St. Louis City could become the first expansion team in Major League Soccer history to win their opening four games if they can maintain their 100% start to the season against San Jose on Saturday.
With no system of promotion from the lower leagues, new teams entering MLS, building squads from scratch, have tended to struggle in their opening season but the league’s 29th club have hit the ground running.
St.Louis sits on top of the standings as the only team this season to have won all their opening three games enjoying away wins at Austin and Portland either side of their home debut triumph against Charlotte.
It may seem like madness, but there is a method behind the Mid-Western team’s instant impact.
Crucially the club hired their head coach, South African Bradley Carnell, more than a year out from their first game and he began working with sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel on a clear plan.
Both men have backgrounds in Germany’s Bundesliga and Carnell had been assistant to Jesse Marsch at New York Red Bulls where he was exposed to the style of play for which the German and Austrian Red Bull associated teams are well known.
Pfannenstiel spent seven years in recruitment at Hoffenheim, during the time when Julian Nagelsmann, now at Bayern Munich, established a similar attacking style relying on high-pressing when possession is lost.
The pair had a clear idea of how they wanted the team to play and their recruitment was tailored accordingly but crucially, unlike so many expansion teams in the past, they made their moves early.
Eight key signings, seven from abroad, were secured by August, six months before the start of the season, and had time to settle into their new home and start working.
That of course meant the club were paying wages without any income for over half a year but the early results have shown the investment to have been wise.
“It was really valuable for us. The opportunity ownership gave me to bring the guys in so early was amazing for us,” Pfannenstiel told MLS’s official website.
Carnell says it was a particularly necessary approach given the intense tactical approach they had chosen to adopt.
“This style of play is not easy. This style of play demands a lot of commitment, not just to the philosophy, but to each other as a teammate,” Carnell said.
“We felt every minute that the lights were not on us in MLS, these were moments for us to grow and get ready. We have just taken everything in our stride. We feel we’ve achieved nothing and we have to keep it calm and exciting for next time,” he said.
San Jose have made a good start with two wins so far but they will have to cope with another kind of intensity – the atmosphere in the packed new Citypark Stadium where the home supporters are lapping up every minute of their debut season.
Champions Los Angeles FC are the only other team in the league with a 100% record, although they have played one game less.
Steve Cherundolo’s side face a tough test on Saturday though when they travel to the Seattle Sounders.
Seattle are unbeaten in their last six games against LAFC and have won both their home games so far this season but fell to a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati last week.