Baker's CITY Bites 10-13-21


This past week St. Louis CITY SC had a myriad of activities on and off the field ranging from Academy matches to details on another structure that will soon rise in Downtown West as well as some new app content that includes a very important conversation with our coaching staff in the 2nd episode of the CITY Voice, which took a very thoughtful look at the mental aspect of the game. Our U16 and U17 Academy teams took to the road for Ohio where they traversed the Hell is Real highway between FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew for 4 matches in 2 days over the weekend. A meeting of the Fan Experience Council took place this past Thursday and in a blink and you missed it move last week - amidst a chaotic afternoon that saw both Facebook and Instagram removed from the internet directory, St. Louis CITY SC "activated their contingency plan" and cheekily rolled out their newest social media page on... MySpace. Time will tell who ends up on their Top 8.

I wanted to start this week looking back on the Academy matches from this past weekend. In a first for the club this MLS Next season, they played back to match matches against both FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew. Saturday, October 9 saw our U17s in action in league play while the U16s played a friendly. FCC went a man down early after a 2nd yellow was issued in the 32nd minute but unfortunately FCC were the first ones to find the back of the net after a counter shortly after halftime. Pressing hard into the 2nd half, STL CITY SC was finally rewarded after Brian Franco netted a header from Nathan Yao to ensure that CITY walked away with a hard fought 1-1 tie against a deep opponent with a high-quality academy. Our U16 team had themselves quite possibly their most interesting friendly yet, as reports indicate they played a mixed-age FCC squad that consisted of 17s and well as 19s and 20s. Likely, FCC wanted to get additional playing time, and a non-league match was the perfect opportunity for them to do so. It also afforded our U16 team, who have been on a tear to open the season, the opportunity to face some increased opposition and a unique challenge. While they fell 1-3 with Landon Weber scoring the lone CITY goal, the experience they gained and insight after their first defeat will hopefully propel them going forward. Winning all the time is fun, but there is a lot to learn from a loss, especially in this type of match.

The U16 team took that experience and flipped the script when the teams travelled the Hell is Real highway up to Columbus. The squad defeated the Columbus Crew U16s 4-0 with goals by Jackson Delkus, Omar Cilic, Gavin Netzel, and Landon Veach. After rotating 4 players from their match against FCC, Tyson Pearce, Zach Stanton, Eddie Stewart, Jack DiMaria, Zach Van Hee, Jackson Delkus, and Nick Bishop (GK) started both matches, with numerous overlaps in subs. The U17 squad could not find an open play goal, instead settling for earning a penalty and seeing their consistent PK taker Jacob Lusignan net one before the 90' mark. A hectic stoppage time could not secure STL CITY SC any more, and they fell 1-3. Our U17s, with their own deep roster, saw significant rotation in the starting lineup, as only Anthony Faupel, Aaron Heard, Nathan Yao, and Nolan McGuire started both matches. Both squads will return home this weekend to face FC Dallas (U17s in league play) to start a 4-game home stand at the Creve Coeur Soccer Complex.

There was a host of app content that the club released this week and continued to make good on their promise that each day there would be a reason to open the app. This week saw a new Meet the Coaches feature with a focus on Academy assistant coach and native Bosnian - Elvir Kafedzic. An interview with Michelle Smallmon from 101 ESPN as well as a long form article by Zach Lowy were published and both are absolutely worth the time. Elvir has had quite a journey to where he is now and suffice to say, brings a lot of experience and knowledge to his position. We also had a unique video look at our U17 goalkeeper Owen Spore with a glimpse into what his view is like taking shots from in and around the penalty box and the CITY Staircase twitter account received some love with a gallery look at steps and stairways around the stadium. A Pitch Pass feature that saw some quick hits of our squad competing, raising each other up, and Elvir and fellow Academy assistant coach Luis Swisher as they led our squad to victory against Austin FC a couple weeks ago. But the biggest feature released this week was undoubtedly episode 2 of the CITY Voice podcast entitled, The Mental Game.

