That elusive feeling we’re all chasing is something Löwen is not taking for granted. It indeed eluded him for the last few years, when a transfer to Hertha Berlin didn’t quite work out as planned and he was sent on a pair of loans elsewhere in Germany.
All told, St. Louis became his fifth club since 2019. But he’s found a long-term home again, and with it, happiness.
“It felt like I couldn’t settle somewhere,” Löwen, 26, told MLSsoccer.com this week. “It was like I didn’t have a real home, always changing. I don’t know, it didn’t work out the way I wanted. I had a great time at my first professional club in Germany, FC Nürnberg. St. Louis feels like that, I feel really at home. I come to training so happy.”
Löwen spared no one from gratitude for that feeling.
It applies to sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel (who courted Löwen to St. Louis), head coach Bradley Carnell and his staff, his teammates, the expansion club’s support staff at the training ground, the church and community he and his wife were quickly welcomed into with open arms, and to the city of St. Louis itself.
“It’s so important to be free in your head,” Löwen said. “For every player, if you feel comfortable and are happy, it’s so much easier to play on the pitch.”
Löwen was named to MLS’s Team of the Matchday presented by Audi in each of his first two appearances, an integral role in STL’s fast start with wins over Austin FC and Charlotte FC. He’s among the early breakout stars of the new season, an overlooked player on an overlooked roster.
“Am I surprised about his performances? F--- no, I’m not surprised!” Pfannenstiel said. “I know the player since he was 16, I know what he’s good at and what he’s not good at. As a person, he’s a great fit as well.”
Löwen wasn’t a known commodity in MLS circles before the last few weeks, like many of his teammates. Most casual MLS fans knew goalkeeper Roman Bürki from his Borussia Dortmund days and Tim Parker from his highs and lows around the league, but not much else. Löwen and forward João Klauss, a fellow Designated Player, have introduced themselves to the league in a big way with two strong performances.
“Many people underrated us and felt like we didn’t have a good team, but we have good individuals who work together,” Löwen said. “Some other teams have great individual players but aren’t a great team together like we are.”
A quick decision
On vacation with his wife in Africa last summer, Löwen’s agent revealed a new MLS club called St. Louis CITY SC were interested in signing him. They were led by Pfannenstiel, who twice tried to sign him in Germany.
“Missing out twice on him, I was not necessarily a happy bunny at that time,” Pfannenstiel said. “I called him one more time about St. Louis and I thought: ‘This is it. If it doesn’t work this time I will have to cross him off the list.’”
Löwen admitted he wasn’t sure what to think at first. He always had an interest in coming to America and knew he would leave Hertha that summer. With options of staying in Germany, was the moment right to leave the only system he knew?
He broke through professionally at FC Nuremberg while appearing for Germany’s youth national teams, all the way up to the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021.
A hot prospect, Hertha Berlin signed Löwen for a reported fee of around $8 million (... when Pfannenstiel had hoped to sign him at Hoffenheim). The move didn’t work out, as Löwen played less than 400 Bundesliga minutes for the club. He was loaned to Augsburg (... when Pfannenstiel hoped to sign him on loan at Dusseldorf) and then Bochum in separate years.
“It felt to me that I needed a change,” Löwen said. “I had a little bit of a rough time in Germany, it felt like some coaches didn’t appreciate the way I play. I always wanted to come to the US and this was the best moment to do that.”
“He was a no-brainer for me,” Pfannenstiel added. “It was more a question of if we could afford him.”
Löwen took the call and happily listened to St. Louis’ presentation. About the club’s new facilities, the city of St. Louis, its history of soccer, the playing style under Carnell, how Löwen would fit, what the club wanted to achieve, what the club wanted to stand for.
The meeting went well. Pfannenstiel told Löwen to take his time, understanding he was on vacation. No rush.
“But 24 hours later, he spoke more with his wife, and he called me to say this was the right thing for him to do,” Pfannenstiel said. “It was pretty quick.”
Löwen was part of St. Louis’ unique strategy, where their biggest imports arrived at the club the summer before their first season, rather than in January for preseason camp. Even when other expansion teams signed players early enough, they would stay on loan at another club to continue playing first-team soccer.
While it meant Bundesliga-quality players like Bürki, Löwen, Klauss and more missed out on half a season of top-flight soccer, it also meant they got to begin adapting to the city and club, while training (and playing a bit) with the club’s second team in MLS NEXT Pro.
“It was great for me to come six months early,” Löwen said. “I could do all the important stuff you need to do to get settled into a foreign country, and now I just get to focus on the season.”
"We have to stay humble"
St. Louis’ MLS debut came in front of a raucous crowd at Austin FC. STL battled last year’s Western Conference finalists, took the lead, took Austin’s best punch and punched back for a 3-2 win. A week later, it was the long-awaited MLS opening of CITYPARK.
A day 70 years in the making in St. Louis delivered all the sights and sounds around the pitch, as one would reasonably expect for such a historic day.
“It was incredible,” Löwen said. “I had goosebumps the moment I stepped on the field, the fans were incredible. It was such a special moment… a moment I won’t forget in my life.”
On the pitch? Löwen and St. Louis delivered, too, with a 3-1 win. Löwen scored a penalty – fired into the top corner, one he joked may have been his best penalty ever – the first goal scored by a STL player for STL at their new cathedral.
“I call him a 6/8/10 – he can play everything in the middle,” Pfannenstiel said. “He can dominate games, dictate tempos. He has unbelievably good set pieces, and I’m not even talking about penalties. He works hard, runs a lot and has a lot of creativity on the ball.”
St. Louis are off to a fast start in a season many predicted they’d struggle to stay in the playoff race. Two wins don’t guarantee anything, but the underlying performances coupled with the results have folks rethinking those expectations.
At the club, they’re trying to stay humble.
“Winning these two games, it doesn't mean anything yet,” Pfannenstiel said. “It means we had a good start but we can still finish 14th. We haven’t achieved anything yet. We had a good start, but we need to keep working, keep grinding and to make it even better.”
“I’m looking out the window watching training right now,” Pfannenstiel continued. “I don’t think anyone on that field takes this moment for granted.”
“The most important thing is that we keep going this way that we don’t start thinking we’re going to be the best team,” Löwen said. “We have to stay humble and work hard. It’s a realistic goal to want to get to the playoffs. We don’t want to just play for fun; of course we want to get to the playoffs. It’s a long way, we have to keep going like this.”