ST. LOUIS - Thursday night’s Leagues Cup match at CITY PARK between St. Louis City and Mexico City’s Club América was quite the occasion. Walking around the stadium pregame, it didn’t feel like any other City game, primarily because every other person was wearing Club América yellow.
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They didn’t leave disappointed, as the Mexican giants imposed their quality and experience, handing City a 4-0 loss. It felt like it could have been even more.
América could be seen as the Yankees or the Cowboys of Mexican soccer. The nation’s highest spending club, an expectation for success, and a massive fanbase that makes its presence felt wherever Club América plays on the continent.
Thursday night was no exception, as thousands of Las Águilas supporters from all over flooded downtown St. Louis for the rare opportunity to see América play a competitive match in the US. There were contingents from Missouri, Chicago, and probably just about anywhere else.
There have been traveling fans of a visiting team at CITY PARK during the Major League Soccer season, but none had the presence of the América support that could be spotted just about anywhere you looked around the stadium.
“It’s something that I anticipated,” said City head coach Bradley Carnell Thursday night. “Club América always travels well. All Mexican teams travel well when they come to the States, so it didn’t shock me. It was nice to see their support.”
When Mexican National Team striker Henry Martín made it 1-0 after just five minutes, those in yellow were immediately making their voices heard. Julian Quiñones poked a through ball into the box that Martín chased and cooly dispatched to Roman Bürki’s right.
This being a Leagues Cup match, officially, it was a home match for Ameríca. It felt like it. After their goals, their goal song, which would usually only ring around the Stadio Azteca in Mexico City, was playing through the loudspeakers at CITY PARK.
This is because the Leagues Cup as a whole is seen as a “neutral site” tournament. For the Liga MX clubs, they only get to play in MLS stadiums, with no games being played in Mexico.
Ameríca scored just one goal in the first half but totally dominated the later proceedings. City’s high press had no answer for the stylish soccer their Mexican counterparts displayed.
“It’s almost like street football,” said Bradley Carnell postgame. “A little drop of the shoulder, a little touch with the outside of the boot, a give-and-go, a one-two. This is a team (América) that’s been together for a few years now, adding bits and pieces, and you can see that continuity on the pitch.”
It was dazzling to watch. Their intricate passing in tight spaces completely dismantled City’s attempt at defense. América’s movement on and off the ball was simply at a far higher level than City has seen in MLS.
It didn’t take too long into the second half for América to add a second, and at that point, the result started to feel inevitable.
A short corner set piece routine in the 50th minute ended up with América’s Salvador Reyes whipping a low cross into the City box which attacker Julian Quiñones put a head on and beat Roman Bürki.
Quiñones, a summer signing from Atlas Guadalajara, scored the second-most goals of anyone in Liga MX in 2022. The only man to score more goals is now his teammate, Henry Martín.
Kevin Alvarez added a third América goal just moments later, and for the thousands of fans donning Las Águilas yellow, the night became less of a contest and more of a party.
It was not the party that St. Louis City wanted. A night that began with a big tifo (a large banner and/or choreographed display) made by City supporters group STL Santos ended with many in the City supporters end making their leave early.
Not to mention that it was 95 degrees at kickoff with a heat index over 100. It was sweltering.
When América scored their fourth, netted by US National Teamer Alejandro Zendejas, City fans didn’t even really have the energy to boo.
“The humidity was extreme,” said City captain and goalkeeper Roman Bürki. “It made it hard to breathe, but it was the same for both teams.”
While América played amazing soccer despite the heat, Bürki noted that City just wasn’t their sharpest Thursday night, when they really needed to be.
“We struggled with the ball, almost every time we won the ball, we gave it straight back,” Bürki noted. “We were all over the place at different stages of the game.”
If there’s a positive to take away from Thursday night for City, it’s that their midfield maestro Eduard Löwen played a full 90 minutes for the first time since returning from a quad injury.
“Thankful that I was given minutes tonight,” said Löwen following the loss. “I needed these minutes, especially now with a long break coming up.”
As alluded to with that quote, now that City has been eliminated from the Leagues Cup, they have an over three-week break before resuming MLS action on August 20.
“Of course, I wanted to go to the next round,” Löwen said. “Nobody booked any flights. But now we have a week off (from training) which should be good for us, to come back with a fresh mind and body.”
As for where City goes over the next few weeks, Bradley Carnell laid out a tentative plan: some players will play for CITY2 in MLS NEXT Pro matches to stay fresh, and some players will be focused on rest and recovery.
And some players will have time to recover from injury. Bradley Carnell expects striker Joao Klauss to be fit and ready for their return to action, saying Klauss has started more match-like training on and off the ball.
Defender Joakim Nilsson should also be fully recovered from his knee surgery, as he’s been ramping up his training regimen as well. For the first time in their young history, City should be fully fit for the final run of the MLS season.
“We get to hit the refresh button,” said City co-captain Tim Parker. “We’ll look back on tonight and see what we could have done better, but we won’t dwell on it moving forward.”
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