Baker's City Bites:11-3-21


Some weeks are dominated by news released by the team. Some weeks are dominated by things the team has done. This past week was mostly dominated by news about the team from 3rd party sources. While St. Louis CITY SC clearly enjoys crafting their own narrative and releasing news on their timeline, they have to be a bit thankful that the news last week was only positive and exciting. In what was easily the most exciting piece of news last week, the first player to wear the St. Louis CITY SC crest and colors received a call up to the United States National Team. Rumors abounded after an article in The Athletic cited multiple sources confirming that St. Louis CITY SC has held talks with an experienced MLS coach for their head coaching position. In a move that may end up having significant ramifications for the St. Louis CITY SC gameday experience, the club joined with multiple other professional teams in the state of Missouri to introduce ballot initiatives that would put the legalization of sports betting in Missouri to the voters and as usual, the week ended with CITY's Academy team in action.

Starting with the most exciting news - Aaron Heard has become the first player in St. Louis CITY SC history to be called up for national team duty when he was named to the first USYNT U-17 roster since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This also marks the first camp since new U-17 head coach Gonzalo Segares was named, back in mid-October. This training camp, running November 1-8, marks the first in the cycle that will lead to the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup, which will be played in Peru. Aaron Heard is no stranger to accolades, which I have discussed on both Flyover Footy and the CITY SC Report podcasts, so it bears no real surprise that he has the honor of CITY's first player to receive a call up. 

For those unfamiliar, Heard comes to CITY by way of Bethesda SC (Maryland) and the Philadelphia Union Academy, is playing two years up on the U-17 squad in St. Louis, and has seemed to adjust extremely well to Lutz' style of play in the CITY SC system. His adaptability and obvious talent have ensured that he has not skipped a beat in coming to St. Louis. As a box-to-box midfielder, his playmaking ability has begun to take center stage with numerous assists and chance creating opportunities over the past few weeks for CITY's U-17 squad. Prior to joining CITY, Heard was also named as the Golden Ball winner of the Concacaf U-13 Champions League tournament, held in Costa Rica in 2019. Fast forward to his time in CITY and we saw just two weeks ago IMG named him their class of 2025 top player in their rankings.

Heard is clearly a unique talent, and while always cautioning to build any teenager up as a future star, the resume that he has already put together is one that has to excite every CITY fan and fans of US soccer as well. It will be exciting to watch him represent CITY SC on the national level and cheer him on in the 2023 U-17 World Cup cycle. The official press release by US Soccer can be found here.

Rumors are starting to become somewhat commonplace, if not yet frequent, for St. Louis CITY SC, with The Athletic becoming a regular source to break information. Previously, John Hackworth's hiring by CITY was reported by The Athletic months in advance of the club announcing him and now, collaborative reporting by Jeff Rueter, Sam Stejskal, and Paul Tenorio have named Bradley Carnell as a target of interest by CITY SC for the MLS head coaching position. Carnell is currently an assistant coach with New York Red Bulls. He is a South African native with World Cup experience as a defender in 2002 as well as a frequent selection for their national team through 2010. His coaching resume prior to MLS includes positions in South Africa with the University of Johannesburg's Varsity Cup team, an assistant at Free State Stars and as an assistant in the Premier Soccer League, the topflight in South Africa. He is also a longtime associate/friend of our Sporting Director, Lutz Pfannenstiel, as a player in a charitable match and ambassador in Lutz' organization, Global United, dating back to 2015. But for CITY SC, the real excitement comes from what he has done since 2017 with NYRB. 

Carnell has served under three different head coaches, Jesse Marsch, Chris Armas, and currently under Gerhard Struber. In September 2020, after NYRB parted ways with Chris Armas, Carnell was named interim head coach. Carnell carried the reigns through the end of that season, leading Red Bulls to a 6-5-3 record and a playoff appearance. His experience working under three different regimes is both noteworthy and unique. It is not abnormal for a new head coach to turn over their staff to one that either aligns with their philosophy or to bring in assistants they are more familiar with. His surviving three head coaches is clearly a testament to his knowledge, coaching ability, and the trust placed in him by multiple top level people in MLS.

One aspect that I have long hoped CITY would find in their first head coach, is MLS experience. We are entering a unique league in the world's game, from roster building, style of play, fixture congestion, playoffs, and player management, there are a lot of specifics to MLS that those entering the league for the first time have struggled with. In fact, dating back to 2006 - 15 years - every MLS Cup title winner has had at least 2 years of experience as a head coach in MLS prior to their club winning the title. Of those, only 5 of them - Jason Kreis (09 RSL), Gary Smith (10 COL), Caleb Porter (15 POR), Greg Vanney (17 TOR) and Tata Martino (18 ATL) - were still with their first MLS club as head coach. MLS experience on the head coaching level matters in this league. If you can find that in your first head coach, and everything else such as how their vision and style aligns with Lutz and Hackworth in the sporting department aligns, then that is enough to get me excited. We know how The Athletic's reporting panned out for Hackworth so it will be interesting to see if they can go 2/2 in accurately breaking CITY SC news.

