ST. LOUIS - A constant message from St. Louis City head coach Bradley Carnell this season has been avoiding complacency. A team nobody expected to succeed has largely done just that, succeeded, because they’ve kept pushing throughout the grueling MLS season.
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On Saturday night at CITY PARK, City seemed just a bit lethargic early, and it cost them dearly. Two first-half goals from Seattle put City in a hole, one they did not climb out of, losing 2-0.
Both teams were greeted by the City faithful, and a large tifo in the north end of the stadium that read “THIS IS OUR HOME” depicting a number of City players, as well as City CEO Carolyn Kindle and CITY PARK itself. The banner was a project led by St. Louis City Punks but was a collaborative effort amongst the network of City supporters groups.
It was City who had the first few chances of the game. The first came just four minutes into the contest when City’s Eduard Lowen curled in one of his patented free kicks. Aziel Jackson jumped for a glancing header, one that was comfortably saved by Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Joao Klauss would have a chance off a corner kick moments later but sent a shot from close range over the crossbar. In the 23rd minute, City would pay for missing that chance.
A great passing move by Seattle, one where they played a number of short, quick passes to open up the City defense, ended with Cristian Roldan breaking into City’s 18-yard box, where he cut a pass back to Albert Rusnak, who hit a hard and low shot that beat Roman Burki to his right.
“Bad defending,” said a frustrated Roman Burki following the match. “They started from (midfield) and played through the whole field. It was a nice goal from Seattle, but very poor defending from us.”
Njabulo Blom had a long-range shot saved by Stefan Frei, and that was really all of the goalmouth action for City in the first half, one where they felt they weren’t up to standard.
“We have to put our hand up,” said City head coach Bradley Carnell. “We have to say the first half was not good enough. Against a team like (Seattle) who don’t give much away, we have to take chances.”
Their first half would go from bad to worse in the 38th minute, when Tim Parker attempted to block a cross from Seattle’s Reed Baker-Whiting, but ended up deflecting the ball beyond Roman Burki and into the City goal.
In a season of firsts for the expansion St. Louis City SC, there were two new firsts in their final game of the regular season: Tim Parker’s first own goal in CITY Red, and the first time City have trailed by two at halftime.
City almost started the second half going down by three goals, when Leo Chu ran through the City defense and forced Roman Burki to meet him in the City box. Chu’s shot beat Burki, but Tim Parker made a brilliant defensive play, clearing the ball off the goal line to keep it a two-score game.
City “huffed and puffed”, as Bradley Carnell put it, in the second half, piling on the pressure as they tried to fight back into the game. Part of Seattle’s, and in honesty, many soccer teams’ playbook with a late lead is to waste time, to exaggerate the amount of time needed for everything.
Another sold-out CITY PARK crowd wasn’t too thrilled with the tactics, unleashing a chorus of boos each time it was deemed that a Seattle Sounder was taking a bit too long to get the game going again.
In particular was goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who made sure to take plenty of time each time the ball came his way. He was the most fiercely booed of all of Seattle’s timewasters, but City goalkeeper Roman Burki admitted that he’d likely do the same in the same situation.
“I probably would have done the same if it were me, to be honest,” said Burki postgame. “I know it’s hard on the field at that moment (when a team is time-wasting) but that’s just a part of the game.”
A small handful of Seattle players saw yellow cards for their part in trying to run down the clock, and the final whistle blew on what was a rather anticlimactic conclusion to City’s regular season.
“Obviously, I’m not happy with both of our performances, both in Vancouver and against Seattle,” said City midfielder Eduard Lowen following the loss. “The second half wasn’t as bad, but we couldn’t score, and couldn’t create many chances.”
While nothing material was on the line, City’s postseason position being all locked up, a win for City on Saturday night would have broken the record for points in a season by an MLS expansion franchise.
It was a goal that Bradley Carnell and the club had set internally as they rattled through their targets for the season. The loss means City will fall short of that record, but nothing can be taken away from what they’ve achieved in St. Louis already.
“To be sitting in this position, you know, I have to give credit to the club, to the ownership group, to the fans,” said Bradley Carnell after the game, thinking of the bigger picture. “They stood by us through everything. They have given us a platform. They set a standard and we have followed suit. Unfortunately, that got away from us a little bit tonight, especially in the first half, and we apologize for that.”
“But look at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture brings a lot of joy to us, and to think of the experiences and the joy that we've given the city of St. Louis, has been something amazing and something memorable. Each and every one of us will take this with us for the rest of our careers. But we have to go into (the playoffs) with the mindset that we’re not done yet.”
As the regular season comes to a rather surreptitious end, going out quietly instead of making a statement of intent for the postseason, there’s a desire to hit the reset button for City.
“We have to get ourselves together,” said Eduard Lowen. “We have to work this week and focus on the playoffs as if this season never happened, as if we’re not the first-place team in the Western Conference like we didn’t lose the last two games. The regular season doesn’t matter. The playoffs start now, and we’re trying to treat that like a new season.”
City awaits their first-round opponent, which will either be the San Jose Earthquakes or their budding rivals to the west Sporting Kansas City. Sporting KC hosts San Jose on Wednesday night to determine who will head to St. Louis to take on City.
The winner of that matchup will make their way to CITY PARK on Sunday, October 29, for a late 9 p.m. kickoff.
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