Clocking in at just under an hour, this week saw Pete Wood sit down with new Director of Coaching John Hackworth, Academy assistant coach Luis Swisher, and Academy goalkeeping coach Tim Kelly. I could try to recap everything that they discussed, but honestly there is something special in hearing the coaches themselves reflect on their personal journeys and experiences with the pressures of playing and their positions. Do yourself a favor and listen if you haven't already. They do mention they are experiencing and going through social media and expectations for CITY SC themselves in addition to helping, guiding, mentoring, and coaching the players through this experience as well. There was mention of handling the hype and pressure to perform, how and when to have conversations with players, working through the good times to stay humble as well as the bad times when players need lifted and how crucial it is for teammates to come together while they are often competing for roster spots.

It hit home from my perspective, coming at the club from a fan perspective and someone who has written about the squads and players too. We know that these are teenagers. They have the "standard" social media concerns and experiences that everyone their age must deal with today, but on top of that, they're hearing media, social media accounts, and fans like myself talk about what they're doing. There are more eyes on them being in their position with CITY and listening to Coaches Hackworth, Swisher, and Kelly talk about responding to all of that being out there, it is a constant reminder to me that no matter what you say or write about them, these are still kids. We know the obvious that positivity should rule the day and anything else has no place in the discourse, especially with this level of competition and these players. But there is a fine line between setting lofty expectations that might hinder player's mental status and discussing facts while thinking about what might lie ahead. It is a constant thought as I talk and write, and I hope it is on the forefront of everyone else to ensure we remember who we're talking about and that they and their parents may be listening and seeing. Our twitter account said it well - If you're reading this, you could be having an impact on athletes' mental well-being. Be smart. Be kind. Be respectful. Importantly, be aware that words have an impact.

In somewhat breaking news, CITY also publicly released images and information regarding the parking structure that they are developing across the street from their stadium at 1900 Olive Street. A few months ago, there were materials and photos released by attendees from the presentation that the club made to the city with these plans and at the time, social media was a firestorm, lambasting more parking downtown with a lack of commitment to mixed-use. The official release this week sees what the club calls an "Innovative Pop-Up Retail Concept" anchoring the new parking structure. This will sit across the street from the stadium to the East on Olive Street and have a 11' by 45' CITY Red balcony that overlooks the stadium. My first thought with that, is that will be an Instagram-spot where fans can take photos of themselves 4 stories off the ground with the stadium as their backdrop. Might be a nice family Christmas card come Christmas 2022. Practically though, it is a 4 story, 220,000 sq ft parking garage with ~450 parking spots, 30 electric vehicle charging stations, 50 bike parking spaces and the retail concept with multiple largescale folding doors to create canopy shading that will occupy at least a portion of the first floor. You'll find vocal opponents of more parking downtown and those who understand a necessity to replace the many surface parking lots that the stadium replaced but all along, anyone discussing the potential for a garage pleaded for a mixed use that had retail on the first floor. (Side note - even the "supporters" of this seem to know it is at best a necessary evil). While this offers mixed-use in a unique capacity, it will be interesting and worth monitoring as to how that is implemented, be it farmer's markets, pop up weekend shops, festivals, etc and how that might change on game days or non-game days. The hope is that this adds substantial and consistent value to the area in various capacities.

Finally, last Thursday, the club's Fan Experience Council met for their monthly meeting. For those unfamiliar, this council is comprised of over 30 people from across the St. Louis region. Some are diehard soccer fans; some have only played as kids. There are civic and neighborhood leaders from throughout the area, members of multiple supporter groups, leaders of different soccer organizations, different backgrounds, cultures, and genders represented and a myriad of people who plan on having season tickets throughout the stadium, or maybe only looking for single or flex game tickets. A lot of representation designed to give the club insight into what various segments of their fan base are looking for in their experience with the club that has already started and will carry into match day in 2023 and well beyond. Each week this group tackles topics and looks to inform and educate the club regarding about how things may be received, brainstorm with the club, voice their experience and content desires from the club. This week the group looked at various landmarks, words and iconography that come to mind when you think of St. Louis. It was interesting to think about, research, and hear from other perspectives about what comes to mind when they think "St. Louis". What are some of the landmark events and moments in our city's history? What kind of representation of those various facets are important to incorporate into what the club is creating? I would love to hear from anybody who might be reading this, and I am sure the club would as well, so if you want to drop a note to our Twitter or Facebook pages, or tag the club, let us know what you think.

By Matt Baker