The playoffs continue in the overseas MLS, which will determine the best team at the end of the 2023 season. It is expected that the decisive match, in which the winner of the MLS Cup will be determined, will take place on December 9, but some conclusions can already be drawn from the current draw.
In particular, not long ago the organizers published a very interesting rating, which gives an understanding of which player is the most popular in the league, and who fans consider a star and an object of sympathy. We are talking about a rating in which players of MLS clubs are ranked according to the number of T-shirts with their name sold in official stores.
Of course, the key sensation did not happen, and at the top of the list was eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, who moved to MLS from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, signing a contract with Inter Miami. No one has managed to surpass the Argentine in terms of popularity, but his figure is so legendary that to some extent Messi can be put out of the equation, since in many ratings Lionel has long been competing exclusively with himself, but with mere “mortals” only and it remains to be determined which of them is first after Messi.
And here many fans of MLS were in for a surprise: despite the fact that in this league in the 2023 season there were many stars, such as Sergio Busquets, Lorenzo Insigne, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Giorgio Chiellini and others, the first after Messi According to the number of T-shirts with his name sold, little-known 26-year-old St. Louis City forward João Clauss was among the fans.
Saint Louis City Football Club was founded on August 20, 2019. The club from Missouri received the right to play in the elite league of North American professional football only in 2023, so St. Louis City is the absolute debutant of the season, and in general its performances turned out to be sensational.
“St. Louis City” managed to win the MLS Western Conference, which traditionally includes such much more famous teams as “Los Angeles Galaxy” (failed to make it to the MLS playoffs 2023), “Seattle Sounders”, “Dallas” and other. In the summary table of the regular season, St. Louis City took fourth place, behind only Cincinnati, Orlando City and Columbus Crew.
And even though St. Louis City stumbled in the first round of the playoffs, losing on aggregate to Sporting Kansas City (1:4, 1:2), overall the team from Missouri turned out to be one of the main sensations of the entire draw and, probably, the key surprise, if we talk about its regular part.
Joao Clauss scored 10 goals and 2 assists in 21 matches for St. Louis City. However, the Brazilian forward, who also has Italian citizenship, absolutely did not expect that he personally and his team would be able to achieve such results already in the 2023 season.
“I know that the experts and many fans were confident that St. Louis City would be last in the standings. However, we managed to change the situation. At one point in the season I was told that I was in the top 25 in the league in terms of number of jerseys sold. Of course, the final second position surprised me very much. I think this happened because we are a new club in the league, the fans were just getting to know the players and buying our T-shirts. The good start to the season also helped a lot,” said Klauss.
However, this is a rather strange explanation, because in the final top 25 by the number of T-shirts sold there were only two more players from St. Louis City, and Klaus himself did not even enter the top 20 scorers of the championship, and his 10 goals were quite average for the entire league.
Getty Images/Global Images Ukraine. João Clauss
It is also interesting that in his native Brazil, João Clauss is also a de facto no-name. As a teenager, the forward trained at the academies of Internacional, Juventude and Gremio, but never played at a professional level in his homeland.
In January 2017, Klauss, who was only 19 years old at the time, moved to Germany, where he initially played for the Hoffenheim reserves. Unable to break into the ranks of the first team, the Brazilian played on loan in Finland for HJK and in Austria for LASK, and in both places he showed himself to be a very skillful and consistent goalscorer.
In 2018, Klauss became the top scorer of the season in the Finnish Veikkausliga, winning the title of champion and best player of the tournament along the way. In Austria, Joao got the opportunity to play against Erling Haaland, who was then playing in the ranks of Salzburg, and also to try his hand at the main draw of the European Cup – the 2019/20 Europa League, where the Brazilian scored 3 goals in 9 matches.
“As part of LASK I had the opportunity to play against Haaland, we reached the 1/8 finals of the Europa League. We played against Manchester United in the playoffs, having previously gone through a group with Sporting, PSV and Rosenborg. The team was also in first place in the championship before the break caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Klauss.
In the 2019/20 season, LASK was deducted 12 points for violating pandemic restrictions. And even though the punishment was later commuted when dividing the points for the championship playoffs and after filing an appeal, the team was still not lucky enough to be a real competitor to Salzburg in the battle for the championship. However, the name Klauss became more famous in Europe…
The forward was even transferred to the first team of Hoffenheim and played 4 matches in the Bundesliga in six months, but did not score any goals. Subsequently, Joao was loaned out again – to the Belgian Standard and Sint-Truiden, until he was finally sold to St. Louis City in the summer of 2022.
“The former sporting director of Hoffenheim was in St. Louis, where he negotiated the project for a new club. He told me about it: about the club, the league, the organization of matches. Considering that we knew each other well, I trusted his tips. This helped me move to MLS and be more confident here,” Klauss commented on his transfer to the USA.
According to the Brazilian forward, the quality of football in MLS has increased markedly in the short time he can assess it, and the transfer of Lionel Messi has certainly given a big boost to this. In the near future, it is expected that star veterans and simply high-quality performers will continue to go to this championship – in particular, Klauss’s idol Luis Suarez – a 36-year-old Uruguayan ex-scorer of Liverpool, Barcelona and ” Atletico, now playing in Brazil for Gremio.
“Luis Suarez is undoubtedly one of the best center forwards in history. I am very inspired that now a forward of this level plays in my favorite Brazilian team, Gremio. I consider it a privilege and try to watch every game, he inspires me a lot. I hope I have the chance to meet him here next season,” says Klauss.
Be that as it may, the modest Brazilian, who is only now beginning to become widely known in his homeland, has something to be proud of following the results of his debut season in MLS. This championship allowed João not only to regain stable playing practice, but also to gain unprecedented popularity, because being first after Messi in the number of sold T-shirts is, for Klauss, perhaps a much greater privilege than seeing Luis Suarez in the ranks of his beloved Gremio. …
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