ST. LOUIS - It almost feels like the beginning of a new season for St. Louis City SC. After being the first of 47 teams bounced from the inaugural Leagues Cup, City has had an extended mid-season break.
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A break so long, in fact, that head coach Bradley Carnell felt it was important to schedule an impromptu closed-door friendly against Atlanta United last weekend.
That friendly was the first action City had seen in weeks, needing to stay sharp before Sunday night’s matchup at CITY PARK against Austin FC.
The result of that friendly, 3-3, with all of City’s goals coming from open play, is more reflective of the training-ground nature of the game. It was a chance for Carnell to assess the squad after the break. It was also a chance to tinker.
“We tried a few tactical tweaks, different formations,” said Carnell in his pre-match presser Friday afternoon.
“I thought it was a really good exercise to get some of the run-of-play action going again. It’s good to see guys fit and healthy and competing for places.”
Fit and healthy is the key for a St. Louis City team that looks to capitalize on their extended midseason break. At times, injuries caused City to be short-handed in attack and midfield before the break.
The biggest injury worry for City this season has been that of striker Joao Klauss. Klauss set the league alight in the opening month of MLS action but has been dealing with a lingering quad injury.
The hope around the City camp was that three weeks off from game action would be enough of a break for Klauss to return, but Bradley Carnell ruled a Sunday return out for their long-absent striker.
“It’s probably a week too soon for Klauss,” admitted Carnell. “We’ll see how next week goes. But everyone else is roster-ready.”
“Nökkvi (Thórisson) has come in with a good baseline and is very fit. Joakim (Nilsson) has been progressing, he’s had CITY2 minutes that were very vital for him and had some really successful moments.”
Nökkvi Thórisson, a summer signing from Belgium, gives Carnell a new attacking option, he’s a player who’s comfortable as both a winger and a striker. One imagines he’ll slot in as a winger in City’s setup, especially with the presumed return of Joao Klauss to the striker position.
Perhaps overlooked by some with City’s position in the standings, but the team has been operating without possibly their best defender until now with Joakim Nilsson returning to full fitness.
Nilsson had reconstructive surgery on his knee in November of 2022. In July, he played his first competitive soccer in 14 months, in those aforementioned CITY2 minutes.
Far more than a pair of fresh legs in the back line, Nilsson is a natural leader, and is already building that confidence around the first team since joining training earlier this summer.
“He’s a great leader and a great person,” Carnell said, heaping praise on Nilsson. “To have him around our group is worth its weight in gold. To have his aura, his presence, he’s a real locker room guy. If we can have him in the roster, a part of our group, I think it only makes us better.”
Nilsson isn’t the only defender added to the City ranks this summer, as the team added left-back Anthony Markanich from the Colorado Rapids in exchange for a bit of cash ($75k in 2023 General Allocation Money) and the first-round pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft.
Markanich likely joins the City fold as a depth piece, but already notched some minutes with his new teammates in the closed-door friendly against Atlanta United. Markanich made 13 appearances for Colorado this season and added seven for their reserve team Rapids 2 in MLS NEXT Pro.
New additions for City, but no new approach coming down to the home stretch of the Major League Soccer season.
“We’re just trying to pitch up and play our way,” said Bradley Carnell.
“When you play edgy, physical, fast, dynamic, quick, it becomes a problem (for the other team). Now teams are doing their homework, and playing with that edge against us. I get the feeling we bring out the best in a lot of teams.”
“It’s always uncomfortable, which is good for us. We can never take one moment to pause and relax, if we do, we get found out. We just have to stay true to who we are, and we’re not adapting or evolving for anyone else.”
Sunday’s match at CITY PARK against Austin FC is a reunion of sorts. Austin was the site of St. Louis City’s MLS debut, and of course, their big win in that debut.
“The first win is always a special one, right?” said Carnell Friday. “The first of anything you know. You always remember your firstborn, you remember your first love, your first of whatever.”
“The first game was very emotional for me personally. I think the players felt that too. And once that emotion, that weight, is off your shoulders, you can operate as business as usual.”
City returns to business as usual at 8:30 pm Sunday night at CITY PARK hosting Austin FC. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 and Apple TV, with local radio broadcasts available on KYKY 98.1 FM in English and KXOK 102.9 FM in Spanish.
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