HOUSTON - St. Louis City SC returned to MLS play on a humid Saturday evening in Texas, taking on the Houston Dynamo for the third time this calendar year.

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The third meeting between the two teams is the first in MLS league play, with the first two games being the two-legged Concacaf Champions Cup first round. City won 2-1 over the Dynamo at CITY PARK but lost 1-0 at Shell Energy Field in Houston, and were bounced out of the competition by the away goals tiebreaker.

In the rematch on Saturday night, neither team created any real scoring chances over 90 minutes and stoppage time. CIty striker Joao Klauss had five shots, but none of them on target. Roman Bürki made a number of saves, but only one really required effort on his part, and both teams settled for a goalless draw.

When the team sheets came out before kickoff, Sam Adeniran was listed on the bench for St. Louis City, and more importantly, on the City roster at all for the first time since Bradley Carnell’s decision to leave him out of the team’s two previous games.

For Houston, their star man Hector Herrera started for the first time in 2024 but is still working his way back up to full fitness to play for 90 minutes. Herrera’s play early on forced Bradley Carnell to slightly adjust City’s setup.

“One of the things you have to account for is Hector Herrera just floating in and around,” explained Carnell. “It was just some of our setup shapes, some of our triggers, and the way we wanted the game to be played… [Houston] are so nimble and quick in their buildup.”

City’s best chance early on fell to the man who saved them in Kansas two weeks prior, Tomas Totland. A wonderful through ball from Klauss found Totland in about 20 yards of space at the top of Houston’s 18-yard box. Totland took a few touches to get the ball in front of him and fired a shot directly into Dynamo goalkeeper Steve Clark.

Houston, being a possession-first team, held the ball for long spells trying to crack the City backline. While goals have dried up somewhat compared to 2023, City’s defense is notably more solid. Roman Bürki is still making his share of saves but isn’t being asked to bail the team out as much as he was last season.

In fact, Saturday night, Bürki was more of a participant in the offensive build-up rather than being required for shot-stopping. The Swiss shot-stopper led City in attempted passes, completed passes, and progressive passes.

“I try to play the balls where we want them,” said Bürki postgame. “That way maybe Klauss has a deflection and two guys run in behind.”

The closest either team came to a goal in the first half was a Houston header that bounced off the crossbar from a corner kick just before halftime. Dynamo defender Daniel Steres rose highest to the inswinging corner kick, and his powerful header met the crossbar, to the delight of City and Roman Bürki.

City’s best chance to score on the evening came five minutes into the second half. A City corner kick flew over just about everyone in the box, and Tomas Ostrak chased the loose ball down to swing another cross in. Ostrak found Klauss, who was swarmed by orange Houston shirts inside the Dynamo six-yard box.

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Klauss was dispossessed, but the bouncing ball fell to Chirs Durkin, standing in front of a gaping goal. A last-ditch block from Houston center back Erik Sviatchenko denied Durkin from point-blank range.

Klauss will be kicking himself for his missed opportunity in the 56th minute, where a Dynamo defensive turnover sent Ostrak on a run into the box. Ostrak found Klauss with plenty of space, but the big Brazilian slipped and sent his shot into the Houston night sky.

It was another evening where you can visibly see that Klauss is all over the field trying to create something, anything, but a night where his finishing touch once again lacked the lethal quality it had so often in 2023. When Adeniran joined the attack in the second half, his presence didn’t really change that dynamic.

City’s captain, although a goalkeeper and not a striker, spoke to his responsibility to help the offense during the week in practice situations.

“I think for me as a goalkeeper in training that we just need to be a little bit angrier if we don't score,” said Bürki. “Not just ‘okay next one’, we need to maybe analyze why we are not scoring goals. Are we taking training seriously enough in front of the goal? Are we doing enough to improve and to be more comfortable in tight situations in their box to make the right decision?”

Bürki’s biggest defensive contribution on the night came in the 83rd minute when Daniel Steres smashed a long range effort that seemed destined for the top right corner of the City goal. Bürki launched himself at the ball and extended a flailing right arm that tipped Steres’s shot over the bar.

That late save all but ensured a clean sheet for Bürki, who is getting more clean sheets in 2024.

“You can look at it from both sides,” said Bürki. “I think the positive side is we don't lose games. We are staying in the game. We survived difficult phases, and we defended well. On the other hand, today once again, and I think it's been a little bit through the whole season, we had a lot of chances to score a goal.

“Today again, I think we had the better chances to score goals, but unfortunately we didn't score. So we need to look at that in training, and get the (finishing) confidence back in training and just work harder, maybe a little bit more focused.”

“Through one or two moments of our transition, (if City was) a little bit sharper, a little bit cleaner, a little bit more greedy, I think we could have scored one or two in the first half,” admitted Bradley Carnell following the goalless draw. “But then you have to get over those waves of, I would say disappointment, to not have taken those chances.”

A meeting of two teams with offensive struggles produced a game where, well, offenses struggled. Saturday’s 0-0 is the third straight game Houston hasn’t scored in, and they’ll be hoping their US Open Cup match against USL Championship team Detroit City FC will be a chance for them to find some goals again.

City remains in ninth place in the MLS Western Conference with two wins, seven draws, and a loss on the season. That’s good for 13 points, behind Houston in eighth who have 14. Real Salt Lake claimed the top spot of the Western Conference Saturday with 21 points, and Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami lead all MLS teams with 24 points.

Every team in the league has played at least 10 games this season. Only two teams remain with just one loss, the Columbus Crew, and City SC.

St. Louis City returns home on Saturday night to take on the Chicago Fire.

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