In more 3rd party reporting news, it was widely reported that a Jefferson City lawyer filed nine ballot proposals last week on behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, St. Louis CITY SC, and the Kansas City Royals. It would seem, that in addition to supporting the removal of professional football from St. Louis and the state of Missouri, the Kansas City Chiefs are taking a different path from other Missouri sports teams. All top-level pro baseball, soccer, and hockey teams with stadiums located in Missouri are all in on making sports betting a reality in our state. Sports betting has been a hot button topic since 2018, when a US Supreme Court ruling paved the way for any state to legalize sports betting. Since then, we have watched the dominoes fall, most closely in neighboring Illinois. While still illegal in Missouri, our pro teams, minus the Chiefs, are looking to change that. The introduction of these ballot proposals, hope to coalesce around a signature collecting drive that will no doubt be front page stories in the months to come, as a certain number of signatures will be needed to get one or more proposal on an upcoming election ballot for voters to decide upon.

Aside from general gambling legality, the reason this is so interesting for CITY SC is that with a stadium under construction, an eye always towards the future, and fervent corporate sponsorship work ongoing, we may be looking at a future where our CITY SC Stadium has their own sportsbook integrated into the stadium, among other things. MLS has been quick to take advantage of operating in states where sports gambling is now legal. MLS has a league-wide partnership with MGM Resorts dating back to March 2019 and they were the first major pro sports team in the US and Canada to permit sports betting companies to include their brand on MLS jerseys on either the front or as an arm patch. DC United was the first MLS club to open a sportsbook in their stadium this year, partnering with FanDuel. Between potential jersey sponsorships, stadium advertising for gambling companies, possible app integration, and a dedicated sportsbook within the stadium, this initiative that CITY SC and other Missouri sports teams are pushing for will be extremely interesting to follow.

Finally, our CITY SC Academy squads were in action at home this week, finishing up their string of home games in successful fashion. The U-16 squad hosted the Michigan Jaguars. With our U-16s undefeated in league play and the Jaguars near the bottom of the U-16 Mid-America Division, this game played out exactly as you would expect. The CITY U-16 squad dominated and nearly came away with another clean sheet, ending the game with a 3-1 win over Michigan. Goals by Sam Leonard in the 33rd minute, Jack DiMaria in the 47th minute, and Nolan Burcke in the 80th minute propelled the squad through the low block of the Jaguars - something not unexpected given their high press intensity that CITY's squad has shown all season. The ability to break through this though with long passes and deep crosses was great adaptation by our U-16s. With Nick Bishop stepping up into the U-17 starting lineup this past weekend, Parker Brooks got the nod to start in net, his first start of the year.

Speaking of the U-17s, it was a bit of retribution in their match against Sporting KC. After falling to SKC 1-5 away just 4 weeks prior, STL CITY looked like a much different team at home and with video and experience against our cross-state neighbors to the West. A stalemate most of the match with CITY missing on a PK, unable to break through and SKC netting a first half goal, one of our most exciting dynamic duos of young guns, Aaron Heard and Caden Glover connected to even the score in the 65th minute. Despite chances in the 2nd half, the match ended in a tie and CITY came away with only a point. Notable in this match is Nick Bishop, the previously mentioned perennial U-16 keeper, getting his second start in goal for the U-17 squad. Reasons abound, whether it is purely performance based, injuries sustained to the squad, or a combination, but regardless, it is exciting to see the quality depth in our squads, able to step up an age group and not skip a beat against stiff competition. Full matchday recap by the club can be found here. When all was said and done, the U-17 squad finished their home stretch undefeated with 8 points in 4 matches. They will continue MLS league play on October 6, traveling to Houston to play the Dynamo Academy.

Finally, CITY released a teaser video on Tuesday 11/2, providing details surrounding their new squad that will kick off in March 2022. This Professional Development Team, as CITY referred to them in their announcement, is part of a new league that MLS is creating to bridge the gap between the MLS Next developmental league and MLS. The video announced that open trials will be held on November 28th at Creve Coeur Park Soccer Complex. There was initially one session at 9am open, with a 64-person cap. Through the day, they opened their second session, also with a 64 person cap, and by the end of Tuesday, both sessions were full and a Wait List had appeared on their site with the club stating that due to overwhelming interest, they were working to open additional open trials, with a sign up on their site here. What will be especially interesting is whether this club develops similarly to their Academy clubs through a combination of open trials, closed invitationals, and scouting. The big difference is whether, and how many, U-17 and U-16 players graduate to this Professional Development Team. While we have seen some of the U-16 players such as Jackson Delkus and Nick Bishop already put in minutes for the U-17s, this could mark the first true full time move upward in the CITY SC system, and give an indication of future first team homegrown MLS signings from the Academy.

An interesting aspect of their announcement was that this was open to males age 18-24. Previously thought to be a U-23 type Reserve team, MLS has specifically said in their announcement of this league that there will be no age restriction. Seeing CITY place the requirements at 18-24 indicate a commitment to leverage this as a true development team beyond the Academy structure, which caps with the U-17 squad. While the focus is on development, MLS has applied for USSF Division 3 pro status for the league, in line with USL League One and NISA. This league is expected to start play in March with ~20 MLS clubs participating including movement by some current MLS2 USL clubs, and by 2023, all MLS clubs will have their developmental teams participating. This league is also open to independent clubs joining with stated goals of the league, beyond the primary purpose of developing players through their Academies, that include media and television production as well as expanding the footprint of MLS and professional soccer to cities beyond those with MLS clubs currently. 

By Matt Baker