Musings on the St Louis City SC and Los Angeles FC Rematch: MLS Playoff Clinching Feels Great
by Jason Goodbody
So, LAFC….we meet again. In the last meeting, CITY kept the 2022 MLS champions at a 0-0 draw well into the second half until the heavily rotated Boys in Red squad fell victim to the same press and run style that had brought so much success. The tables had turned and the wheels fell off and LAFC won 3-0. Now with Joakim "the Gripen" Nilsson mended from off-season surgery, Tim Parker in, and a fully healthy João Klauss and Eduard Löwen playing this time, CITY was able to extend that scoreless draw for the full 90 minutes, another first in a season of firsts. I presume both teams considered this a good tie, which is uncomfortable thinking about.
- St Louis City SC is a playoff team in its first year and first to qualify for the post season among Western Conference teams. This is an amazing accomplishment. National pundits predicted this team languishing at the bottom of the rankings this year. Those predictions weren't unreasonable but it sure is nice to blow expectations out of the water, further codified for all of human history by the Missouri History Museum in their St Louis Soccer exhibit.
♫♫ VAR! Huh! Yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again y'all!! ♫♫
Like many of you who watched the game live and not in slo-mo (that would take forever) I too was loudly critical of the 4 handball non-calls. Yelling shoulder-to-shoulder and in unison with the stadium about the ref missing calls that looked all too obvious from 200-400 feet away from my seat. It's easy to get caught up in fandom with hints of tribalism telling us that "we" are right, "they" are wrong and need unjust reffing to beat us. It's sorta fun actually and something that I encourage first time attendees and non-soccer fans, "separate your prefrontal cortex from the rest of your brain and just let it go. You'll enjoy the experience more not constrained by critical thinking" and we'll say "that's a terrible call" three times before kickoff to get the juices flowing. However, once separated from the influence of the nuclear-grade peer pressure of 23k fans, I was able to stop and rewind the game stream and BEHOLD, it turns out we were largely wrong. With the exception of the first incident clearly redirected off of the right hand of LAFC defender Jesús Murillo, the rest were the right call. But that one missed infraction is emblematic of CITY being on the wrong side of some of these calls and representative of a lack of consistency within MLS and soccer across the globe at all levels. "What is a handball?" will continue to be the question until it is fixed on the grander scale, but for us, that's a 1-0 game otherwise.
"Come on You Boys in Red" is a banger of a chant and like the other chants it is largely contained to the north half of the stadium. I'm a bit jealous of all you Northerners and those watching the broadcast. I propose we borrow a couple of capos (supporters section chant leaders) and put them in each corner of the south end to pull the stadium together.
Roman "LL" Bürki nearly got an assist for Niko Gioacchini, two in fact. The first in the 69th minute came from a long kick to Niko who barely missed a scoring opportunity and who also barely missed getting crushed by the combined mass of Murillo and goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau. The second was a laser kick to Giochianni who was streaking down the right side. After settling the ball he was challenged by an LAFC defender causing him to send a less-than-optimal shot on goal. Much was said in the stands and on the broadcast about Niko not passing to Sam Adeniran who had stationed himself at the top of the box ready to receive the ball but there was merely a split second for Niko to make that decision and the pass to Big Sam would need to have been perfect with the rest of the LAFC defense bearing down. I simply can't fault a striker for doing striker things and shooting the ball.
I had some mixed emotions in CITYPARK after being away for 3 weeks. As always, the crowd showed up strong, the food was great, the atmosphere was incredible and the team played well. I also came to the realization that there are only two more regular season home matches remaining and so everything that is great about CITYPARK is nearing an end this year. All the more reason for a strong playoff position to ensure we get the most home field advantages possible. That will give us more CITY Red, more great food, more community, and more irrational fandom.
After the game LAFC defender Ryan Hollingshead said that the "…stadium was great, the atmosphere was amazing... their field was a little bit bumpy". BUMPY?!?!?! Listen. I have taken the pundits underestimating this team, the commentators saying that our offense lacks creativity, fanbases saying our early success was dumb luck, but somehow aspersions cast upon our pitch conditions become fighting words. Soccer fandom makes us all a bit weird in that way I think.
In another entry in a season of firsts, this was the first time Adeniran, Niko, Klauss were in the game at the same time. Klauss dropped back to play more of a 10 distributor role leaving Big Sam and Niko as strikers. I liked it, I loved it, I want to see more of it.
So now CITY is traveling to St Paul, to play Minnesota United FC this weekend. Like the LAFC game, this will be an evolved lineup with AZ, Nilsson and Adeniran available for heavy minutes and Markanich and Thörisson now on the team. Expect a battle with Minnesota desperate for a playoff spot. CITY needs 3 points here and can't afford to tie its way through the remainder of its games and expect a favorable playoff position.