ST. LOUIS - Before preparations well and truly began for St. Louis City SC’s Thursday night encounter with Liga MX giants Club América, City opened the week introducing new President and General Manager Diego Gigliani.
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The announcement of his addition to the executive team came back in April, but Gigliani was formally introduced to the media at CITY PARK Monday. Gigliani comes to St. Louis City by way of City Football Group, where he spent the last decade of his career.
“I’m not a person who changes jobs often,” said Gigliani. “I chose to come here because what I saw here was really unique. A great project with great owners in a great city, it felt like the right moment to join.”
Some in the City fanbase were hesitant at the announcement, with the team doing so well largely as a result of the decisions Sporting Director Lutz Pfannestiel has made in shaping the club to what it has become today. Gigliani assured those with doubts that he will leave the soccer decisions to the soccer people.
“The same way we did it at City Football Group is how we intend to do it here,” said Gigliani, of his approach as GM. “Respect that sporting decisions need to be taken by sporting experts. Decisions about signing a player or a manager, these have to be taken by people who know the sport. Professionally run organizations know that they have to trust these decisions to the sporting experts.
“While Lutz (Pfannenstiel) will report to me as general manager, he will continue to be the main decision maker when it comes to sporting decisions. I hope to compliment him when it comes to the business aspects of those decisions.”
Gigliani aims to allow Pfannenstiel the freedom to continue City’s inaugural season success. He was primarily brought in to add vital soccer and team-running experience to an ownership group that lacked it.
“Building a club and a stadium is one thing, it’s very different to operate a club and a stadium.” said City CEO Carolyn Kindle Monday. “One thing we realized as an ownership group was that we didn’t really have that experience. We’re so fortunate to have Diego on board, because that’s where he excels.”
Gigliani noted that St. Louis City is a “unique” project for him, a club in its infancy with state of the art facilities and a passionate fanbase.
“I arrive here with infrastructure at an incredibly high standard, season tickets sold out, key sponsorship agreements signed. A lot of the building has been done, which is unique.”
On the on-field side of things, City added six-foot-two-inch 23-year-old Icelandic winger/attacker Nökkvi Thórisson (pronounced NOOK-vee TORE-ee-sun). It may not be the name fans were clamoring to add to the St. Louis attack, unless those fans were avid followers of the second tier Belgian Challenger Pro League.
Due to the nature of international signings, paperwork, work visas, that sort of thing, don’t expect to see Thórisson in CITY Red anytime too soon. It will be a matter of weeks for the bureaucratic side of the deal to shake out before he can start competing for minutes on the City training ground in Downtown West.
Nökkvi Thórisson has one cap with the Icelandic national team to his name, coming earlier this year. City paid a reported $668k to Belgian club Beerschot VA for Thórisson, who led the Icelandic top tier (the Besta deild karla, “men’s best division") with 17 goals in 20 games in 2022 before moving to Belgium.
“We are very excited to bring an Icelandic national team player to St. Louis,” said CITY SC Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel by way of press release. “Nökkvi is an all-around attacker who will be helpful for our squad. We’re looking forward to welcoming Nokkvi into the team as soon as possible, seeing him contribute during our last stretch of matches this season, and helping him develop and reach his full potential over the coming years.”
What Thórisson brings to City is a versatility in attack, a player who was primarily a striker in Iceland but has played on the wing for Beerschot in Belgium. Physically, he’s somewhat similar to Joao Klauss if a little bit smaller, but possesses a big frame and is strong on the ball much like City’s Brazilian striker.
Unless he really turns heads in training, Thórisson likely slots in as a bench player in the current City group. He gives City a depth option in attack, one that was missing at varying stages this year with Klauss’s injury and Sam Adeniran on loan in San Antonio.
City’s depth was tested on Sunday night in Columbus in their 2-1 defeat in their opening match of Leagues Cup play. While the result was zero points earned, Carnell thought his rotated group did well, and fell victim to moments of brilliance on a set piece and a penalty kick.
If any team in all of the Leagues Cup can create moments of brilliance in an instant, its Thursday night’s opponents, Club América. América, hailing from Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, is the biggest and most popular soccer team in Liga MX, and likely the biggest club in all of North America.
“Club América is such a big name, not just in the Concacaf region, but the world.” said Bradley Carnell Wednesday. “It’s almost a bucket-list moment for many of us, either players or coaches, but we’re not here just to pick up jerseys after the game.”
Expectations are always high for “Las Águilas”, the pressure that comes with being the biggest team in Mexico’s biggest city, playing in the cathedral that is the Azteca. Despite the distance between STL and CDMX, don’t be shocked if plenty of América supporters make their way to CITY PARK Thursday.
The high expectations for the club come from the firepower they possess. With the talent they have on the field, they are expected to win or at least challenge for the Liga MX crown every season.
They boast not only Liga MX’s leading striker in Henry Martin, but also the second best striker in the league after signing Julián Quiñones from Atlas Guadalajara this summer. Quiñones has already scored in his competitive debut at the Azteca, an 89th minute goal to seal a 3-0 win over Puebla in the team’s last match before Thursday.
It will be nearly two weeks since América played a competitive match, and it will be just the third competitive match with new manager André Jardine at the helm. Bradley Carnell believes that makes it harder to expect what América will bring. “We’ve had just two games to see what they’ve done, but we have a good idea.”
STL City’s Joao Klauss and Jardine crossed paths in Brazil, when both were at Gremio during Klauss’s development. Carnell mentioned Klauss has offered a “few pointers”, but don’t expect the Brazilian striker to be on the pitch against the coach from his younger days.
Club América, with all their history, firepower, and new man in charge take on St. Louis City at CITY PARK at 9 p.m. on Thursday. The game is televised on Fox Sports 1 in English and UniMas in Spanish. Local radio broadcasts are available on KYKY 98.1 FM in English and KXOK 102.9 FM in Spanish.
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