Since day one, 2023 MLS expansion side St. Louis CITY SC have proven doubters wrong, riding their fairytale inaugural season to the Western Conference summit.
Amid this success, arguably no player has silenced the skeptics more than captain and goalkeeper Roman Bürki.
Despite his notable track record at elite levels – particularly with German Bundesliga juggernauts Borussia Dortmund – the 32-year-old former Swiss international’s salary for an international goalkeeper raised plenty of eyebrows when his signing was announced in early 2022.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel and head coach Bradley Carnell knew exactly what they were doing when they broke out the checkbook for Bürki, whose standout first MLS season has him firmly in the conversation for the league’s end-of-year awards.
As far as Carnell is concerned, the case for Bürki – who has a league-best 114 saves to go with eight clean sheets – goes beyond Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and well into Landon Donovan MLS MVP territory.
“Not just Goalkeeper of the Year, but also the MVP,” the South African manager said Thursday during a media availability before Saturday’s home showdown against rival Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET | Apple TV - Free).
“I think he has a case for both and he’s done a great job and he’s kept that level and kept those standards high.”
Klauss & Löwen
Carnell, whose own name has been thrown around in the Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year debate, also suggested DPs Eduard Löwen (6g/11a) and João Klauss (8g/4a) would be MVP candidates as well if not for health issues that sidelined both for extended periods of time.
“Edu and Klauss, early on with their performances, the sort of trajectory they were on, then it kind of gets derailed,” argued Carnell of the duo that missed lengthy spells due to muscle injuries. “But you can see now the form that they’re hitting again.”
Newcomer of the Year and Continental Tire presented by Best XI are other possibilities for STL's big three. And, in Carnell's mind, it's a byproduct of team success.
"We’ve always believed in a team-first mentality, but then when guys are excelling, rightly so they get awarded or rewarded with All-Star games and talk of MVPs," said Carnell
Records in sight
Klauss, in particular, is back with a vengeance, scoring three goals in his last four appearances as he regains fitness with the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs just around the corner.
“Of course, it’s extra motivation for us to prove people wrong,” the Brazilian striker told reporters of CITY’s historic first season. “But, I mean, it’s more about the character of the players we have here.”
St. Louis (16W-10L-5D, 53 points) have already secured a playoff berth, all while tying a league record for wins by a first-year side. They have three games left to beat that mark, as well as the single-season points record by an expansion side (57, set by LAFC in 2018). They’re on the verge of becoming the first expansion club in MLS history to win their conference.
None of these achievements come as any surprise to Klauss, who's been a believer from the get-go.
“After day one, the chemistry that we had, the training looked like were together for years,” Klauss said. “Yeah, from day one, we felt we had something special here.”