ST. LOUIS - Clinching an MLS Playoff spot wasn’t St. Louis City head coach Bradley Carnell’s objective heading into Wednesday night. Carnell and just about everyone at the club have preached a “one game at a time” mentality all season.
Get The Latest News!
Don't miss our top stories and need-to-know news everyday in your inbox.
A win on Wednesday would have put City over the line for the playoff berth. However, winning against LAFC is no easy task, as City found out back in July when they were on the wrong end of a 3-0 loss in downtown LA.
On Wednesday night, a win would once again elude City, but they did hold the potent LAFC attack goalless in a 0-0 draw.
“This was a cagey affair,” said Bradley Carnell postgame. “I think Steve (Cherundolo, LAFC Head Coach) said earlier in the week that it was going to be a tight game. I think when good teams get together, in a perfect stadium, on a perfect evening, if you give away a critical moment, you lose the game.”
City’s first real chance came in the 9th minute, when some nice work on the left wing between Anthony Markanich and Eduard Lowen opened up space for the latter to test Maxime Crepeau in the LAFC goal. Crepeau saved, and parried Lowen’s effort beyond the onrushing Joao Klauss, looking to knock home the rebound at the far post.
An unfortunately recurring theme in City matches as of late is the inconsistency of handball calls in the box. City head coach Bradley Carnell has even said in a recent press conference that he isn’t sure what is and what isn’t considered a handball in MLS anymore.
Sure enough, in the 12th minute, City left-back Anthony Markanich whipped in a hopeful cross toward the LAFC goal. City striker Sam Adeniran went up for the ball, just as LAFC defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Jesus Murillo did.
In their jump, it appeared that the ball struck the arm of Chiellini who had his arm out for balance. Referee Rubiel Vazquez didn’t hesitate to point to the penalty spot.
After some negotiating and a few moments spent listening to the VAR official in his headset, the referee Vazquez signaled for the VAR review and reversed his call on the field.
Much to the chagrin of the City fans in the north end of CITY PARK who had a front-row view of the possible penalty, St. Louis’s own Taylor Twellman on the Apple TV feed didn’t think it was a penalty from the start, and that was justified by the referee’s call.
It certainly felt like the wind was taken out of City’s sails with that VAR decision, and the usually energetic CITY PARK faithful fell into a bit of a dull hum, somewhat stewing over the call against their team.
LAFC pressed on and continued to ask questions of the City defense in the first half. To their credit, that defense largely answered those questions, withstanding a handful of LA attacks and keeping the score goalless going into the halftime break.
“I thought we controlled a lot of what we were able to do,” said Carnell. “I thought from the 30th to the 45th minute, we were slightly sloppy, slightly lazy. On restarts, they caught us out. So we have to tighten up a few things there.”
Right before that break, City defensive midfielder Njabulo Blom went down, which was thought to be a leg injury. Postgame, Bradley Carnell explained that Blom had suffered an injury to his foot, and had been taking medication to alleviate the issue.
However, according to Carnell, that medication was messing with Blom’s stomach, and he was apparently suffering from spells of being dizzy and winded. Blom lasted about 15 minutes into the second half before he was substituted off.
Roman Bürki, as he so often does, came to City’s rescue to deny an LAFC bicycle kick goal from star veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini. Immediately following, Joao Klauss bombed up the right wing and played a long pass to fellow striker Sam Adeniran, who tried a shot but the angle was just a bit too acute for him to test Maxime Crepeau.
The effort, the Bürki save, and the hustle shown by City on the break drew the biggest cheer of the night thus far. City were getting at times exploited by the class of LAFC, primarily winger/striker Denis Bouanga, who was popping up in open space all game for the visitors.
“I’ve seen (LAFC) do that for many years now,” said Carnell of the visitors’ ability on the ball. “They have big playmakers, and I thought we did really well. Sure they’re going to get a lot of (half-chances), but we got around the ball really well. I can’t fault anything with my players there.
With 15 minutes and stoppage time remaining, yet again, referee Rubiel Vazquez had a difficult decision to make on what appeared to be a handball by an LAFC defender. The VAR official had a chat with the ref in his earpiece, and again, the ruling was no handball.
You begin to understand why City fans, coaches, and players alike have voiced their frustrations about handball decisions, when it feels like there is no real consistency or pattern to the decision-making process. Just as it felt like the energy had picked up in the stands to push City towards a result, another no-call sucked the energy out of the stadium.
“I’d love for someone to tell me what a handball is, because I really don’t know,” said City Vice Captain Tim Parker postgame. “And at this point, I don’t think the refs even know.”
Niko Gioacchini looked to bring that energy back up on a City break toward the LAFC goal, but his effort was rather tame and no trouble for Crepeau. It was a performance from City that was often missing that biting edge in attack that’s usually given them the advantage in tight contests.
LAFC, more than happy with a point in the hostile confines of CITY PARK, slowed things down as much as they could in the final minutes. City did get a late free kick and corner kick, two last gasps to get something on goal, but both were fruitless, and Rubiel Vazquez blew his whistle for full-time.
The 0-0 draw is the first in City’s short MLS history, home or away. Draws, in general, are somewhat rare for City so far, Wednesday night’s result was just the fifth draw of any kind for St. Louis, but they're third in a row.
The draw meant that City didn’t clinch a playoff place based on their results alone, and had to do a bit of scoreboard watching to see if they would be a playoff team by the end of the night.
When asked if he would stay up watching the other MLS games, Carnell quickly answered. “Well yes, I’m interested in the results.”
City wanted a statement win against one of the toughest teams in Major League Soccer but settled for the draw. Thanks to a heroic comeback from LA’s other team, the Galaxy, City officially clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history.
St. Louis City SC, the team Bradley Carnell has coined as “everybody’s nobodies”, a team that many MLS “experts” predicted would maybe win a small handful of games in their inaugural season, is officially the first Western Conference team to clinch their place in postseason play.
“Amazing achievement for the group,” Tweeted Tim Parker late Wednesday night after the result in Los Angeles went final. “But we ain’t done yet.”
In fact, there’s not much time for celebration for City, as they have a quick turnaround before heading north to take on Minnesota United in the Land of 10,000 Lakes Saturday night. Kickoff is set for just after 7:30 p.m.
More like this: