On Saturday, Charlotte travels to the new kids on the block: St. Louis City SC. The coverage around STL has frustrated a lot of Charlotte fans; there seems to have been a much more positive narrative around them than us. You can even look at Fox Soccer’s (now deleted) Tweet that simply ignores the existence of Charlotte.
Personally, I don’t care that much. St. Louis can be the darlings of the media (even if I’m not quite sure that is completely true). What does intrigue me is the fact that STLCSC (too many letters) just beat last year’s Western Conference Semi-Finalists on the road.
Now, their win did include this bizarre goal:
The scorer of this goal–Jared Stroud–was on Austin FC last year. Kipp Keller, the Austin defender in the clip, passes it back to him, out of what appears to be sheer muscle memory. This takes absolutely nothing away from their win–a goal is a goal. But man is this a bizarre thing to see.
In fact, the winner is a really good (mostly) individual goal.
The clip makes it kind of hard to see, but the penultimate pass was really good, while the timing of the run and the individual skill that followed were excellent. The goalscorer for the winner was Klauss, STL’s Brazilian DP (full name: João Klauss de Melo).
There’s obviously not much game tape or stats to be had on STL yet, so we’ll be looking at some of their big names, big signings, and the Austin game.
According to the official MLS site, STL was in a 4-2-3-1 for the entire game. Based on this sole game, I shall make the bold claim that’s the formation they play.
In many ways, St. Louis was outplayed. Here’s a brief look at the stats from the game.
Austin dominated possession, they had 150 more passes, and they had a 10% higher pass accuracy. What they didn’t do, though, was turn that possession into meaningful attacks (seems familiar, eh, Charlotte fans?). St. Louis outshot Austin, both in terms of total shots and shots on goal. While Austin was clinical in their finishing (2 goals from 2 shots on goal), they didn’t do much else.
The xG for this game is eerily similar. Now, technically, St. Louis outproduced Austin by 0.5 xG, but remember that back pass to an opponent that led to a goal? Yeah, that had an xG of 0.49. Without that mistake, St. Louis probably doesn’t win this game.
Now, of all their (many) shots, and aside from the actual goals, STL isn’t taking good shots. The xG on their goals is as follows:
- Parker: 0.14 xG
- Stroud: 0.49 xG
- Klauss: 0.22 xG
Aside from those 3 shots, only two other shots–a shot from Rasmus Alm with an xG of 0.30 in the 44th minute and a shot from John Vincent Nelson with an xG of 0.18 in the 74th minute–had an xG higher than 0.09. Most of these shots were actually incredibly low (0.01-0.05 xG). St. Louis got off a lot of shots, and that seems to be a philosophical strategy, but they weren’t very good ones.
Charlotte was a bit vulnerable last year with shots in central areas just outside the box, so the fact STL isn’t scared to do that might be a problem. With that said, if a team’s primary method of scoring is to get goals from outside the box, they won’t be successful in the long term (not saying this is STL’s actual plan, by the way).
The fact that #19, midfielder Indiana Vassilev, is basically disconnected from the entire team is fascinating. St. Louis doesn’t do much in the midfield. Off this one game, they seem to build through wide areas. For reference, here was Charlotte’s passing network from our opener.
In general, Charlotte’s passing network is something I plan to keep an eye on this year (also note how there is zero connection between Tuiloma and Mora), but it’s very different from St. Louis. Charlotte looked to maintain possession and build through their midfield (#8: Westwood, #13: Bronico).
The left side was targeted by STL against Austin. It remains to be seen if that was due to perceived deficiencies in Austin or if that’s the side St. Louis will look to build through. Looking at the players they have brought in (more on them later), I tend to think it’s the latter. Byrne and Malanda should take notice.
Looking at this game, Austin made a really costly mistake, didn’t take advantage of their possession, and St. Louis capitalized. I’m not sure Austin deserved to lose, but I don’t think this is a case where St. Louis didn’t deserve a win either. There is some luck involved, but overall, if you can go on the road to a good team and win while scoring 3, you deserve the 3 points.
