“As the man once said, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
– Ted Lasso
By now, it’s obvious that St. Louis City SC likes to work … and work … and work. These dudes run so much, City SC would win an MLS-sponsored marathon race on the way to running into the MLS playoffs.
But what they’re doing is so much more than giving their lungs an extensive workout. So much goodness comes from City’s labor. And as we’ve discovered, when you out-work and pressure the other side, magical things will happen. The opponent has these little anxiety attacks and become frazzled. They’re rattled by City’s invasive presence and can’t keep their eyes on the ball or their responsibilities. That leads to mistakes. Comical mistakes. Those “Ooops” moments. And City converts the “Ooops” into goal celebrations.
At first glance, City SC may appear to be all about the work. And the boys have created their own luck by applying frenzied pressure. But we must brag about the rest. This team has plenty of skill, sharp instincts and remarkable cohesion. They like each other and play for each other. The ego is set to minimum. They score as a team, and defend as a team.
City’s astonishing 5-0-0 start to the season is all about sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel and coach Bradley Carnell and how they smartly identified the right kind of players to fit the team’s high-pressure system – but LOVE playing that style of soccer. That’s the value of a head start: knowing what you want to be, and bringing in the players that share and belief and the vision. Finding the personality fits that create instantaneous camaraderie. These guys may seem scrappy – which they are – but they have the talent to turn the scrappiness into something predatory and successful. And they do it with a smile.
This is St. Louis City SC.
They’ve played three games on the road and two at home. They’ve won games in hostile environments and won at the friendliest place around – Citypark in St. Louis. They’ve won in mild temperatures, won in freezing temperatures, and won with the wind howling and the snowflakes falling. They’ve won after falling behind, and won after getting a lead and protecting it as if their careers depended on it. They’ve won by scoring a lot of goals, by preventing goals, or doing both. They’ve won while playing shorthanded, missing three center backs for three center backs for their 3-1 victory over San Jose.
With the considerable and dependable assistance from world-class goalkeeper Roman Burki, City has secured two consecutive shutouts in their last two wins, outscoring other side 7-0. And after netting four second-half goals in dominating Real Salt Lake, City SC has outscored opponents 9-1 in the second half this season.
You can’t go 5-0 -0 and do all of that excellent stuff unless you’re fully dedicated to your system and the mission of spirit and togetherness.
This is more than luck. Lucky doesn’t explain why you’re atop the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings with 15 points, or why you lead the league with 15 goals, or why you have the MLS-best goal differential of plus 11.
After City’s triumph at Utah, J. Sam Jones wrote this for MLSsoccer.com:
“What happened?: Another day, another St. Louis CITY SC win. What else is new? That’s five in a row if you’re keeping count. So, did we learn anything?: Nope! This St. Louis team is good, they are relentless and they have somehow discovered an ability to make opposing defenses go nuts at bizarre times and just pass the ball directly to them in a goal-scoring position for no discernible reason. Klauss scored exactly that kind of goal last night. Again. We should note though, the rest was much, much prettier. Nothing fluky is happening when it comes to the overall results. They might just be on their way to the best start in league history. That’s for any team, not just expansion sides.”
CITY is only the sixth team in MLS history to begin a season by scoring multiple goals in each of its first five games. That +11-goal differential is the best in the opening first five games in league history. The oncoming train known as Klauss leads the club with five goals, but seven other players have scored for City.
The 15 goals become even more impressive when you realize that 15 of the 29 MLS sides have scored no more than five goals so far this season. And that three teams have scored no more than three goals.
“I’ve covered this league longer than I care to mention. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Max Bretos of Apple TV+, who called City’s 4-0 rout of Real Salt Lake. Not for a club that’s still just in diapers. A little baby supposedly, but playing like a full-grown man. And being a bully to teams. I mean they’re beating teams and they’re beating them convincingly. Good on defense, good on the attack, good everywhere.”
Bretos offered this effusive praise during Saturday’s live-streaming cast. The Apple TV soccer analyst Brian Dunseth made a succinct, on-point observation as City pulled away from RSL.
“I know it sounds so simple and so stupid, but guys just want to know that a manager or a coaching staff has faith in them,” Dunseth said. “They want to know they’ll have a place to put some roots down. They want to know that someone believes in them. Carnell and staff “have created a group that believes in one another.”
True. St. Louis City SC is a story of a proud and heralded soccer home that was desperate for membership in MLS and a team to call its own. St. Louis refused to quit in the seemingly endless quest for an MLS team. The pursuit ended in joy, and and our town is reaffirming its reputation as a passionate, knowledgeable soccer haven.
It is the story of players who were desperate for an opportunity to find a welcoming home and prove themselves there. Players that have bounced around the world would not quit in their search for team success and personal happiness. They’ve found it in St. Louis.
The Team and the Town were meant for each other.
That’s a big reason why City is 5-0-0 in the first five games of their existence. But this is no accident. Pfannenstiel and Carnell designed a team to play this way and win this way.
“This is a must-see now,” Bretos said late in Saturday’s game. “When St. Louis City plays, you’ve got to tune in because this is rarified air right now, what we’re seeing from this first-year club.”
I have one more thing to say about the luck factor.
St. Louis is lucky to have this team, and City’s staff and players are lucky to have St. Louis. This combination is creating something extraordinarily special.
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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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.