Breakdown: Simon Zoller takes first step on road to redemption

One of the recurring themes of the training camps this summer had been the strong impression Simon Zoller was delivering to the coaching staff.

Zoller offered effzeh fans a preview of the finished product of a long summer of elevated effort when he entered the scoreless season opener at VfB Stuttgart as a second-half substitute and helped bring the three points back to Köln by providing the eventual game-winning goal.

Because the hosts had enjoyed a superior share of possession and attempted many more shots, the fouling of Modeste and his succeeding conversion of the penalty might have left a sense that Stuttgart were still in a strong position to gain a result. Within moments of the restart, however, Zoller put a jolt through Mercedes Benz Arena with a wonderfully delivered second goal for the Billy Goats.

Or, as Zoller said of it, “The goal came at the right time and turned the game on its head.”

How did a team that struggled to get chances, ride the momentum of breaking through the deadlock to immediately then put the match out of reach?

Let’s take a look:

Sidebar: Again, apologies for low graphics skills. Maybe it’s part of the charm of the amateur nature of this endeavor?

02 Leo take Zoller pass and sets self


Marcel Risse threw the ball in to Zoller, who must have noticed the wide swaths of land available on the effzeh left flank because he took nearly no time to send the ball in that direction for Leonardo Bittencourt to fetch without anyone near enough to challenge for it.

02 Leo take Zoller pass and sets self


Is it sheer optimism that kept Stuttgart from spreading the coverage in their own half to account for that flank?

Whatever the reason, you can see that the effort of Jonas Hector (football god) is going to complicate the situation over there. Even Marcel Risse, who is ostensibly playing at right back by this stage of the game, is floating over to add to Leo’s multitude of options.

Leo has already shown he has the skill to take care of business on his own even with two defenders right on top of him, much less one guy still running to get near him. Otherwise, he also has Zoller making a run, albeit into tighter quarters, and a pair of strikers in questionable position with regards to remaining onside.

But, when you have a football god making himself so available and heading toward the wealth of open space you know to be there, considering you’d only just been roaming through it yourself . . .

03 Leo plays ball down side for streaking JHFG

The space available proves just too much to let go. It is not evident from a still, of course, but keep in mind that the VfB defender (Florian Klein) was closing down on Leo and now has to change direction to prevent the streaking Hector from getting around him.

Meanwhile, letting play develop along the flank allows the three-on-three situation to spread out and create multiple possibilities in the area.

04 JH puts on brakes

Klein manages to stay close enough to Hector to prevent being rounded, while Timo Baumgartl has shifted from his central area to assist.

But, as we know from the previous photo, that means the young center back is necessarily relying on additional coverage dropping from the midfield, lest the remaining two members of the back row are left in a two-on-three situation.

05 draws third defender passes to Vogt in tons of space

Baumgartl got the help he wanted, with team captain Christian Gentner moving into position and keeping an eye on Zoller. The other guy moving from the midfield decided to help pursue Hector along the touch line.

Kevin Vogt clearly noted the development and began moving into the prime real estate along the edge of the area and providing a more attractive outlet while being triple-teamed than trying to get a cross to the now-onside trio of strikers near the goal mouth or sliding back to Leo who’d remained wide and deep to provide coverage for Hector.



Two of the three defenders who’d flocked to Hector for a triple team in a less-threatening position are now desperate to get back to deal with Vogt, who is in a VERY threatening position.

Vogt, having had plenty of time to assess his options, uses a single touch to feed an onside (thanks Adam Hlousek!) and about-to-be-unmarked (thanks Gentner!) Zoller inside the area.

Yuya Osako wanted to make sure that Vogt realized he, too, would make a fine option should Vogt decide on a more-direct option for his pass.

07 Zoller onside with space

So much good here . . .

Vogt’s pass was perfect. It had enough touch to get through before Gentner could get into position to intercept, but not to much that Zoller could not set himself up nicely with his first touch and turn on the ball without it getting too far away from him. He probably was a little surprised to see that Hlousek keeping his distance.

You can see that Emiliano Insua also is opting for offside rather than defense. Though, with Hlousek isolated in no-man’s land, he’s left with both Modeste and Osako, the latter of which continues to make himself known with the outstretched arm.

Klein, at the top of the screen cap, has even less to offer from near the touch line and just throws the hand in the air for the internationally known sign of “I hope you think that’s offside.”

08 Zoller second touch laser

Hlousek gets moving in an effort to cut into some of Zoller’s angles to either goal or a teammate.

Modeste peels off his charge to goal to be available for a back pass in the area abandoned by Hlousek.

Osako is frozen . . . in an offside position.

None of which matters because, as you can see (and might suspect considering the subject of this post), Zoller goes for the score.

09 Modeste first to celebrate

The ball is in the net. Everyone in this frame knows it, but look who is the first to celebrate.

How could you not love this guy?

He has already been moving into fan-favorite position all summer. His hat trick in Meppen already had people buzzing about a goal-scorer with a legitimate striker’s touch. He charmed just two minutes before this by paying tribute to his newborn son with a pacifier-centric goal celebration.

But none of that will endear him to effzeh faithful the way unbridled enthusiasm for the team will. (I’m already teaching my two-year-old to play as “Modeste” when we kick around the back yard.)

10 catharsis


“It’s always nice to score goals,” said Zoller later. “and naturally I am pleased that I could help the team already in the first game.”

“It also did me, personally, some good.”

Zoller has a long way to go in the eyes of a lot of fans. He arrived as an expensive (over-priced?) transfer last year, fizzled out in limited playing time, and then became a bit of a pariah for having requested a loan back to his former club in the second division.

But if the coach who was so disappointed in Zoller’s decision to leave rather than fight last winter has seen enough to not only praise the guy, but put him into the first match of the season, we should all keep our assessment in check for the time being.


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