ST. LOUIS - When asked about a potential rivalry between St. Louis City SC and Sporting Kansas City before their first meeting earlier this MLS season, City midfielder Indiana Vassilev gave a short, but sweet answer:
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“We heard it was a rivalry,” said Vassilev before their previous meeting in May. “We heard (St. Louis fans) don’t like SKC. So we don’t like SKC.”
City played like they didn’t like their new neighbors from 260 miles west. It was a 4-0 thrashing, one where City could have scored even more.
If that result couldn’t spark a rivalry on the field of play, one began off the pitch when Sporting Kansas City sent a cease and desist to a St. Louis City fan podcast. The podcast, at the time called “Soccer Capital Podcast” (and now River City Ramble), was claimed to be infringing on SKC’s use of the term “Soccer Capital”.
In the founding of St. Louis City, “Soccer Capital” or “Soccer Capital of America” and similar terms have been used frequently to describe St. Louis. Both teams, and both cities, have claimed their “Soccer Capital” status in one way or another.
Both cities have a claim to their fair share of soccer history. For the first time ever, they have two teams in the current highest level of the sport to settle the dispute between the lines.
Hence, the “Capital Classico”, as some are calling Saturday’s match where City head west to take on Sporting Kansas City. Even in its infancy, it’s a matchup that just feels right. St. Louis vs. Kansas City, CITY Red vs. Sporting Blue, Peter Vermes’s possession-based offense vs. Bradley Carnell’s press-heavy defense.
Some City players, like midfield stalwart Njabulo Blom, were a bit measured when asked about the rivalry between City and SKC.
“I’m not really sure (if it’s a rivalry yet),” said Blom after Wednesday’s match. “But one thing I know for sure is that (SKC) will be up for the game, because of how they lost here. Apparently it's a derby in the league, but I think they’ll be up for it just as much as we are.”
St. Louis City head coach Bradley Carnell expressed that the rivalry needs to grow organically on the field of play. “For it to become a rivalry, something needs to fester, needs to grow, there needs to be a moment.”
City summer signee and Wednesday night goalscorer Nökkvi Thórisson said he was ready for the game on Saturday, but he “doesn’t know if it’s a big rivalry or a small rivalry” by his own admission Wednesday.
He’ll probably find out when he heads out of the tunnel at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday, where it’s been reported that half the stadium could be clad in CITY Red. St. Louis fans have been traveling in numbers to any accessible MLS match. Thousands went north to Chicago for a rather drab early May loss to the Fire, and it seems that number will be far surpassed by the amount of City fans heading west on I-70 Saturday.
An atmosphere fit for a fiery encounter, and a much improved Sporting Kansas City side to face. This isn’t the same seemingly lost SKC that was thoroughly beaten by City in May.
Sporting has climbed out of the doldrums of the MLS Western Conference and are now just three points from a playoff place. If a fledgling rivalry wasn’t enough motivation, each game is important for SKC to stay in the playoff hunt.
Like City, they’re coming off a home win heading into Saturday’s “Capital Classico”. Sporting cruised to a 3-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in their last game, and looked like the SKC of old, dictating possession for long spells, controlling the game with the ball at their feet.
“They're a class act. They're a good team. They have some great players, they're in good form,” said Bradley Carnell. “We go over there with a lot of respect, but also with a lot of confidence."
Kansas City captain Johnny Russell said the team was glad to get the result against San Jose, in part because they wanted to turn their full attention to their rematch with St. Louis City.
“We had to get this game (against San Jose) out of the way,” said Russell to the Kansas City Star. “Now the focus shifts to (City) and we’ve all got a point to prove… We didn’t do ourselves or our fans any justice in that game.”
One player who didn’t feature in the May matchup is City striker Joao Klauss, who was welcomed back to CITY PARK with a thunderous ovation on Wednesday night before playing a key role in City’s attack as a substitute, even if he didn’t put his name on the scoresheet.
Klauss played less than 30 minutes on Wednesday, but is set for 45 Saturday according to Bradley Carnell. That figures to see him come on in the second half, as he enters his final “ramping up” stages before playing full matches again.
A goalscorer for City in the first showdown with SKC, Niko Gioacchini, is still questionable following a shoulder injury suffered in training and then aggravated in City’s 2-1 loss in Orlando. Carnell said Gioacchini was getting tests on his shoulder Thursday before the team made a decision for his status for Saturday.
Other than the currently questionable Gioacchini, City boasts a healthy and fit squad heading west. The only player unavailable is Jake Nerwinski, who is serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation.
St. Louis City takes on Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park in the shadow of Kansas Speedway Saturday night, with kickoff just after 7:30. Apple TV has the broadcast, with radio commentary available on KYKY 98.1 FM in English and KXOK 102.9 in Spanish.
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