St. Louis’ goalkeeper, Roman Bürki, is probably the biggest name on St. Louis’ roster. The former Borussia Dortmund keeper had a lot of success with Dortmund, but isn’t an otherworldly shot-stopper (as some in the media would have you believe). Bürki ended his Dortmund career with a 69.8% save percentage and 1.24 goals allowed/90.
PSxG+/- only goes back to the 2017-18 season. That year he had a +2.5 PSxG+/-, which is the only year it’s been positive. In 2018-19 he was at -1.0, in 2019-20 he was at -2.5, in 2020-21 he was at -1.6, and in 2021-22 he was at 0.0 (he had only 1 game this season).
In his last meaningful season with Dortmund (2020-21), he made 19 appearances (18 starts). The scouting report…isn’t great…
What is most troubling to me is that he’s not actually facing a ton of shots, but he’s allowing a decent number of goals. As someone who doesn’t follow Dortmund or the German Bundesliga closely, I can’t tell you if this was a result of poor play on his part or on Dortmund’s. Dortmund did finish 3rd that season, so it’s not like they were bad. Moreover, his 1.62 goals allowed per 90 was by far the highest of his career with the German club.
- 2015-16: 1.03 GA90 (33 games)
- 2016-17: 1.07 GA90 (27 games)
- 2017-18: 1.30 GA90 (33 games)
- 2018-19: 1.25 GA90 (32 games)
- 2019-20: 1.30 GA90 (31 games)
- 2020-21: 1.62 GA90 (19 games)
The trend is obviously not very good (i.e., the overall increase in GA90 then an explosion in 2020-21). However, goalkeeping and goals allowed are dependent on more factors than just a goalkeeper’s ability. Regardless, there does seem to be a decline.
For context, Dortmund’s new keeper, Gregor Kobel, had a 1.37 GA90 in 2021-22 (his first season as the starter). He currently has a 1.06 GA90 in 18 games this year.
Editor’s note: big thank you to @_Pancake_Papi for his fan perspective on Bürki. His thoughts mainly backed up the data that Bürki was good but, by the end of his time with Dortmund, fans felt it was time to move on. I imagine most of you already follow him on Twitter, but if you don’t, you absolutely should!
Klauss is a 26-year-old DP for St. Louis. He began his career in the Brazilian youth ranks (Internacional, Juventude, Grêmio) before moving to 1899 Hoffenheim in 2017.
In 2018, he was sent on loan to HJK in the Finnish first division. He made 33 appearances (28 starts), scoring 21 goals and getting 1 assist. 3 of those goals were PKs, but 18 goals as a 20-year-old is still noteworthy.
Klauss’ next loan stop was LASK in the Austrian Bundesliga. He would spend two seasons (2018-19, 2019-20) with LASK, making 42 appearances (27 starts). He had 3 goals and 0 assists his first season (in 14 appearances), before rebounding for 12 goals (1 PK) and 4 assists in his 2nd season (28 appearances).
In the 2020-21 season, he finally made an appearance for Hoffenheim’s first team, but it would be the first of very few. In total, he made 4 appearances (51 total minutes) for Hoffenheim and failed to record a goal or assist. He spent the rest of the 2020-21 season on loan at Standard Liège in the Belgian First Division, making 13 appearances (10 starts) and getting 8 goal contributions (5 goals, 3 assists). He remained with Standard Liège for the 2021-22 season, making 19 appearances (15 starts) but scoring only once.
At some point during the 2021-22 season, his loan with Standard ended and he was loaned out to Sint-Truiden in the Belgian First Division. He would make 8 appearances (3 starts) for Sint-Truiden, scoring twice.
As we can see from his heatmaps, Klauss is a pure center forward. There is a bit of a left-sided bias, but it’s not much. He’s a player who wants to stay central. At 6’2.5″ and 181 lbs, he makes for a physical player.
He’s an odd player to me. I’m not sure the scoring consistency is exactly what you would expect from a DP #9. For reference, his best two goalscoring seasons beat or tie Karol Świderski’s best season (12 goals in 2018-19), but Karol is consistently in the 10-goal-a-season range. Klauss’ production is…erratic.
Playing time can usually be looked at in cases like these, but he’s consistently gotten playing time at every stop–it just hasn’t always worked out. The difference in his two seasons at Standard Liège highlights this.
