Chris's Corner-How Did We Get Here?


By Chris Dollenmeyer 

Now that League's Cup break has concluded, and we are about to see City take the pitch again, it seems like a great time to look back at some of the thoughts and concerns I–and many others–had coming into the season. I took a look at the construction of this team and provided quite a bit of skepticism about the roster and those who put it together. That article can be found at if you want to check it out. So let's run down some of the points I made and how my opinions, or fears, have changed through the first two thirds of the season.

First up, Lutz and Coach Carnell. It seems that Carnell has overall had an outstanding run in his first stint as a full time manager. There have been some questionable substitutions–or lack there of–at times, and a few starting XIs that we collectively scratched our heads at. But he's taken the talent on the roster, gotten buy-in from the players, and put a very competitive team on the field each match day. The roster construction has kept us well under the salary cap, and Lutz appears to have brought in some bargain players that are finding new life in STL. I still have a fear that there's a talent gap between City and the other top teams in MLS that tactics and grit won't be able to overcome. But there's no arguing with putting together a first-place side 20+ games into the season.

Taking a closer look at the roster construction, there were significant concerns about where goals would come from. We seemed to have an answer early, as Klauss was in great form prior to his injury, scoring 5 goals and providing 2 assists. The team as a whole was 6W-2L-1T during that stretch, scoring 21 goals in those 9 matches. Since then, the team has managed to maintain first in the Western Conference despite some tough match ups that increased their total losses from 1 to 7. But their goal scoring pace has not dropped as significantly as I expected, scoring 22 times in 14 games. It hasn't always been pretty from Gioacchini and Adeniran, but this group has provided more offense than I (or any national media) expected.

The attacking midfield and wingers have had some frankly surprising success. Lowen has come into this league and looks to be one of the best 10s in MLS. Stroud has been a pest and forced teams into mistakes, capitalizing for 4 goals. Alm, Indy, and AZ have all flashed playmaking and/or finishing ability. Now the down side. For all his tenacity in pressing, Stroud has made some poor decisions once he wins the ball, often opting for bad angle shots versus crosses to teammates in the box. Most other folks in this player group have stretches during which they tend to disappear. And while it's great that so many of these 'parts' are interchangeable, the passing accuracy and cohesion is lacking, especially when teams sit back and let City have possession. We have yet to see this group show the ability to break down a defense with passing combinations.

Blom has been an absolute rock at the base of the midfield, doing everything one player can do to win possession back for City before dangerous counter attacks can happen. He's occasionally missed some passes, but more worrisome is the number of games he's missed thus far. When Blom is out of the lineup, there is still no good plan B. Miguel Perez has had a few bright moments, but more recently has been exposed defensively and has made more poor decisions with the ball than we saw earlier in the season. Indy Vassilev is a willing defensive midfielder, but doesn't have the aggression or reading of the game to do the job as naturally or effectively as Blom. This is still one of my biggest areas of concern.

The defense has looked brilliant in long stretches. Tim Parker has been FUN to watch, and he's partnered with Hiebert, Bartlett, and Yaro at various points this season. All have had moments they look solid and work well with Parker. Hiebert and Bartlett both occasionally showed some poor communication or poor positioning, which has cost both playing time next to Parker. Nilsson could provide the stability alongside Parker to take this defense to the next level. But… we still have to look at the outside backs. John Nelson had a highlight reel game against his old club, FC Cincinnati. But he's shown some poor 1v1 defending, and has been caught out of position too often. After his red card against Chicago, he has played 45 minutes or more 5 times, all of which have coincidentally been City losses. The coaching staff seems to prefer the defensive stability of Kyle Hiebert over the offensive contributions of Nelson. Jake Nerwinski showed good defensive ability, but has limited speed and provided little in attack. Akil Watts has shown more speed and on-the-ball ability and has earned more time at Nerwinski's expense as the season has progressed. This group of outside backs still makes me nervous.

Going into the season, I was extremely anxious about which version of Roman Burki we would see in net for City–the UEFA Champions League version that looked like one of the best in the world, or the mistake-prone guy that lost his job to Marwin Hitz. Even as the resident skeptic or pessimist, Burki's play has calmed all worries about the keeper position. His back up, Ben Lundt, looked like the player we expected against Columbus, making several fantastic saves in a losing effort.

To address some of the above concerns, Lutz brought in attacking winger Nokkvi Thorisson and left back Anthony Markanich. Both could theoretically push for playing time almost immediately. This team still feels a bit like their success is a product of smoke and mirrors at times. I keep waiting for more teams to cede possession to City and beat us with quick counter attacks. I keep waiting for teams with more talent to shred our defense (thanks for that, Club America). Maybe that doesn't happen until the playoffs, but this stretch of games to end the season will be a big test. Matches against LAFC, Seattle, Dallas, away to Vancouver, Minnesota, and Orlando, plus home and away games with Sporting Kansas will push this squad to the limit.

So how skeptical am I feeling at this point? A lot less than before the season, though a few of those concerns remain. I can hardly believe the success this club has had in year 1, and I've let myself start thinking about how awesome hosting MLS playoff matches at City Park could be.