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Emanuel Pogatetz Always Accepts the Challenge

The center back has become a dominant force for Crew SC.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

In the buildup to last week's Columbus Crew SC encounter with the Seattle Sounders, the talk surrounded the return of former Crew SC defender and the reigning MLS Defender of the Year, Chad Marshall. After the match, the attention turned to current Black and Gold defender Emanuel Pogatetz.

"I think he's doing a great job," Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter said of Pogatetz in his postgame press conference.

"If you look at how many headers he wins, he doesn't lose a header. It is phenomenal. He gives us a lot of power on that side of the defense. You add that to the fact that he's winning a lot of balls on the ground and some tackles, in the box on crosses and then with the ball he is calm and collected."

Pogatetz was all over the defensive line for the Black and Gold, winning the ball in the air, making last second tackles, marking two of the best offensive players Major League Soccer has to offer, holding one scoreless.

This is nothing new to the Austrian, who is always looking for a challenge on the pitch.

"I expected it to be a physical league. I think that's what it is," he said of MLS. "All the guys are really fit and very direct. So obviously it didn't take me by surprise, but it's a challenging league and I like to be a part of it."

It hasn't just been a challenge on the field, but to get on the field. Despite his vast experience playing around the world, the center back wasn't immediately inserted into the Crew SC back line when he arrived last September. After not playing for multiple months, Pogatetz had his own challenge to get back into game shape.

"I came here on the back of doing basically nothing for three months because I didn't have a team so I started from zero fitness," he explained. "So it was difficult. I think after six, seven weeks I already felt better, but then there were not many games to play."

He challenged himself to get fit, but there was also the challenge to get adjusted to the system. Having played over in Europe, Pogatetz was used to playing with the ball at his feet, but there was more to learn in Berhalter's system of play.

"Every coach has his different ideas and obviously we play a very offensive style here, but I've been used to keeping the ball and all that," he said.

"If you want to play at the highest level like I did then you also have to be able to keep the ball and so it was not that difficult for me, but the system we play was obviously something new."

The Crew SC staff had the luxury of letting Pogatetz learn and get fit while Tyson Wahl manned the center back spot alongside Michael Parkhurst. Wahl closed out the season well as Pogatetz got fit, but by the start of 2015, it was Emanuel's job to lose.

"I think Emanuel has done a great job of getting to where he is today and he's a true professional," Berhalter said. "He gives us this edge that's important to have. It wasn't easy for him last year adapting to the league, but we realize that it takes guys time to adapt."

So far this year, Pogatetz has gone against U.S. National Team forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, former Internazionale striker Obafemi Martins, last year's MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips, the red-hot Octovio Rivero, and former World Cup winner Kaká. Pogatetz embraced the test of playing against all of these big-name players.

"You always have good strikers like I had also in Europe. It's always a good challenge to compete against good players," he explained. "I'm happy that in MLS you always have like one or two names you already know from Europe or you know. It's more enjoyable to have a challenge and it's more fun to play against good players."

The challenges won't stop this weekend, as Pogatetz will be tasked with shutting down San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski. The U.S. forward has five goals in nine games this season, including two in his last three matches.

Pogatetz didn't get to the highest level of the game by backing down, rather quite the opposite. Whether it was in Germany, Russia, England, or now in the United States, the defender has always accepted the challenge and dominated the opposition, just as he's doing now for the Black and Gold.