With that said, he’s hit the ground running with St. Louis. I’m curious to see which striker St. Louis ends up with. Will it be the “HJK-2nd-season-LASK-1st-season-Standard-Liège-Klauss?” If so, it’s a really good move.
Löwen is St. Louis’ second DP that they’ve brought over from a German club. Like Klauss, Löwen is 26. Unlike Klauss, Löwen has a decent amount of experience playing in a top league.
Löwen began his career with Nürnberg in the German 2. Bundesliga. He made 65 appearances (52 starts) for Nürnberg over 3 seasons (2016-2019). In his final season with Nürnberg, they were in the Bundesliga (though they would finish 18th and be relegated). He scored 8 goals and had 7 assists during his time with the club, including a 5-goal, 4-assist season in 2017-2018.
He was loaned out to Augsburg during the 2019-20 season, before moving to Hertha Berlin that same season. In the 2019-20 season, he would make 23 appearances (9 starts) for Augsburg and Hertha. He had 2 goals and 1 assist for Augsburg, but failed to score or assist for Hertha. In 2020-21, he would only make 7 appearances (1 start) for Hertha and, again, failed to score or assist.
In 2021-22, he joined Bochum on loan, making 26 appearances (15 starts). He scored 2 goals (1 PK) and had 2 assists.
Like Klauss, this seems a player that showed potential before fizzling out a bit. Brought in by St. Louis to be a playmaker–like Klauss–he has gotten off to a good start, as he already has an assist.
Let’s take a look at some heatmaps (they go in reverse chronological order):
Two things interest me about these heatmaps.
First, there isn’t a ton of consistency with them. The one consistent aspect of them is that there is a left-sided bias, except for the 2018-19 season when that bias is shifted towards the right (although he is all over the pitch). In 2019-20, it looks like he was mostly playing as a left-sided central midfielder.
Second, his most productive season, at least from a goal-contribution perspective, was 2017-18 when he was playing his deepest. Now, that is the year that Nürnberg earned promotion to the Bundesliga, finishing 2nd in the 2. Bundesliga. Perhaps that explains the production (i.e., he played for one of the best teams in that particular league). The second-best year for goal contribution was the next year, though, when Nürnberg was newly promoted. He’s not as deep as the 2017-18 season, but he’s further back than he will be in the subsequent years.
It appears that St. Louis is reverting him back somewhat to his positioning from those days. Although he was given the #10 shirt, he started and played as part of the double pivot in their 4-2-3-1.
It didn’t necessarily work out for him in the Bundesliga, but he seems a talented player. Importantly, he has experience playing against top competition in that league, which should prove useful. He won’t be facing a Bayern Munich in MLS.
Further, while St. Louis isn’t expected to be great this year, he’s mostly played at lower-level clubs in a top division. Due to the nature of American soccer and the structure of MLS, there’s greater upward mobility for clubs. The chances of a Bochum or Nürnberg seriously competing in the Bundesliga are infinitesimal. The chances of St. Louis–or any other MLS team–being able to go from a bottom feeder to a contender in a few years is absolutely possible (if not always likely).
Overall, it seems a smart move to me and someone who provides great experience for a new club, while also being relatively young.
There aren’t many solid conclusions that can be made from the first game of a new club. They have had a better start than Charlotte did, that’s for sure, but I’m curious to see how they hold up.
There are a few other players of note who do interest me on them. Njabulo Boom is a 23-year-old South African who was brought over from Kaizer Chiefs in the South African Premier Division. He made 69 appearances (53 starts) for them over 5 seasons, with most of those coming in the last 3. He had 4 assists for them in 2021-22. He came off the bench in the first game, replacing Vassilev.
Speaking of Vassilev, there’s talent there. This is a guy who had time with Aston Villa (mostly their junior team) and a couple of other English clubs in the lower divisions of England. He’s had two stints with Inter Miami, making 45 appearances (20 starts) and scoring 5 goals. At only 22, there’s still a lot of time for him. I am a bit confused about St. Louis’ decision to start him as a DM when it appears he’s mostly been a wide or attacking midfielder, with a bit of central midfield thrown in. Based on that passing chart, I’m not sure this experiment worked. It is just one game though.
