The Cinderella story continues: Major League newcomer St. Louis won its first Major League Soccer title. Experts had predicted last place for coach Lutz Pfannenstiel’s team.
It’s reminiscent of a slightly clichéd Hollywood movie: an unknown sports team, which all experts predict will come in last, outdoes itself and wins the championship completely unexpectedly. Something similar is currently happening in Major League Soccer (MLS). And in the middle of it all: a German.
The St. Lutz Pfannenstiel’s Louis City SC secured first place in the Western Conference with three weeks to go before the end of the regular season and the playoffs – in its first ever season in Major League Soccer. A 4-1 win over Kansas City was enough for the newly founded team as their rivals Seattle and Los Angeles FC surprisingly failed.
Refuted by experts
The current success has surprised him a bit: “Of course we over-performed, shocked the league and refuted all the experts who thought we would come last.” This is more than impressive. Before the start of the season, almost no one cared about the club from the soccer-loving city in the American Midwest.
As an MLS newcomer to the Champions League
The team refrained from signing big names such as Lionel Messi and was considered one of the largest foreign teams in the league. The fact of winning the first title – albeit a smaller one – is the most surprising, especially since it also means direct qualification to the North and Central American Champions League.
“It’s as if Heidenheim are going to become German champions and move to the Champions League. You can almost compare it that way – even if we are competing as an enlarged team with a completely new team,” explains Pfannenstiel.
Before the playoffs began at the end of October, the manager tempered expectations in sports-mad St. Louis, where the 22,500-seat City Park has been sold out for years: “I don’t want to set any goals.” “For us, it’s about creating stability and consolidating the whole thing. Then the results will come on their own.”
The reasons for the Cinderella story are varied. The decisive factor is that Pfannenstiel got the majority of his squad together six months before the first match in the club’s history and the players were able to get used to it extensively.
“We have developed as a team slowly,” explains the 50-year-old, who does not want to single out any player. What matters in St. Louis is teamwork. But he made a small exception, after being asked twice: “Of course Roman’s achievements were amazing.” This refers to Roman Burki, the former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper and perhaps the most prominent name in the squad.
The nine-time Swiss player’s move in the summer of 2022 caused eyebrows in the Bundesliga – partly because the club was relatively unknown at the time, and partly because it took place over the course of seven months before the start of the season. First competitive match. However, in retrospect, this decision turned out to be the right one for Bürki: the 32-year-old is the best goalkeeper the league has ever seen.
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