When the time came for City SC sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel to recruit Swedish international defender Joakim Nilsson to leave Europe and continue his soccer career not only in Major League Soccer, but specifically in St. Louis, he brought in some help.
He got a friend of his, then-Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist (he’s since been traded), and retired Blue Alexander Steen, both Swedes, to tell Nilsson about the St. Louis sports experience.
“When we started to speak with Joakim about a possible transfer,” Pfannenstiel said, “he was curious not just about the league but the city, the people, the culture here. Oskar and also Steen played a big role in that because I organized calls and they explained to him about the sports culture in St. Louis and that a lot of Swedish professional athletes in the NHL have come here and been successful. So that was a really, really great cooperation, great help from the Blues. So an official big, big thank you from me personally that they supported us. … The Blues played a nice supportive role in helping us get Joakim, so whenever they’re looking for a German hockey player, they can give me a call at any time.”
People are also reading…
The signing of Nilsson, who had been playing in the German Bundesliga with Arminia Bielefeld, is another significant step in Pfannenstiel putting together the core of his team. He’s the fifth player the team has signed, and three of them make up what Pfannenstiel refers to as the spine of his team, a line of players who play down the middle of the field, starting up front with center forward Klauss, extending to center back Nilsson and goalie Roman Burki. The last major piece will be a center midfielder, probably the most important position on the field.
Nilsson’s Bundesliga season is over (and his former club was relegated to the second division), but he’ll be in action for Sweden on Thursday in a UEFA Nations League game at Slovenia. He’s the only one of the City’s first five signed currently with his national team.
“To be able to sign a current Swedish international,” Pfannenstiel said, “he’s a player that is a leader, who has proved himself at the highest level in Germany and is representing his country at the moment, is something we have looked for. It was always about building the spine, the key roles on the team with key players and players who have a big pedigree. Nilsson had plenty of opportunities to stay in the Bundesliga or go to other top European leagues, but I think when we spoke with him and we spoke about our club, we spoke about the future, we spoke about the development of the MLS on a really steep way up into becoming a world-class league, there was something which caught his eye. That we could fend off or fight off elite European teams, I think that’s something I’m really pleased we could secure a player like Joakim.”
Nilsson, 28, began his professional career in his native Sweden and then moved to Germany to play for Arminia, still in the second division, in 2019. Arminia moved up the next season before finishing next-to-last this season. He played in 89 games for Arminia and scored four goals, two of them in his last three games there. He’s coming to City on a free transfer, is signed through 2026 and is not one of the team’s three allowed designated players. Like the team’s other signings, he will join the team this summer and appear in some games with the City2 developmental squad.
“When he comes to playing, he’s a true leader,” Pfannenstiel said. “He’s very Scandanavian in his approach, very calm, he’s very very grounded, a hard-working strong player with a good voice on and off the field. A guy who will be a leader in the changing room but also on the field. His way of defending, great left foot, good in the buildup, strong in the air, very very good defending 1 v. 1. Basically all the boxes we looked for in a center back he had.”
Pfannenstiel is headed on the road next week, though he says he doesn’t know yet if he’s headed to South America or Europe. With the European club seasons over and the international transfer window about to open, clubs will be making roster decisions for next season and some players will be becoming available. High on Pfannenstiel’s list is that central midfielder.
“It’s definitely not a secret a central midfielder is very high up on our list,” he said, “a player that controls that part of the field, a player who goes box to box, very, very good mix between defending and attacking. We’ve been looking a long long time now, since many, many months. I believe if you put extra hours in, you will find that person you want to find.
“Now is a crucial period. Clubs are planning their future, clubs are restructuring their system, signing new coaches. There will be players on the market who were not expected a few months, a few weeks ago. A lot of players are out of contract, other players are looking for change. It’s an exciting time now. I think it’s a good time to be on the bike and have a look around.”
In addition to Nilsson, Klauss and Burki, City has signed Bosnian defender Selmir Pidro and Czech midfielder Tomas Ostrak. All but Pidro played last season in the Bundesliga, though Pfannenstiel is quick to note that none of them are German.