His opinion wasn't popular among his Chicago Fire teammates, but Arne Friedrich was adamant before the UEFA Champions League semifinals began that Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund would beat FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively, to set up an all-German final.
He looks like a big winner in Vegas now.
Of course, the nine-year Bundesliga veteran has plenty of inside knowledge, and he's seen German teams surpass their Spanish counterparts by incorporating some strengths of Spanish soccer.
“I'm very happy for Germany, but they deserve it,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “Barcelona was always the best team in the last couple of years, so everybody was looking to Barcelona, maybe, to copy the style of play. This is what the German teams did as well. … But the Germans, they also tried to keep their strengths, so it's like a mix of that, and this is what makes them successful now.
Over nine seasons with Hertha Berlin and VfL Wolfsburg, when he also played 82 games with the German national team, Friedrich saw German soccer morph into a more attractive and successful brand of play under the direction of Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw.
Those coaches also helped implement a stronger academy system in Germany, and attendance grew as teams became more successful and fun to watch.
“The style of play is definitely a little different than it was 10 years ago, and it's what the crowd and the people would like to see in the stadium,” Friedrich said. “[When my career began], we slowed down the game. Now, it's trying to pass the ball as soon as possible and to try to pass through the midfield to make the game unpredictable. It changed a lot over the last 10 years.”
Bayern Munich is in the final for the third time in four years, and it will be Borussia Dortmund's first appearance in the final since they won it in 1997. Bayern were the last German club to win the European Cup, in 2001.
They aren't the only Bundesliga teams to see success in European play. Seven German clubs made it out of the group stages of this year's Champions League and Europa League, and while Bayern have been absolutely dominant in league play, Friedrich thinks their 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona can put to rest any talks of the rest of the league's decline.
And during his second year with the Fire, he has seen plenty that MLS can learn from the German top flight, even though the young league is hamstrung by a salary cap. Aside from simply bringing in star players, he believes turnover is the main thing MLS clubs need to reduce.
“I remember last season, we had a roster and they changed it a couple of times,” he said. “There's no consistency. This is very important in Germany, to build up a structure and to work with a structure for a couple of years.”
While he has ties with both teams, Friedrich didn't hesitate to name the team he'd root for. With Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski looking likely to leave Dortmund this summer, he couldn't help but go with the underdogs.
“Definitely Dortmund,” he said. “When I was a kid, I was always a Dortmund fan, and I support underdogs. I know many people from Bayern Munich as well as Borussia Dortmund, but for me, I will cheer for the underdog Borussia Dortmund because I assume Bayern Munich is going to win the Champions League in the next couple of years.”