Chris's Corner- Match Day 6 - The First Loss
Photo by St. Louis Stars
We witnessed history Saturday night–the first ever St. Louis City loss! Falling 0-1 to Minnesota was not how any of us wanted to see the evening turn out, but we all knew the winning streak would end eventually. Minnesota entered this match only having allowed 3 goals through 4 games. They were as good as advertised defensively, making it difficult for City to string together anything fluid through the midfield and making hard challenges for every ball in their defensive third. Former Forward Madison standout Dayne St. Clair made a couple fantastic stops in the first half–a diving stop to his left to deny Edu Lowen comes to mind immediately–to keep the match level. And yes, some of the decisions made by the center ref were questionable. But let's not get too down on City after one tough battle with a similarly matched opponent. Here's some positives to take away from this match.
Roman Burki didn't have a save. Again. And yes, that's a positive. The City defense has been so good at making life difficult for opposing attackers that they once again didn't allow a shot on frame, outside of the scored penalty. Does that mean Burki was never challenged? Obviously not. He was involved in several key moments that did not involve shots on target. For starters, Burki was fantastic with his feet. He was being pressed by Luis Amarilla in the 17th minute and made a cute little cut with the ball to send Amarilla sliding past him, then cleared the ball upfield. He was able to come out and safely clear a weak back-pass from Tim Parker in the 51st minute thanks to his good positioning and solid ball skills. 3 minutes later, the Loons missed a glorious chance after a nice one-two through the midfield. Garcia rounded Burki, who slid with a foot toward the ball. The move from Burki forced Garcia wide enough that he clanged his shot off the post. Additionally, after the penalty was scored later in the match, Burki showed why he was voted captain, walking almost all the way out to midfield to rally his teammates for the final stretch of the game. I've told anyone who will listen for the past year that Burki was prone to mistakes during his last year at Dortmund, and we've seen a few this year. But this game from him was pretty solid overall.
At the other end of the pitch, it wasn't all misery. City was able to put together several decent half chances throughout the match, compiling 16 total shots. Klauss was strong up top with his hold-up play against a solid center back pairing, and also made some key runs in behind the defense. He continued to show his quality first touch, toughness, and good awareness of his teammates' movement and positioning. Unlike previous matches, though, the right finish wasn't there from Klauss or his teammates. There were multiple headers on or over the bar–looking at you, Edu–shots wide of the post, free kicks off the mark, and shots blocked by defenders. Occasionally the passes weren't sharp enough, with turnovers from Nelson and Gioacchini seeming more frequent than we've seen through the first 5 matches. Stroud also didn't have his best game, to the point where I forgot he was on the field at times. The positive spin to that is that we know these players are capable of better because we've seen it already this year.
With all that taken into account, it's safe to say City looked very much like the team we saw the first 5 match days this season. They were aggressive, chaotic, created some chances, and put Minnesota players under pressure constantly. The breaks that went City's way for 5 games didn't happen Saturday. Against top-of-the-table clubs, I think this is a fair gauge for what we will see out of City. If they can be more clinical with their chances or a little better with some of their passes in build-up play, they can play competitive soccer with most teams in the league. The challenges ahead remain significant, though.
First is the schedule. Seattle is on a tear lately. As much as we appreciate Jordan Morris scoring 4 times against the Soccer Capitol of Kansas, facing this talented group at Lumen Field while they are on a purple patch is not something I'm excited about. Not only is Morris hot, this is another defense that has allowed only 3 goals this season, with 3 clean sheets. That includes shutting out reigning MLS champion LAFC. It doesn't get easier the following week, when City hosts Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati. This is undoubtedly a stretch of games that will be a litmus test for CIty.
The second challenge for City in these upcoming matches is the squad itself and by extension, their performance. Aside from Burki, four players have played over 500 minutes out of 540 total--John Nelson, Jake Nerwinski, Edu Lowen, and Klauss. Hiebert and Parker each missed 1 match and have played 450 minutes each. That pace is unsustainable with how aggressive this system of play is. I'm honestly quite worried about how this team will function when players–especially Klauss and Lowen–need days off or have injury issues. Adeniran seems like the most apt substitute stylistically for Klauss, but he's raw and unproven at this level. Gioacchini could also step in and offer a different look up front, but we haven't seen what that could look like. And who will be the creator when Lowen misses time? Vassilev? Ostrak? Edu has been one of the best midfielders in all of MLS to start this year, so it's vital for this team to keep him healthy all season. Which will require other players to step up and fill that role when he needs to miss minutes here and there. The left and right back positions have not been rotated either. We have yet to see a debut from expected number 2 left back Selmir Pidro, despite Nelson showing some holes in his game at both ends of the field. The backup plan for Nerwinski is a question that's never truly been answered. Our winger and CB depth seem adequate, but the team would really benefit from more consistency in attack from the wingers/midfielders.
Regardless of whom Coach Carnell puts on the field, the execution in attack has to be better across the board than what we saw against Minnesota. If City wants to be one of the best clubs in the West, the time to truly make that statement is this weekend at Seattle.
By Chris Dollenmeyer