Hello, and welcome to another Cave Writing! It's finally time, everyone. It's time to prepare for the first MLS match in St. Louis history, a huge moment to add to the archives of the rich history of this beautiful game in town. For many this is a dream since we were literal children coming to fruition. So let's get our feet wet before we jump into the deep end on Saturday.
First up we have a brief recap of the Coachella Valley Invitational.CITY played three matches out in Cali, followed by another closed-door match at home against Atlanta United.
We shouldn't pay too much attention to the results. It's preseason and there are no points, so we’ll look more to lineups and formations as the guys get up to speed together. While CITY went 0-2-1 (W-D-L) in the Valley and lost to Atlanta at home, we have a pretty good idea of who will be in that opening day Starting XI. Of the four matches, two were started by the same group of players, with several of these starting in a third.
The way things are shaping up, we will likely see (obviously) Roman Burki in net. The backline playing in front of him may not be that way all season with Joakim Nilsson and John Bell still recovering from surgeries. The four getting the nod will be Jake Nerwinski, Tim Parker, Kyle Hiebert, and John Nelson, with Nilsson likely taking over for Hiebert when he is fit (barring Hiebert being an absolute shutdown center back). Midfield is a little bit different than most systems with the way our 4-2-3-1 shapes up, since the wingers on the line of three will likely be forwards, not true midfielders. The midfield proper will be a bit of a triangle of Eduard Lowen, Njabulo Blom, and Thomas Ostrak. The preferred choices on the wings looks to be Rasmus Alm and Jared Stroud. The obvious choice up front in the striker, or "No. 9", will be Joao Klauss.
In preseason the team came out strong to start but the energy seemed to taper off in the late game. This is something to expect of "Energy Drink Soccer", the high press style Lutz Pfannenstiel and Bradley Carnell will be implementing. Usage of subs will be crucial come regular season. Looking specifically at the draw against NYCFC in California, the lineup was mostly these subs starting, and while they went down they had enough energy to claw back a draw, showing they have the fight to potentially claw one back in a close situation.
Keeping that in mind, look ahead to that first match in Austin. If you followed MLS at all last season you know what Austin are capable of and who is the key to that success: Sebastian Driussi. Austin also have an important midfield triangle (Driussi, Alex Ring, and Daniel Pereira). These three are crucial to creating that connection between the lines as Austin will likely play from the back, through Driussi, then use cutting runs to draw the CITY backline out of position.
Driussi is a danger at all points on the pitch. He can dribble and take guys on, he can make incisive passes, and most importantly can be clinical in his finishing. On the other side of the ball, the Austin defense was strong last year, averaging just 1.44 goals against per game. They’re not without their holes but can minimize scoring. Though Ruben Gabrielsen is gone, ATX have brought in Amro Tarek who has MLS experience and can likely slot in and be serviceable in the CB position. And if you can get past the back four, you still have to solve one of the stronger keepers in the league, Brad Stuver.
It may sound like Los Verdes are the complete package: strong offense, stout defense, solid keeper, and good in possession. But there are ways to beat them - the Keys to the CITY, so to speak. Number 1: Win the midfield battle. Number 2: off-ball movement. Number 3: When you get a chance, you better BURY it.
To win the midfield battle, CITY should use their high press to close down space quickly and not allow the ATX trio to have time to think. Forcing quick decisions will cause mistakes, create turnovers and transition into that lethal CITY counter attack. Create a disconnect in the triangle, and the build up will suffer. Off-ball movement will find the space, create options and switch the point of attack, and pull the Austin defense out of position before they can do that to CITY. And finally, bury your chances. Actual scoring chances will be few and far between for CITY, and finishing has been a problem so far and hoping to score because of pure high volume of shots isn't a sustainable system. Three Keys to the win, but will it work out for CITY? We will find out soon enough.
Prediction? My heart wants a 3-1 win for CITY, but my head says 3-1 for Austin.
So tell me what YOU think. Did I get it right? Did I get it wrong? Miss something? Tell me in the comments. just keep it civil, this may be a Cave but we are all fans here. Thanks for reading, Bye for now.