St. Louis City SC didn’t exactly tiptoe their way into the MLS. They’re confident. They’re cheeky. They believe. They refused to bow down to the MLS establishment. The lads don’t know their place – which was supposed to be near the bottom of the MLS table.
To hell with that.
This brazen beginner is putting on a dazzling show, becoming the first expansion team in league history to open the season with four consecutive wins. The latest conquest on a cold Saturday night at Citypark was a cold-blooded 3-0 smashing of visiting San Jose.
“Relentless and ruthless,” was how City coach Bradley Carnell described his undefeated team. STL leads the MLS with 12 points, is tied for first with 11 goals, and is second with a +7 goal differential.
Can we stop talking about this team’s good-luck factor? City has earned their impeccable, if surprising, start. The nature of their three goals Saturday reaffirmed the reality.
First goal: John Nelson’s cross wasn’t a thing of beauty, but San Jose’s center back overreacted by attempting to chest the ball out of harm’s way. The intervention failed, and winger Nicholas Gioacchini maintained his run into the box to be in position, and slipped the free ball past a defender and the San Jose goalkeeper with a feathery-soft touch.
Second goal: in first-half stoppage time, the mad-bull striker known as Klauss missed connecting on a no-look pass to Rasmus Alm. Klauss missed the mark, hitting a San Jose player. The ball is loose. Klauss kept trucking, beating two San Jose players to the prize. He then surged through the traffic, pinballing his way until beautifully finishing a scoring chance. San Jose’s keeper wasn’t set … and who can blame him? The unyielding charge by Klauss caught the enemy off guard and scored his third goal of the campaign. Klauss, like City’s supporters’ group, is a true St. Louligan. He plays a mean game of bumper cars, but with an impressive accessory of skill to go with it.
Third goal: Once again, City SC made it possible with their intense insistence to win the fight for loose balls. It happened on a free kick, with San Jose getting the first touch. Tomás Ostrák pounced, but had his shot blocked. The cycle continued, with City springing to get on multiple rebounds and getting more shots knocked down until Ostrák put an end to the madness by converted for a 3-0 lead. San Jose was winded and weary.
On all three goals, St. Louis was faster and more determined in the chase for an available ball. Pardon the cliche, but City just wanted it more and wouldn’t be denied. That isn’t “luck.” It’s an extraordinary effort. It is the result of the high-pressure system that leaves opponents dragging and disoriented.
Are opponents frustrated by this endless City storm? You could say that. This season only Philadelphia has drawn more yellow cards from opponents (16) than St. Louis (13.)
As Klauss said after the match: “I think it’s really tough for the opponent to play against a team that’s pressing all the time. You have no time to have the ball or to think in the game. You have to make fast decisions … they have to change their game when they play against us. They have to be faster. And I think we are surprising some teams.”
City are at their best in the attacking third. That’s where the fervent competitiveness, instincts come together and pay off.
Here’s a revealing statistic presented by The Athletic:
“Currently, St. Louis has won possession in its attacking third 7.8 times per game, trailing only Sporting Kansas City. If sustained across a full season, St. Louis’ rate would be the best in MLS over the last five seasons, topping the current benchmark set by the 2021 Red Bulls.”
If City wasn’t using pressure to force opponents into mistakes, then maybe we could call them lucky. But the Carnell system is creating the mental and physical errors that City swoops on to win the day.
City has a poor percentage at completing passes. (One of the worst in the league.) But that hasn’t mattered so far. By regaining possession so frequently in the attacking zone to set up close-range shots, City ranks third among the 29 MLS teams in expected goals.
And it’s clear that STL has already established the internal team chemistry. All players are seemingly on the same brain-wave pattern for synchronized thinking. That’s why City makes the right reads that lead to opponent turnovers.
There’s a lot going on here. All of it is good.
You can call it what you want, but we’ll call it 4-0.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used in this column were sourced from Sports Reference.