Klauss is open and he wants the ball. Then again, he’d have you believe he’s eternally open. He’s open in the midfield. He’s open in the box. He’s open during the anthem. He’s open at Starbucks. He’s open at Schnucks.
The St. Louis City SC star has supreme confidence — and he yearns for the responsibility of having the ball. A couple times per game, when it isn’t passed his way, he’ll even throw up his hands in disgust, because, after all, Klauss was open.
“I'm striker, you know, and in my opinion, I'm always in good position,” a smiling Klauss said when asked about his hunger for possession. “So I always want the ball, but I know that sometimes I'm not the best decision for our team. But, yeah, I just like to have the ball at my feet.”
He reminds me of a wide receiver who’s always convinced he’s open. This is a great trait. I love it. No, I don’t think Klauss is a diva. I just think Klauss doesn’t waver in his self belief.
And in four City games, he has three goals and an assist. And the team has yet to lose. It really is an incredible sports story — no other Major League Soccer expansion club ever had won its first four games. And, yes, part of City’s team culture is that every player is similarly important. But, man, Klauss sure can break open a game.
“He's just a winner by trade,” City coach Bradley Carnell said after his club's 3-0 home win against San Jose on Saturday night. “He just he drives us all, from (goalie) Roman (Burki) at the back to Klauss at the top. These guys drive high standards. And we can see when we get Klauss the ball that he is so dangerous, right? When he attracts two defenders, he frees up someone else. If there's only one on him, then he can beat him one vs. one. He can hold up to play. He's got a whole plethora of tools. Like, his toolbox is massive. He has so many different things and can pull out — different weapons at every single time.
“And he's a great guy. You know, he's like a teddy bear in the locker room. Everyone wants to gravitate towards him, because he’s a very approachable guy. A very compassionate guy, as well. So I just think you're seeing a group now who is excited to play for each other — and excited to just be a unit.”
Klauss’ great goal in Saturday’s game was an amalgamation of grit and grace. If you didn’t see it, well, you should see it. Here’s what happened.
So, St. Louis led 1-0, three minutes into injury time after the first 45. Klauss won the ball near midfield and deftly tapped it from the outside of his right foot to a teammate (see, even though Klauss always wants the ball, it’s sometimes to then help ignite a play with his passing). Klauss got the ball right back and attacked three players at once because, again, it’s Klauss were talking about. The brave Brazilian tried to thread a pass into the box, but the ball pinballed. And quite simply, Klauss out-hustled a quartet of defenders to the ball, which Klauss booted by the goalkeeper.
“I know that he has great character, is a hard worker and he's a team player,” said City sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel, who has known Klauss since was 18 — or “a baby” — and brought Klauss to a club in Germany. “He's not a selfish striker. He really works hard. … I mean, he muscled his way through to score. But it's not just about the goal. It's about what he does, when we don't have the ball, when he closes down, when he chases, when he works hard.
“So I'm really, really happy for him. But you know, it's not all about one player. One player is only as good as the team is around him.”
That’s true. We see it in team sports occasionally — an elite player will just be the wrong fit with a certain team’s system … or that player, while talented, doesn’t have the mindset to mesh with teammates or make them better. But four games into this marathon (MLS teams play 34 games), Klauss has fit like the gloves that City players wore in Saturday's 25-degree game.
And we sure talk about City’s pressing system a lot, but it is the core of the team’s identity. And Klauss presses relentlessly yet intelligently — and he’s sure been a beneficiary. In the 17th minute Saturday, he was positioned well (and, naturally, was quite open), while teammates John Nelson and Jared Stroud forced a turnover (or, as an Apple TV broadcaster called it, a “win-back.”). The ball ended up right at Klauss — and he unleashed a shot with a foot of fire. The keeper saved it, but goodness, it was a close call.
“I think it's really tough for the opponent to play against a team that’s pressing all the time,” Klauss said, “because you have no time to have the ball or to think in the game. You have to make fast decisions. And not a lot of teams in the league that's playing this style, so they have to change their game when they play against us. They have to be faster. And I think we are surprising some teams.”
Klauss is rapidly becoming a fan favorite in St. Louis. A chant even was unveiled Saturday to the tune of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
He scores with his left.
He scores with his right.
You better not blink or you’re done for the night.
Santa Klauss is coming to town.
He’s the gift that keeps on giving (as long as his teammates give him the ball).
Photos: St. Louis City SC beats San Jose Earthquakes to stay undefeated