Welcome back to The Cave everyone, it's time we look forward again (as we will once a week) and preview Saturday's home opener for STL City SC as they host Charlotte FC. In many ways City have been compared to Austin FC with very little conversation about Charlotte, even though Charlotte are the more recent expansion, and likely had a result more consistent with what City fans (nickname TBD) can expect for their own side come Decision Day 2023. Charlotte finished last season 9th in the East and 6 points out of a playoff spot, which would get them in this year, which is where a lot of City fans would say was a successful 1st year. They have a big name with some real star power in Karol Swiderski. The big difference here is their roster wasn't as carefully built.
It's been well documented that City put a lot of time and effort into crafting this lineup to be better than the sum of its parts and showed that last week. The depth of the squad has been tested early on with Indiana Vassilev out with a concussion and probable broken nose and Jared Stroud and Joao Klauss both questionable with knocks in the last match. Blom stepped up last week, who steps in this week? Nico Gioachinni and Celio Pompeu subbed into the match on the wings but who starts at striker? IF (big if) Klauss can't start, options there are limited so it will likely be Samuel Adeniran or maybe Gioachinni who has played the no. 9 before. The backline wont change and the Central Trio will be the same 3 who played the majority of the minutes last week.
Charlotte are not without their injuries but they have had longer time to plan around and actually bring in signings to cover the light spots. Most importantly their starting keeper last season Kristijan Kahlina is out for another couple of weeks, but Pablo Sisniega is ready to step up to the task, so I expect no changes to the lineup this weekend. But that's enough about who is playing, let's talk about how they are playing.
Charlotte went toe to toe with the Revolution last week and it took a late goal from Henry Kessler to break the deadlock. Charlotte led in a lot of the possession stats but there is more to the story. Charlotte had their chances, as many as the Revs did, but they had one fewer on target and that one was the difference. Finishing was lacking on both sides of the ball, both backlines were stout and held up to the test. Charlotte will want to play with possession and hem in the City backline as they pass around the back to open a hole. With Swiderski and Ashley Westwood attempting to break through however they can Charlotte will want to wear down and use the Energy Drink Style as a disadvantage, and burn City when they attempt to force the issue. Luckily the finishing still seems to be an issue and that could keep City in the match.
And now for the Keys to the City! Three keys to winning this match up: Outwit, Out-pace, Outlast. Seems simple right? Allow me to explain and then decide for yourself if it will be a simple feat or not. Outwit. With the Boys in Red not winning any awards for time of possession, the forward line and Central Trio (I fully expect Thomas Ostrak, Njabulo Blom, and Eduard Lowen to start in that triangle all season long) will be instrumental to using the high press in a less run-and-gun battle and a more chess game duel. Blom and Lowen should be able to keep their heads cool and restrain themselves.
Out-pace. Both sides have fairly young players for the most part, and Charlotte will play more on the wings than Austin did meaning Jake Nerwinski and John Nelson will have to use their speed to fly up and down the wings, give service in the final third, and get back in time to disrupt any attempts to establish position in City's half. The outside midfielders for Charlotte are aging and will be a touch slower at the very least. Pace is the specialty of Energy Drink Soccer and this backline specifically, use it and get pressure from both sides as Charlotte look to set up.
Outlast. This is the one that will cause City the most issues. In the game in Austin the energy ebbed and flowed much like the changing of the tides. There were moments of high intensity followed by stretches of recovery. With Charlotte probably playing in possession there will be little chance to properly rest. Barrages of passes attempting to break lines, moving back and forth with each switch of the field, and clearing out the service from the wings will take its toll. The players have shown they can conserve while being stout defensively and Carnell seems to have a good handle on when a sub is needed and who will make an impact on the game at hand.
City really seem to have the edge in all three of these categories, but the small sample size and the butterflies of a home opener may be a factor in this result. Small sample size being 1 game. Only having 1 game to go off is going to create some wild overreactions, but it was a very hard fought game in arguably the most hostile environment in MLS at the moment. City stepped up and fed on the energy and will look to do so again at home this time. If you want a prediction? Well my head and my heart are in a bit more harmony this week. City win 2-0 but with Burki having to come up big a couple of times late in the game, Klauss scores if he plays, and going out on a limb, Lowen gets the other goal.
But what do YOU think? Did I miss something? Did I get it all wrong? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading, bye for now.