Lastly, Isak Jensen is their YDP. He didn’t make an appearance during the first game and only has 19 career appearances (5 starts) for SønderjyskE in the Danish Superliga. I’m not sure what the plan with him is, but as a YDP, you have to imagine the 20-year-old will feature at some point.
From a Charlotte perspective, I don’t think we have to be overly concerned. I’m not convinced Bürki is very good anymore. He’ll probably be better in MLS than he was his last few years with Dortmund, but I’m not sure I see him being a wall. An average MLS goalkeeper seems likely to me.
The fact that St. Louis was able to score so many goals in their debut game worries me since Charlotte still can’t score. With that said, we have a number of new pieces, especially in attack.
There were moments in the New England game where you could tell that the connection between different players just wasn’t there yet. Early in the first half, there was a sequence where Westwood attempted a pass to Enzo Copetti. Copetti clearly expected Westwood to play him into space behind the line, while Westwood expected Enzo to want the ball at his feet. In the end, a Revs’ defender intercepted the ball. As these players get more game time together, I expect these types of miscommunications to decrease.
In the opener, I walked away thinking that Mora had a good game. I’ve heard from a number of places online that I might have that wrong. The supporter’s section offers a lot, but it doesn’t always allow for great analytical viewing. I do maintain that even if he was caught out a bit defensively, two things are still true. One, CL likes his FBs to play a bit inverted and that may have contributed to his perceived (or real) lack of good defensive positioning. Two, he had some of the better crosses for this game. On a team that struggled as a whole to produce dangerous crosses, this shouldn’t be overlooked. He might not have been quite as good as I thought when viewing him live, but I think he might have had an above-average Joseph Mora performance.
Our friends over at the Charlotte Soccer Show brought up the idea of Jóźwiak at LB. It’s not something I’m necessarily against, especially as it looks like we’re not bringing in a new LB (fingers crossed reverse psychology works!). With that said, I’m not convinced.
Our formation was listed as a 4-3-3, which confused me a bit. I’m still not sure Świderski can handle the #10 (though I have hope); I’m even less convinced he can be an #8.
I didn’t think he had a bad game overall, though his touch let him down a bit. The pass that led to the goal was absolutely atrocious and can’t be happening from one of our supposed leaders. I put 95% of that goal on Karol, though our tracking back did nothing to help matters. If you’re a masochist, go look back at that goal. At one point, there are 4 Charlotte players between 2 New England players and the goal. One of those NE players is Kessler, a CENTER BACK. Its…not good.
It was also interesting that when Shinyashiki came on, Andre didn’t go to the wings. Rather, Świderski did and, honestly, I thought Andre provided more through the middle of that game.
Aside from LB, the positions with the most questions over starters are the wings. The pitchforks are already out for Jóźwiak and Gaines. While I agree neither had a good game on Saturday, I think both deserve a few more games. This is especially true of Jóźwiak. I will also acknowledge that Vargas looked much better than either and he might be this year. I still want to see that kind of performance from him more consistently before I fully commit to it, but if that appearance was a new normal, then, yes, he should be starting.
In that same thread about Jóźwiak as a potential LB, I delve into Vargas’ numbers from last year. There isn’t much difference between the two and, in a number of categories, Jóźwiak outpaces him. Again, if the form he showed against NE is the new norm, then he must play.
To be honest, aside from maybe trying Afful out at LB (*shudder*), I wouldn’t change the lineup for St. Louis. I’d still have Jóźwiak and Gaines on the wings, with Vargas as the first off the bench for either if they’re struggling.
I would really like to see Nuno Santos get some time this weekend, though not on the wing. I’ve heard he played there over the preseason and maybe it can work. I just have my doubts. More importantly, I just get the feeling he’d be better in the middle of the park. No, I don’t know where he’d play in the midfield with our current players and formations.
I’m sure the atmosphere in St. Louis will be electric on Saturday, but I’m hopeful about this game. Let’s go spoil a party.
Prediction: St. Louis 1 – Charlotte 2
Data Notes: All heatmaps come from Sofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come from FBref.com. All formation graphics are from MLSsoccer.com. Other websites used for data include transfermarkt.us, Wyscout.com, and MLSsoccer.com.