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‘We are footballers,’ declares City SC’s Pfannenstiel after a record first season

St. Louis City SC midfielder Eduard Loewen (10) drives the ball up the field while under pressure by Sporting Kansas City’s Khiry Shelton (11) on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, during a first round MLS playoff game at CityPark in Downtown West.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis City SC midfielder Eduard Loewen (10) drives the ball up the field while under pressure from Sporting Kansas City’s Khiry Shelton (11) on Oct. 29 during a first-round MLS playoff game at CityPark in Downtown West.

The sporting director of St. Louis’ Major League Soccer team believes the squad made a big statement in the soccer world with its inaugural season despite being swept in the first round of the playoffs.

City SC won an expansion record 17 games and became the first team to win a conference title in its initial season, despite being picked by many to finish last. The team’s message is centered around fan and community support for the organization’s goals. “We are footballers. We want to play the game,” declared Lutz Pfannenstiel during Tuesday’s end-of-season media session.

Despite proving many soccer pundits wrong, he is not taking next season for granted.

“It will be even tougher than this year," Pfannenstiel said. In addition to facing a grueling MLS regular season schedule, which stretches from late February to mid-October, City SC has played its way into the Concacaf Champions Cup - a tournament involving top teams from North America, South America and the Caribbean.

“It won’t be a children’s party,” Pfannenstiel said while looking ahead to the 2024 team schedule that will begin with training in January.

Head coach Bradley Carnell is also aware of next year’s additional challenges while coming to terms with last weekend’s sudden end of the 2023 campaign in Kansas City. “The loss still hurts,” he admitted. “Success should not be defined on ‘did they win a playoff game that no one knew they were ever going to play in?’” Carnell said while quickly shifting to an “enjoyable journey” that was the record-setting regular season.

“We know what it takes to be successful now,” he said.

The team’s growth on the pitch is reflected in the locker room and throughout the entire organization, said goalkeeper Roman Burki.

“Like a family, you build that relationship with everyone. Now, we are also sad that we are going to lose players. But that’s how it is.” Burki credits City SC with reviving his career after some tough years in Europe, adding St. Louis had been a perfect fit. “I found what I was hoping to find here. Joy and fun.”

The upbeat perspective also comes through with the team’s impact on the St. Louis community, which player Tim Parker experienced on a recent shopping trip.

“I went to the grocery store and someone kind of just congratulated me on the year and thanked me for it,” he said. “It's hard to take that right now, but at the same time, you're thankful for all the support that everyone's been able to give us.”

City SC sold out every home game this year at CityPark.

The team is already preparing for what it hopes will be a second successful MLS season while maintaining a tight connection to the St. Louis soccer community.

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.