St. Louis CITY SC have already signed two Designated Players for their 2023 season debut: German midfielder Eduard Löwen and Brazilian forward João Klauss.
However, don’t expect the expansion club to fulfill their available allotment.
“We will not go for a third [DP]. I don't see that happening,” sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said on Extratime.
Pfannenstiel’s DP outlook is different than most of his MLS colleagues, he concedes. But he thinks Löwen and Klauss, 25-year-olds with German Bundesliga experience, can leave a serious mark on MLS’s 29th team despite not being huge names.
“If you look into the past, clubs that really believe that one or two people can carry them through and you're spending a massive part of the budget on it, did that really pan out or work out the way they wanted to? I'm not too convinced about it,” said Pfannenstiel.
“I still believe that football is a team sport, the team needs to be the star, the team needs to be the most focused on. If you load too much responsibility, too much wages and basically all the focus on one, two, or three players, it is not good for the chemistry within a team. This is why we decided to have a different strategy.”
Pfannenstiel noted Löwen and Klauss are only classified as DPs because of their transfer fees upon departing Hertha BSC and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, respectively. Again, Pfannenstiel’s tendency to look at MLS roster-building mechanisms slightly differently appears.
“I don't really believe in that word, Designated Player,” he said. “I believe that you need to have good players at a similar level who work together as a unit. If it's called a DP or it's called a Young DP or a TAM, whatever you call it, in the end of the day everyone is there to play a role within the team, within the structure. That is how we build so far the squad.”
Lutz Pfannenstiel on St. Louis CITY roster building & Expansion Draft plans
There's some historical perspective to keep in mind with MLS expansion teams. Here are some cornerstone DPs of recent newcomers:
- 2022: Charlotte FC forward Karol Swiderski - Polish international going to the World Cup
- 2021: Austin FC midfielder Sebastián Driussi - MVP finalist this season
- 2020: Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar - Golden Boot and MVP winner this season
- 2020: Inter Miami CF forward Gonzalo Higuaín- Argentine legend with a Juventus and Real Madrid pedigree
It’s certainly a different path STL are following, and not all DPs with glittering résumés pan out.
”Don't forget St. Louis is not Los Angeles, St. Louis is not New York,” Pfannenstiel said. “I don't believe this is what really helps us to create a star-struck culture. I think we need to come via the Midwestern approach.
“We want to reflect the people who actually go to the stadium. That's hard-working, that's blue-collar, that's down to Earth and that's being modest and really get out there, leave your sweat on the field, work as hard as possible and you will get something done in the end.”
Developing young talent
DPs are just one piece of the puzzle, Pfannenstiel notes, with the newcomers also planning to integrate academy and MLS NEXT Pro-developed players whenever possible.
“We do not necessarily look for 35-year-old former superstars who won two times the Champions League and the World Cup and have been at the top,” Pfannenstiel said. “We want to develop players, we want to have young, hungry players, players where their development is not done yet – they should still be on the way up. So looking at the foreigners so far that we've signed, I think you see the handwriting there.”
STL are also confident that head coach Bradley Carnell is the ideal person to turn intentions from concept into action. Carnell was hired last January after being at the New York Red Bulls, both as an assistant and interim manager.
"I basically made a profile of how I wanted the coach to be and we had hundreds of people applying from all over the world, some of the biggest names," Pfannenstiel said. "But we had a profile for a coach and Bradley was the perfect fit for that because he stands for the philosophy, for the playing style, for the DNA we want."
Year 1 success
All along, St. Louis focused on international signings last summer and fall before turning to the domestic market this winter. Friday night’s Expansion Draft (with its five selections) and Free Agency opening Nov. 16 are two big milestones in further creating their squad from scratch.
Over the past week or so, St. Louis have also been active in trading allocation money for international roster slots. Pfannenstiel said that gives the club “flexibility” for the January loan market and in the immediate future, tapping into their scouting network.
Ultimately, judgments will start when STL’s inaugural season begins in just over three months.
“When it comes to position, if we play around the playoff spot, I would consider that successful,” Pfannenstiel said. “Making it or not making it, just by a few points, that would be something I would live with. Of course, I would take the first option if I can.”