Shjon: Outwit, Outpace, Outlast
My "Keys to the City" for last week - looking at the play on the pitch there was a distinct uptick in the measuring of runs, fewer lulls in energy throughout the game, and yet another simple back-pass gone awry. The high press system of Energy Drink Soccer causes a lot of fatigue on both teams in all areas of the game. That much thinking and running takes not just a physical toll but a mental one as well. When fatigue sets in you can start seeing things or make lazy mistakes. Lazy mistakes like a half-hearted pass to your keeper that gets cutout by someone who is still within their mental faculties, or failing to see the difference in jersey colors because you see a familiar face who used to play on your team. Lazy mistakes that will be punished when forced very high up the pitch. Many people will call these "gifts from the soccer gods" or "luck" but sometimes you have to make your own luck and get yourself gifts and City are doing just that with this high press and frenetic pace they bring to the game. Don't be surprised if these "gifts" appear often throughout the season or if people start the conspiracy theory that MLS is staged somehow. Or both.
Tyler: Fighting Football
Building off Shjon’s point, St. Louis City SC isn’t playing stereotypical soccer. The number one complaint non-soccer fans have about soccer players is diving. We all know it. We saw plenty of it on Saturday by a certain number 9, and we all know it wasn’t the one wearing red. By overwhelming contrast, Ostrak, Nelson, Parker, Klauss, Lowen, Blom, and pretty much the entire starting lineup refused to go down after contact if they could help it. But in this category, the shining star was substitute Sam Adeniran. He had two distinct counter attacking runs where he was clearly fouled, but kept his feet and used advantage to his benefit, extending plays and chewing up clock in the waning minutes when Charlotte was throwing everything they had into City’s defensive third. Rather than employing traditional time-wasting tactics, this City squad has the appetite to beat its opponents in the open field of play. I’m sure there will be select moments as the long MLS season progresses, but seeing this level of tenacity and desire is exactly what fans want.
Shjon: Designated Team
Lutz Pfannenstiel once said he didn't believe in DPs, he believed in a DT. A Designated Team. This got a lot of reactions ranging from Lutz is a fool and that doesn't make sense to Lutz is just talking like every sportsball person does, you always talk about how good the team is, rarely talking about yourself or one specific player. As I have said before on my podcast Lutz has been out here playing 4D Chess in this roster build while the rest of us are thinking in terms of checkers. He went out and got Roman Burki on a TAM deal and most said he overpaid. He didn't go after the huge names in the expansion draft, people questioned why he didn't go get some real star power. What this team showed in STL on Saturday was they have something bigger than one star player: chemistry and fluidity. When everyone can be deployed as a utility player, no one is out of position.
Tyler: Waiting for Full Blom
Njabulo Blom is an incredibly smart player. His positioning is unbelievable. About midway through the first half, I really started to pick up on the fact that he was always in the right place, regardless of phase. He made high quality attacking runs, moved into dangerous pockets of space unseen by defenders, appeared out of nowhere to intercept otherwise devastating passing lanes, and lifted possession from overeager attackers trying to beat him on the dribble. However, his touch is rough. Too often he would get a foot on the ball, only for his second touch to get just out of reach, and suddenly City would be on the back foot. He would also lose track of defenders while in possession, and worked himself into difficult situations because he didn’t know he was being defended until it was too late. His ability to read the game off the ball is unparalleled by just about any one player on the team outside of maybe Tim Parker or Joao Klauss, but his on-the-ball ability needs some serious development.
Shjon: Coaching and Game Management (not Gamesmanship)
One thing that usually goes a bit underappreciated when things are going well is the coaching. Bradley Carnell and his staff have done a fantastic job with this expansion squad. They have all players bought in to the high press system while keeping them level-headed for the most part. City are playing to the whistle and saw this very well in both matches so far. In the Charlotte match we saw Copetti and others for CLT upset looking for calls and then be caught well out of position while looking to the ref for a whistle. The one time City had a player start to lose their cool, Carnell subbed him (Jared Stroud) out at the next opportunity. Carnell has made great use of his subs and all of them have been up to the task, a hard thing to manage when the style can be very adaptive and fluid.
Tyler: Finding Form
I’ll admit it - I was wholly unimpressed with both Jake Nerwinski and John Nelson against Austin, and saw shades of the same from Nelson in the first half against Charlotte. Where Nerwinski started to find his attacking legs and was tracking back fairly well, Nelson was still a bit rocky in all phases. And then the flow of the game took Nerwinski out of the attack in the second half, and Nelson rose to the challenge. He put together a stellar performance, containing deep attacks to the corner and playing well off Hiebert and Parker. The defense as a whole had a few nervy moments, but you could already see their improvement as a unit from last week against Austin.
Tyler: A Homecoming Like No Other
From the moment St. Louis City SC stepped out of the tunnel, CITYPARK was absolutely electric. City fans all around the stadium, led by the relentless Fleur de Noise and a vibrant supporters’ section, were on their feet for nearly the entire match, doing their best to give the boys some life when they needed it. They would also give players like Copetti some…let’s call it tactical reverse motivation when they would receive the ball. To be fair, there was a little air sucked out of the stadium when Charlotte went up 1-0, but fans and players alike quickly bounced back and recovered the energy necessary to mount a successful first-half comeback. After City sealed the deal, a good three quarters of the fans stuck around to applaud the team and celebrate the win. If City can capture half of that energy on a regular basis, CITYPARK will be a fortress for the entire season at bare minimum.