(All photos from Brad Piros)

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ST. LOUIS - St. Louis City SC returned to CITY PARK Saturday night to take on the Seattle Sounders in an MLS Western Conference showdown.

The two teams came into the contest with similar struggles, scoring goals and winning games, but Seattle has been a bogey team for St. Louis City. That did not change Saturday. With one total shot on target, the Sounders beat City 2-1.

The team sheet an hour before kickoff omitted City midfielder Tomas Ostrak, who suffered an injury in training on Friday. Fullbacks Nikolas Dyhr and Jake Nerwinski also did not feature in Bradley Carnell’s team sheet for the game.

Kickoff was at 7:40 pm, officially, but it felt like both teams were not quite awake when referee Lukasz Szpala blew his whistle to start the game. When City’s Indiana Vassilev had a golden opportunity fall to his left foot in the 12th minute, he skied an effort into the standing-room supporters’ section.

To give them a little credit, it at least looked like City knew where the goal was and were trying to score goals in the opening half. Seattle did not have a shot on target in the first half, smothered by the stout City defense.

“They have some tricky players and they have many tricky ways to get at you,” said Bradley Carnell postgame. “And that starts with (Raul) Ruidiaz and (Jordan) Morris up top… I thought we did a hell of a job. I thought we smothered them.”

On the other end, City were indeed getting shots away, and a couple towards Stefan Frei in the Sounders goal, but none that would remotely challenge the long-time MLS veteran keeper. If City had a shot on target in the first half, it was right at the advertisement across Frei’s chest.

Statistics will bear out that St. Louis City was the better team in the first half, but didn’t have anything to show for it.

“To play a game as we did, just look at all the statistics,” said Bradley Carnell. “I think such a dominating performance from the boys.”

Seattle began to come into the game a little bit more to start the second half, but still seemed somewhat bereft of ideas for cracking the City defense. As the second half progressed, it felt that another 0-0 was very much on the cards for City and the 22,000-plus in attendance.

In the 66th minute, City would pay dearly for not taking advantage of their chances in the first half. Seattle winger Obed Vargas attempted a cross toward striker Raul Ruidiaz, but that cross took a deflection off Kyle Hiebert’s shin, and curled over Roman Bürki’s head into the City goal.

Seattle didn’t have a single shot on target, and they were ahead in an important road game against an immediate rival in the MLS Western Conference Standings.

Before City fans could finish bemoaning the first goal, Seattle scored a second less than three minutes later. Jordan Morris latched onto a through ball and used his pace to leave the City defensive corps in the dust, and tucked a shot beyond a helpless Roman Bürki in a one-on-one breakaway.

The 69th minute goal for Jordan Morris was the Seattle native’s 69th goal in all competitions, a nice feat for the US International who made the 2022 World Cup squad.

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If you went to the restroom or to grab some local eats from the concession stand in the 65th minute, you came back to a very different CITY PARK. After looking like the team more likely to score for most of the evening, City were down two goals, and would need a miracle to rescue a result.

If there was any man that could potentially inspire a miraculous comeback, it is Eduard Löwen. Bradley Carnell brought on his midfield talisman in the 70th minute, as well as Aziel Jackson, who has not quite looked like the AZ of 2023 who was often a first-choice starter.

Jackson would have a chance on a counter-attack in the 76th minute, with Joao Klauss running alongside him against two Sounders defenders. Jackson decided to take on the defenders to create a bit of space to shoot from outside the box, instead of looking for the Brazilian striker to his left.

His shot, like City’s other attempts on goal, was directly at Stefan Frei. Jackson’s decision to shoot left a wide open Klauss in the box shrugging his shoulders.

“22 shots, seven on target, six corners,” Carnell read from the statline. “Again, sometimes you can dominate in every category but if you don't dominate the score line, you don't win games.”

Just as he was brought on to do, Eduard Löwen provided a spark and a lifeline for City to salvage the game. In the 82nd minute, Löwen curled a low cross into a dangerous and crowded area around the Seattle six-yard box. City’s Tomas Totland got a toe to the cross and poked the ball into the net to make it a 2-1 game.

His first game back at CITY PARK since his prolonged absence, and Eduard Löwen provided an assist on a cross in twelve minutes time. The combination of Löwen’s ingenuity and the team’s desperation created a much more urgent and attacking City than the one that played for the first 70 minutes.

“I think you can see the sense of urgency when (Löwen) comes in,” noted Carnell. “But there's a respect factor for the opponent, as well, that Edu Löwen is now on the field. They know every dead ball scenario; they know every cross; they know every moment; Edu can make a play. It's good to have him on the field.

“It's good for him to be free in this moment, to isolate him on the soccer field in the game, just to focus for the next ten minutes, 12 minutes, 15 minutes, whatever it was. Just where he's got a soccer ball and with his teammates. You know, I thought he did a heck of a job and gave us a lot of inspiration and a lot of life.”

City would press and press, but couldn’t create any clear-cut looks to find an equalizer late. Joao Klauss curled in a lovely shot from just inside the box on the left-hand side, but his shot bounced off the right post and out.

Its a season where it doesn’t feel like St. Louis City are getting the breaks that fell their way in 2023. The ball didn’t bounce their way in the big moments Saturday, and they were second best on the scoreboard when referee Lucasz Szpala blew his whistle for full time.

City have now lost three straight, suddenly have more losses than wins, and sit at 3-7-4. That’s only good enough for 11th in the Western Conference, and the Sounders take over the 9th position that City held before Saturday’s defeat.

“If we were only in the sport only for the good times and the wins and what-have you, then we would be dreaming,” Bradley Carnell stated. “It would be a fairy tale, and there's always two sides to reality.”

It does not get any easier next weekend, as City make a trip to a temporary stadium in Fort Lauderdale to take on Lionel Messi and friends’ Inter Miami.

“We've got a tough uphill stretch now,” said Carnell. “So, there's no easy games. There's been none since matchday one, and every goal, every point is hard-earned for us.

Again, I see a lot of potential in this group, in my group. So, we will continue to do what we believe in and focus on our principles, and make sure that we come out next time and play with a lot more urgency and energy and conviction.”

Bradley Piros also contributed to this story.

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