During a conversation with Klaus – the Brazilian soccer striker better known as St. Louis City – I caught a glimpse of his right foot. There he was, right in front of me, in a size 10 1/2 and housed in black Adidas sneakers.
I said, “This is the foot that will score goals.”
“I hope both feet!” answered. “And the head! It doesn’t matter what, as long as the ball goes over the line!”
The likable striker could be City SC’s first star. He is one of the designated squad players – along with Germany midfielder Eduard Lewin – whose signings are not restricted by the league’s salary cap mark or the team’s salary cap. And though his name is now not well known at South City Gingerbreads, Webster Groves Queen Annes, or Chesterfield McMansions, by summer in St. Louis, Klauss should be a household name.
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“It’s very exciting to be the first to use the team’s facilities, the first to play in the field, and the first to play in MLS with St. Louis,” Klaus said. “Instantly, you are club history.”
Now, it would be exciting if St. Louis’ MVP was from Branson, but the fact that he’s Brazilian brings that extra oomph and tradition.
“Watching the South Americans and the Brazilians in particular will make you feel butterflies in your stomach because they can make something out of nothing,” said City SC coach Bradley Carnell. “Obviously, yes, there are players in Europe who have the same thing, but this kind of finesse, creativity, work in tight spaces and tight ball control.
“It’s kind of normal. Nothing that’s in a textbook, (as if reading) ‘This is how you take the inside of your foot and you play that pass that way.’ It’s very creative. It’s very artistic. And you see Klaus’ movements, no matter what. Regardless of his stature and size, but he also has great technique. So we’re excited about Klaus up front.”
Kloss, 25, stands 6-foot-3, so his head is as much a target for teammates as his feet. His full name is João Klauss de Mello, but as Brazilian soccer stars do, he uses one, as have the likes of Pele, Zico, Neymar, Socrates, Jairzinho and my Brazilian favorite Fred.
They say Klaus is the perfect fit for the pressing style City SC will play. It requires elite fitness and unbreakable focus, with or without the ball. You are constantly trying to either score or win the ball back. Klaus has experience playing this style.
And frankly, he only scored a bunch of goals. No, it’s not Neymar. He is not a nationally elected wizard. But he is still an international professional who can compete at high levels against even the most aggressive and lethargic defensive players.
Klaus’ father is of German descent, and his mother is of Italian descent. He grew up in Criciúma, in Santa Catarina, the Brazilian state that is home to Chapecoense Football Club. In 2016, this club lost the majority of its players and staff in a plane crash. Klaus knew some of the players.
“There were players from the same academy as me, but they were a little bit older,” he said. “Yes, it was a great tragedy in Brazil. Now, I think everyone in Brazil has two teams. Their own team and Chapecoense.”
As a teenager, Klaus joined Grêmio, the same academy where Ronaldinho got his start. And while Klaus admires this other talent — “he’s just magic,” Klaus said — his favorite Brazilian player is Ronaldo, the predecessor of soccer.
“Venimeno,” he said, referring to Ronaldo’s famous nickname. “He played the same position as I play now. And yes, he was one of the best. I remember when he went to Corinthians, he was playing in Brazil. He was already at the end of his career, but the quality was still there. And he scored amazing goals in Brazil. I remember one One. He shot from a distance – a great goal.”
Amazing goals, that’s the point.
We don’t know yet how good City SC is. It’s an expansion team, yes. But the club instilled its culture and style more than a year ago with its City 2 team, who played in the title match a year ago. Klaus and others have been in town for a while.
But no matter how many times City SC wins, it’s a good bet Klauss will keep them in the games with a shot. He is a goalscorer by nature. He is the leading scorer for St. Louis.
As City SC’s coaching director John Hackworth once told this newspaper: “He’s Brazilian too, so he thinks he can do anything with football, which is also great.”