.m. EDT Referee: Bastian DankertAll-Time in All Competitions: 1 Stuttgart win, 1 drawUnion Berlin's Form: D-D-W-L-W-DUnion Berlin's 2. Bundesliga Position: 3rd, 57 points, +23 GDStuttgart's Form: L-L-W-L-W-DStuttgart's 1. Bundesliga Position: 16th, 28 points, -38 GD We're living in a world where the same team has won the title in consecutive years in each of Europe's top five leagues. With the same teams consistently at the top, it almost makes you forget what this sport is really all about.

As the game becomes increasingly commercialized, it's increasingly difficult for fans, especially those abroad, to focus on the aspects that make sport such an integral part of human culture. Because above all, while it may be a results-driven business, the fan atmosphere is one driven by community.

So, as 1. FC Union Berlin face potential promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in the club's hist…

Matchday 21 Recap - 1. FC Union 2 - 0 SV Sandhausen

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Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Trimmel, Hübner, Friedrich, Reichel; Rapp (Zulj), Prömel, Kroos; Abdullahi (Gogia), Andersson, Mane (Mees)

Sandhausen: Schuhen; Karl (Jansen), Knipping (Behrens), Verlaat, Paqarada, Diekmeier; Linsmayer, Zhirov, Taffertshofer (Vollmann); Wooten, Schleusener

Goals:
Union Berlin: Andersson - 11; Gogia - 87
There’s not much to say about Saturday’s home win over Sandhausen. This is partially because it was a relatively uneventful game and partially because of the tragic news that a 19-year-old fan of the club was killed by an unknown attacker in the hours following the game. Needless to say, Union Berlin fans around the world are thinking of his family and friends during this difficult time.

There was good news before the start of the game, as Union Berlin announced that captain Christopher Trimmel has signed a two-year contract extension with the club. A valuable member of the squad since he arrived in Berlin in 2014, Trimmel’s leadership, defensive prowess, and --…

Matchday 20 Recap: FC St. Pauli 3 - 2 1. FC Union Berlin

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St. Pauli: Himmelmann; Buballa, Kalla, Avevor, Carstens; Knoll, Flum; Allagui (Buchtmann), Daehli (Miyaichi), Sobota; Meier (Schneider)

Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Ryerson (Taz), Friedrich, Hübner, Lenz; Kroos, Prömel, Schmiedebach (Abdullahi); Mane (Gogia), Hartel, Andersson

Goals:

St. Pauli: Allagui - 23; Meier - 62, 90+4
Union Berlin: Prömel - 84; Abdullahi - 86 
Well, that game went from being one of the most remarkable comebacks of the season to one of the most heartbreaking defeats in the span of under ten minutes. Indeed, so much went on during Union Berlin’s trip to Hamburg to take on St. Pauli -- Golazos! Late comebacks! Even later penalties! Awesome fans! -- that one could easily imagine seeing this match in a sports encyclopedia as Exhibit A under 2. Bundesliga. After all, the match epitomized almost everything that makes the 2. Bundesliga one of the wildest, closest, most unpredictable leagues in the world (and also the one most likely to take years off my life).

Yet despite Unio…

Matchday 19 Recap - 1. FC Union Berlin 2 - 0 1. FC Köln

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FC Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Trimmel, Friedrich, Hübner, Reichel (Sent off); Schmiedebach, Prömel, Kroos (Lenz); Hartel, Polter (Andersson), Abdullahi (Parensen)

FC Köln: Horn; Czichos, Mere, Schmitz (Sorensen); Kainz, Hauptmann (Horn), Geis, Drexler, Risse (Clemens); Cordoba, Terrode

Goals:

Union Berlin: Hartel - 1; Hübner - 30 
And a happy new year to you too! Union Berlin appeared rested and refreshed when they took the field at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei to face Köln on Thursday evening. Just before the Christmas break, Union’s unlikely unbeaten run finally came to an altogether ignominious end via a 3-0 shellacking away at Aue. But after some holiday rest with family and friends -- not to mention a training camp in sunny Spain -- Union Berlin looked like an altogether different team than the one that just appeared too exhausted to hold their own by the end of 2018.

Union bid farewell to two members of the squad during the break: Kenny Prince Redondo moved to Greuther Fürth w…

Matchday 17 Recap: 1. FC Union Berlin 2 - 0 VfL Bochum 1848

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Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Trimmel, Friedrich, Parensen, Reichel (Ryerson); Zulj, Schmiedebach, Hartel; Mees (Gogia), Polter, Abdullahi (Andersson)

Bochum: Riemann; Hoogland, Soares, Gyamerah, Fabian; Losilla, Tesche; Sam (Saglam), Weilandt, Lee; Hinterseer

Goals:

Union: Polter - 60; Zulj - 87
It was another relatively unimpressive display for Union Berlin on Saturday, yet it’s hard to complain when the team still came away with three points and ended the first round of fixtures -- known as the Hinrunde -- undefeated for the first time in their history.

Yes, a whopping ten of their seventeen matches this season have ended in draws, and it’s worth noting that in some of those draws, they were lucky to scrape by with a point. Yet Union’s ability to turn losses into draws and wins even when they look largely mediocre over the course of 90 minutes is one worth celebrating, especially since last year, as we all know, they all too frequently turned wins into draws and losses.

As Union Berlin ent…

Matchday 16 Recap: 1. FC Magdeburg 1 - 1 1. FC Union Berlin

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Magdeburg: Brunst; Müller, Erdmann, Schäfer; Bülter, Laprevotte, Preißinger (Weil), Niemeyer (Costly); Türpitz (Butzen); Beck, Lohkemper Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Trimmel, Hübner, Friedrich, Lenz; Schmiedebach, Kroos (Polter), Zulj; Abdullahi (Gogia), Polter, Mees (Hartel) Goals: Magdeburg: Beck - 39
Union Berlin: Gogia - 65 Union Berlin escaped Magdeburg with only a point on Sunday -- and they were lucky to do so. Despite the home side sitting in 16th place in the table, they looked to be the better side for the majority of the game, and if it weren’t for the welcome return of Akaki Gogia’s scoring boots (he seemed to have misplaced them for a bit), Union’s unbeaten run in the league would have come to an altogether inglorious end.

Urs Fischer always talks up the opponents in his pre-match press conferences, so it was no surprise to hear him praise Magdeburg despite their lowly place in the table and note that Union would have to treat them with respect in order to succeed. What was a…

Matchday 15 Recap: 1. FC Union Berlin 3 - 1 SV Darmstadt 98

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Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Trimmel, Hübner, Friedrich, Reichel; Prömel, Schmiedebach, Kroos (Zulj); Abdullahi (Hartel), Andersson, Mees (Parensen)

Darmstadt: Fernandes; Rieder, Franke (Höhn), Sulu, Holland; Medojevic, Jones; Heller, Kempe (Boyd), Wurtz (Mehlem); Dursun

Goals:

Union: Andersson - 28, 42; Sulu (OG) - 65
Darmstadt: Dursun - 73
Well, Darmstadt at home, or as I’d like to call it, How Sebastian Andersson Got His Groove Back. At the start of the season, the Swedish striker -- brought in to supplement the Union attack during Sebastian Polter’s lengthy layoff -- was on fire, memorably banging in two goals in a 4-1 demolishing of St. Pauli and netting two more against Köln and Ingolstadt. Yet his output has dwindled in recent weeks, especially once he lost his spot in the starting 11 to the prodigal Polter.

But after a tough game against top-of-the-table Hamburg on Monday, Urs Fischer needed to rest some members of the squad. So, Andersson came back in for Polter, while Felix Kroos r…