CITY vs RSL: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly


By Cole Sutton

After a five-match unbeaten run to begin the MLS season, CITY suffered their first loss of the 2024 campaign at the hands of Cristian Arango and Real Salt Lake by a score of 3-1. The Boys in Red took a 1-0 lead into the halftime break, but things soon fell apart as one of the best goalscorers in MLS made his presence known in the second half.

The loss was the second clash with RSL in only 35 days with the first finishing 1-1 at CITYPARK back on 2/24. With no mid-week cup competitions to worry about, CITY looked to grab all three points for the first time since the 2-0 home win against NYCFC at the beginning of March. While it certainly looked possible after an early goal from Indiana Vassilev, the pressure RSL created with countless chances was eventually just too much for CITY's backline.

We dive into the good, the bad, & the ugly from the Allcaps' first loss on Saturday:

The Good

Indiana Vassilev

Indiana Vassilev has been one of the most crucial players to CITY's success since bursting onto the MLS scene last season. The former Aston Villa product has played 2,473 minutes in 40 appearances (30 starts) and has been incredible both out on the wing and as a central midfielder. Indy started the game on Saturday night on the right flank and instantly made advances upfield, putting pressure on RSL's backline only a minute or so into the contest.

The 23-year-old took on a Salt Lake defender one-on-one, cutting towards goal and faking out the opposition with a scissor-like inside-outside step over before burying a beautiful strike into the side netting. This tally was the fastest in CITY history only 2:03 into the match and cemented Vassilev as St. Louis' eighth goal-scorer of the season, tied with Sporting Kansas and Vancouver for the most goalscorers in MLS. The midfielder had a 76% passing rate with four of those into the RSL final third and finished the match with a 7.4 rating in 68' of action according to FotMob.

Center Back Duo of Parker & Yaro

Photo courtesy of St. Louis CITY SC.
Photo courtesy of St. Louis CITY SC.

Despite the 3-1 scoreline, I felt we saw a masterclass from both CITY center-backs on Saturday night. Tim Parker returned to the lineup with a full shift of over 110 minutes and his impact as a leader and lock-down defender was obvious. Parker covered lots of ground and had to come up big on more than one occasion, doing his best to hold off RSL's countless chances. Especially with Anthony Markanich and Tomas Totland advancing so far up the pitch on the wings, Parker and his CB counterpart were busy men throughout the match getting back into position and halting the opposition's counter-attacks. "Timmy P" went 30/35 (86%) in accurate passing with four clearances, three recoveries, two interceptions, and one dual won according to FotMob.

The highest-rated player in the loss Saturday night was CB Josh Yaro who finished with a 7.0 score. Yaro was praised multiple times on the Apple TV broadcast for his exceptional play which was much needed as Joakim Nilsson was forced to sit out with a rib injury. Yaro completed 82% of passes along with six clearances, three interceptions, and two blocks. The Ghana international who was drafted by Philadelphia back in 2016 has finally found his rhythm here in St. Louis and was labeled as one of the team leaders by Vassilev during the pre-match press conference last Thursday.

"Josh is definitely a leader on our team, he's just a fantastic guy to be around. If you have any problems you go to our leaders and Josh is definitely one of those guys" Vassilev said.

It's great to see one of the more experienced journeymen of the squad finally put in a couple of great performances in a row and build some momentum, especially with the number of absences due to injury we've seen with defenders so far this season.

The Bad

Wing-back Positioning

I originally wanted to select Anthony Markanich for the "Bad" section of this recap, but that would've been a bit unfair to him. A lot of the RSL attacks in both halves of the match came along CITY's left-hand side which initially made me point that finger at Markanich, but I believe as I've said previously, this has more to do with Carnell's system and preferences than Markanich's performance personally. The former Colorado Rapids defender certainly isn't afraid to join the rush and play nearly at the same line as Celio Pompeu or whoever starts out wide on the left, which can cause issues when turning the ball over and getting back into position.

I love the idea of getting bodies forward and putting pressure on the opponents, but it feels like any time CITY is out of possession, there are plenty of wide-open spaces on both flanks for clubs to take advantage of. I can think of two different times in the first half when Parker and even João Klauss had to come deep and make a play or commit a foul to stop the RSL rush after playing the ball over/past Markanich.

Totland on the right side has also found himself as a pseudo-midfielder in attack at times, including this past Saturday as he made an incredible play on the touchline to save a ball that would've been going behind for a goal kick. Although that's true, I find myself impressed with Totland's positioning and how he gauges when to advance and when to stay back to avoid a break on his right flank.

I don't think there was one singular player who particularly played poorly Saturday (at least more than the others), but the longer CITY goes without a win, the more I'll be frustrated with the gaps in the backline that teams have been taking advantage of through six games.


Lengthy VAR reviews

After the lockout between the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) & Professional Soccer Referees Association ended with the MLS, I was intrigued to see the differences in officiating in Saturday's match compared to what we've seen so far this season. While the league's usual officials were allowed to return to work for MLS matchday six, I think they may have missed the memo for CITY vs RSL. A couple of lengthy VAR reviews, neither that went CITY's way, were two big turning points in the 3-1 defeat.

While I refuse to solely blame refereeing for losses, a clear act of misconduct on Salt Lake's "Chicho" (who finished with a hat-trick) was missed after throwing what looked like a punch during a set-piece scrum. Another VAR review later in the second half on the "handball" on either Parker or Chris Durkin awarded RSL the go-ahead goal in the 84th minute. Not only did the VAR reviews go against the Boys in Red, but the issue many had was the length of time needed for both incidents.

Even the broadcasters on Apple TV mentioned how much the flow of a game can be disrupted or even straight-up ruined by sitting around waiting on a decisive call. To me, VAR is a crucial part of the game and a piece of much-needed technology to ensure officials make the correct calls, but the handling of it could certainly improve. In a night of frustration, the issue of VAR and questioning their results just added to CITY supporter's troubles.

Looking Ahead

After dropping points for the first time this season, CITY will be returning to home base for two straight matches. The Boys in Red will clash with FC Dallas on 4/6, followed by a rematch against Austin FC at CITYPARK before traveling across state lines to take on bitter rival Sporting Kansas.