Should Hoffenheim attacking midfielder Joe Gyau ever get homesick, he doesn't need to look far. United States international Fabian Johnson lives 15 minutes in one direction, while Gyau's fellow reserve team players Zach Pfeffer and Russell Canouse are 10 minutes in another direction. Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter
Gyau catches up with the latter duo for weekly dinners, giving the Tampa-born winger a regular taste of home. Not that the 21-year-old needs it though, after four years in Germany. And having gotten comfortable with the language and the culture, it is now the soccer Gyau is looking to master. He is adamant he will not be going anywhere until he does.
"I couldn't see myself leaving Germany any time soon," Gyau told Goal.
By his own admission, Gyau's biggest challenges lie ahead - ones in and outside of his control. Importantly, however, he is seeing progress. Gyau spent the 2012-13 campaign on loan at second-tier club St. Pauli, showing flashes of what he was capable of in 15 appearances, most of which came off the bench. He makes no bones about his feelings when he returned to Hoffenheim to face another season with the club's reserve side.
"Coming back to play with the second team, in the beginning I was a little bummed about it," Gyau said.
"Being exposed to a certain level of football, you want to be able to stay at that level, you know what I mean? Coming back, it knocked me down for a little bit. I was a little sad about it. But I couldn't keep wallowing in my sorrows for too long. It wouldn't have helped anybody."
Seeing the professional examples set by fellow reserve-team players Edson Braafheid and Mathieu Delpierre - the former a Netherlands international, the latter an ex-captain of Stuttgart - kept Gyau's head where it should be. He now sees staying at Hoffenheim, as opposed to departing on loan again, as a blessing rather than a curse.
"I kind of just put my head down and just focused on things I needed to do. Maybe this is just a step down a level, just so I can regain my form so I'm able move back up," he said. "I think I've been doing a pretty decent job, focusing on my stats and what I need to do, being more effective."
Gyau has hit five goals in 15 starts for Hoffenheim II to lead the club's scorers in the Regionaliga. He believes it is the first evidence of a concerted effort to improve his weaknesses. Blessed with searing pace and seeming most at home when cutting in on opponents from wide areas, Gyau readily admits where his game often fell down.
"Most of the time, in previous seasons, I was always able to beat guys, but then the end product… It was always like the final ball, the last finish, the last shot - things like that," he said. "I think I've improved definitely on those things."
Consistency is another quality Gyau is trying to make his own. Hoffenheim's senior team sits 14th on the Bundesliga table, but only four clubs have scored more goals. Breaking into the first team looms a tough prospect for Gyau, but he says the club and manager Markus Gisdol have demonstrated they will reward good form.
"Right now, I'm just looking to stay at Hoffenheim. If I keep scoring goals, anything is possible. You know how fast things go in football," he said. "Definitely, the connection between the first team and second team here … it's a good connection. They are always looking at the younger guys, always looking to see who is playing well."
Gyau is an experienced youth international and was called up for a senior friendly against Russia in 2012. For now though, he has put his hopes for United States national team recognition to the side. Still uncapped, he knows how intrinsically his club form is linked to opportunities with Jürgen Klinsmann's side.
"They are definitely monitoring my progress, so it's another good reason to keep working hard," Gyau said.
Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter