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SOCCER

Stoppage Time: Gladbach reloading for new season

Monchengladbach was a victim of its own success last season. As the wins piled up, so too did offers - most too good to pass up - for its stars and its coach. But all is not lost.

The former Bundesliga giant, a shadow of the great teams from the 1970s for much of the last three decades, did not throw in the towel. In an era where small clubs are bullied by giants, Gladbach landed a sucker punch.

Gone are Marco Reus to Borussia Dortmund, Dante to Bayern Munich, and Roman Neustadter to Schalke. Those three clubs finished ahead of Monchengladbach, which was a surprise fourth place, its highest finish since ending the 1986-87 campaign in third.

It was a typical changing of the guard, as champion Dortmund grabbed one of Germany's rising stars for $21 million, Bayern scooped up Dante for a relative bargain of $6 million (his buyout clause) and Schalke stole Neustadter on a free transfer.

The top three strengthened their sides, and weakened a potential threat. So goes the merry go round of European soccer. A scene played out every year - all over the continent.

Reus played 32 of a possible 34 Bundesliga games, leading the Foals with 18 goals, and defender Dante and midfielder Neustadter each played 33 matches. Each had his own crucial niche in a club that manager Lucien Favre regenerated.

As soon as a club that won five Bundesliga titles from 1970-77, an era that ran parallel with the great Bayern teams of the 70s that won three European Cups in a row, showed signs of life - its star power vanished.

With Champions League play looming, Gladbach was destined to disappear from the competition in the qualifying stages - a far cry from its runner-up form in 1977. It was also destined to return to mediocrity in the league.

But, for all the star power that departed, Favre signed a new contract until the summer of 2015 this month for a reason. Even with Bayern among the clubs interested in his services after just over a year at Gladbach.

"My basic task is to make the players better, individually and collectively. It's down to me to develop their potential," Favre said.

"I hope you can recognize my stamp on things after a year, otherwise I'm no coach."

And the talent at his disposal is still very good.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen, a 20-year-old German international, is the top young goalkeeper in Germany. He played every game last season for Gladbach, which had the second-best defense in the league.

Juan Arango (six goals, 12 assists), Mike Hanke (eight goals), and Patrick Herrmann (six goals, seven assists) are among players who made huge impacts last season, and will continue on with Gladbach in 2012-13.

Monchengladbach also got a little help for their remaining players - and it might not be finished yet.

Granit Xhaka, a 19-year-old Switzerland sensation, was lured from Basel for $10 million to fill a void in midfield. Alvaro Dominguez, a 23-year-old who has two caps for Spain, was signed from Atletico Madrid for $10.5 million as a direct replacement for Dante. And striker Peniel Mlapa, a 21-year-old who played for Germany at various youth levels, was inked from Hoffenheim for $3 million.

Out of the $27 million made on Reus and Dante, Monchengladbach has invested $23.5 million back into the club.

The Foals are reportedly in the running for striker Luuk de Jong, a 21-year- old capped seven times already for the Netherlands who would cost a minimum of $10 million to lure from Dutch side Twente.

Should de Jong turn out to be too expensive or pick another destination, it would not be a shock - at this point - to see Gladbach chase another option. There is just too much riding on the upcoming season not to.

Monchengladbach will play in the Champions League playoff round - the final stage of qualifying - on Aug. 21 or 22, days before the Bundesliga starts. As the fourth team from Germany, a slot claimed from Italy prior to this season, it is important to make the most of the opportunity.

"Clubs lack continuity and therefore a philosophy to develop in the mid- and long-term. Without continuity you can't plan to win the Champions League. It would be purely coincidental," Favre said.

Xhaka, Dominguez and Mlapa were obviously lured by the opportunity to play in the Champions League, and their signings proved Monchengladbach does not want to waste the chance.

The non-champions playoff round is never easy, as a two-game series against a team from France (Lille), Italy (Udinese) or Portugal (Braga) could be on the schedule, depending on how the draw unfolds.

Reus, Dante and Neustadter have sealed their places in the group stage with a trio of new clubs, and Monchengladbach has done everything to try and reunite its old trio with their former teammates in the lucrative part of the event.

These Foals may not be ready to run with the European giants, but just taking one step in the competition this season, and maintaining a place near the top of the Bundesliga, will prove they are no longer an afterthought in Germany.

Gladbach struggled just to remain in the Bundesliga for over a decade and was relegated on a few occasions. It only stayed in the top flight two seasons ago with a relegation playoff victory.

Now, a team that was threatened by relegation on a regular basis could be set to threaten for a Champions League group stage berth and its first Bundesliga title in well over three decades - despite the loss of three key players.

Indeed, all is not lost.