Wow. St. Louis City SC has sacked head coach Bradley Carnell? That was fast. My goodness, how it’s amazing how quickly everything changed for City from the wondrous inaugural season to the second campaign – including the coach’s job security.

After guiding City to arguably the best performance by an expansion team in MLS history, Carnell was cast aside after 20 matches in the club’s second season.

Is this harsh? Yes, I think so. But hear me out. Not that anyone cares what I think, but this is OK. City’s season was in an advanced state of deterioration. Intervention was necessary.

Carnell was a finalist for MLS Coach of the Year honors last season, and he would have been a worthy choice for the award. But the MLS is a lot like the NHL; coaches abruptly come and go at a substantial rate. They’re sipping cups of ice-rink coffee in the morning, only to disappear in the night. When in doubt, tell the coach to pack his knives and go. (Sorry, I’m channeling Top Chef.)

As a smart man once told me this about expansion teams:  we know a franchise is maturing and growing up when it makes a tough move by firing its first head coach or manager. It’s a rough world out there, and you have to be strong and do what you think is best, even if it seems nasty or hasty or both.

This makes sense. And Carnell’s outstanding coaching job in 2023 worked against him going into 2024. Expectations were raised to a higher level, and City’s high-pressure system wouldn’t be as effective at harassing opponents into mistakes. Carnell’s system caught opponents off guard in 2023, and they’d be more prepared to exploit it in 2024. Nothing stays the same.

If Craig Berube can be told to scram a few seasons after leading the Blues to their only Stanley Cup since their 1967 year of birth, it’s hardly shocking to see Carnell sent away after only 55 MLS matches (including postseason) as City’s on-field gaffer.

City is 3-7-10 this season and ranks 25th among 29 teams in points per match (0.95.) This is a huge drop from last season’s net of 1.65 points per match, a rate that shined as fourth best rate in the league.

This is also a boring team that huffs and puffs and labors to score goals. Not that scoring goals is easy, but it shouldn’t be as strenuous and difficult as climbing a mountain. Last season City ranked third in the MLS with 1.74 goals per 90 minutes, but has plummeted to 1.20 per 90 this year (23rd.)

Carnell’s team had plenty of opportunities to score but struggled to finish. The failure to convert chances is the equivalent of how poorly the 2024 Cardinals have hit when set up with runners in scoring position.

City had a massive home field advantage in Year One, earning 2.05 points per match at CityPark and outscoring visitors by 24 goals.

This season, the home team’s success inside the beautiful, vibrant, sold-out venue has dwindled to 1.27 points per match, and visitors have outscored City 12-11. After scoring an average of 2.41 goals per home match in 2023, City has wheezed to exactly one goal per match on its turf in 2024.Ugh.

City’s terrible, uninspiring showing in ‘24 qualifies as an across the board disappointment. Among other flaws, this City squad was poorly organized and pierced for too many goals. Too many times, personnel lacked discipline and composure and strayed out of position. City SC is in a state of disrepair. The issues are serious.

We can point to injuries – a legitimate factor. But City director Lutz Pfannensteil addressed the injury problem during a Monday news conference. “We did have injuries, but we had injuries last year as well,” he said. “At the same time, we still won enough games.”

We can also point to director Pfannenstiel’s apparent overestimation of his forward group coming into 2024. The transfer window will open soon, so …

“We still can rectify things,” Pfannenstiel said. “That’s the responsibility that I have to take to sign players, which will work out.”

When you have a bad team, a dull team, a low-scoring team, an error-prone team and a side that can’t erect the battlements to defend the home castle, this hideous combination will sour ownership-management every time.

City has lost some of the sparkle, some of the new-toy allure, some of the exciting freshness. But it isn’t too late to turn that around. Not that we should have expected a similar experience to the wonderful first voyage that City gave us last year – a downturn of sorts was coming – but there’s no reason for this club to fall apart so dramatically.

We must go back to late last season to trace the roots of Carnell’s demise. City tilted down the stretch, going 2-3-3 in the last eight regular-season matches. And that wasn’t the worst of it; the squad was flatfooted and seemingly unprepared for Kansas City’s ambush in the first round of the MLS playoffs. Sporting KC kicked Carnell’s team out of the tournament winning two straight matches. And wasn’t competitive. It was a real downer – and a stunner – after STL finished first in the Western Conference and fourth overall.

City lost its last two regular-season matches and two playoff drubbings by a combined score of 11 to 2. Sort of embarrassing, right? And the drift into mediocrity and failure has continued in 2024.

If we link the late collapse in 2023 to the awful start this season, City has won only three of its last 24 matches. That’s landslide-take-you-down stuff. Horrendous.

Playing to a draw is fine under many circumstances, but c’mon now. When scratching for a draw becomes your only pipeline for collecting points, you’re doomed.

In 2024, City has won exactly one MLS match in March, one in April, and one in May. The boys haven’t come away with the full three points in a competition since May 11.

Registering one victory per month isn’t acceptable for an organization that’s committed to winning and doesn’t have much tolerance for failure.

When you go on the road to face an ordinary Vancouver side and blow a two-goal lead to lose yet again – the latest crash, over the weekend – the coach will be lined up to take the hit. That’s how these things usually go.

Pfannenstiel didn’t hesitate to make his move, even after handing Carnell a contract extension after last season that will pay him through 2025.

Cardinals manager Oli Marmol also received a contract extension from president of baseball operations John Mozeliak going into the 2024 season.

How many people would have wagered funds on the prop bet of Carnell getting ousted sooner than Marmol?

Going forward, City must bring in a strong coach that will rekindle the franchise owned by Carolyn Kindle Betz.

We’d like to see a more dynamic style of play. We’d like to see a coach that won’t lose the players when failure sets in. We’d like to see St. Louisan Pat Noonan, but Cincinnati wisely gifted him with a long-term contract extension after last season. He’s excellent … and presumably unavailable.

We’d absolutely like to see ownership-management invest the necessary payroll dollars to lure an accomplished, pouncing-snake of a striker that comes with a lethal finishing touch.

Or does our town’s sports media only wail and bellow about the Cardinals being cheap and unwilling to spend what’s required to build a championship-caliber team? I half expect to read or hear that Mozeliak is to blame for City’s breakdown.

In all seriousness, I look forward to seeing what Pfannenstiel comes up with. He’s a highly capable, well connected director. Even though Lutz did the right thing in the attempt to save the 2024 season for City, he lost some goodwill equity (and some credibility) by dismissing Carnell. If Carnell failed, it happened, in part, because of the roster assembled for 2024.

Now that City has blamed Carnell, a crucial card has been played, and the franchise just can’t just cycle through coaches as an automatic reflex action when a season curdles. The next time around – if St. Louis City continues this downbound trajectory – the blame will rise to the executive level.

Thanks for reading …

– Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has provided informed opinions and perspective on St. Louis sports through his columns, radio shows and podcasts since 1985.

Please follow Bernie on Threads @miklaszb

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball Net, and Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.