ST. LOUIS - Saturday started off hot in St. Louis, and stayed heated on the CITY PARK pitch Saturday night. An intense affair between St. Louis City and Houston Dynamo saw the hosts win 3-0, and get under the skin of their MLS Western Conference opponents.
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“This was a week about belief and momentum,” said St. Louis head coach Bradley Carnell following the match. “I’m so proud of my group for the character they showed, the resiliency they showed.”
City knew they were in for a scrappy affair against Ben Olsen’s Houston Dynamo team. They were prepared for tensions to boil over on what was a sweltering Saturday in St. Louis.
To stave off this potential aggression, it was imperative that City took control early. They did exactly that in the 9th minute.
Indiana Vassilev scampered into the Houston box and was given a hard shove to the ground, and referee Joe Dickerson didn’t hesitate to point to the penalty spot.
Up stepped Eduard Löwen, who converted his third penalty in as many tries this MLS season. City were up a goal and only 10 minutes were off the clock.
“Edu (Löwen)’s penalty kick was sent with a message,” said Bradley Carnell. “The last few games have been dictated by set pieces. Credit to every one of our guys who get into the dangerous areas and force the opponent to make mistakes.”
Houston upped their pressure after going behind, as one would expect, but they didn’t create any clear goal-scoring opportunities with their pressure. City’s defense generally dealt with the pressure the Dynamo would put on, even if it occasionally took some help from their holding midfielders, Njabulo Blom and Eduard Löwen.
“(Blom) is really big for us,” Carnell noted. “Sometimes you hold your breath after a turnover, and we’ve been able to have either him or Edu Löwen step up and break up play.”
While Lowen’s penalty goal was the only tally of the first half, it certainly wasn’t the only action.
In stoppage time, a skirmish broke out, with Houston’s Ivan Franco in the middle of it all.
Franco was given a straight red card on the pitch by Joe Dickerson for what was judged to be an elbow to St. Louis City’s Niko Gioacchini. That wasn’t all, as a melee between City and Houston players ensued.
Pleasantries exchanged, dinner plans made, and a few friendly shoves went back and forth before the referees and players themselves decided to break up the tussle.
Franco protested his red card, his team protested, but nevertheless, he walked down the tunnel to the visitors’ dressing room. But upon a VAR (video assistant referee) review, Franco’s straight red was rescinded, and changed to a yellow card.
CITY PARK wasn’t too happy about that one, and continued to voice their displeasure for a while after the call was rescinded. City went into halftime 1-0, and both teams went into halftime with their tails up.
“It was good that (the skirmish) happened before halftime,” Carnell said. “We got to go into the locker room and relax and not let emotions take over.”
Carnell and St. Louis City have thrived on getting under the skin of their opponents.
“I think the frans bring that energy, and we have it really good here.” Carnell said.
“We play on the knife’s edge of what’s allowed, and that’s allowed.”
City Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel joked a little bit when asked about getting that annoyance that City has caused their MLS opponents.
“It’s fun to irritate other people,” he said.
With a 1-0 lead but the game resting on that proverbial knife’s edge, and hostility brewing between both sides, City needed a second goal to take control. Seven minutes into the second half, they found it.
It’s worth mentioning that Houston keeper Steve Clark seemed to be working out/stretching a lot and practicing during halftime instead of going in for a break. Judging by his movement, it seemed that Clark was dealing with a bit of an injury, but was still manning his post.
Knowing this, City lined up for a corner differently than usual, they instead crowded Clark in his six-yard box. If Clark’s movement is restricted, he certainly won’t be able to navigate a tangle of bodies and limbs to claim a cross.
In whipped Edu Löwen’s cross, and it bounced to the grateful City midfielder Tomas Ostrak, who poked home from maybe a yard away from goal.
“Feels great to score a goal in a great win,” said Ostrak following the match. “Obviously Klauss is missing, so it’s important that we are able to fill in for him.”
VAR would play a role again late on, when Aziel Jackson was bowled over in the 18-yard box in the 82nd minute. Originally, there was no foul call on the play, simply a motion from the referee to Jackson to get up.
The VAR buzzed down to the head ref, and after a trip to the monitor, a penalty was awarded. Up stepped Eduard Löwen, who then handed the ball to City striker Niko Gioacchini, and he smashed his penalty into the back of the net to send the City faithful into frenzy.
Löwen is City’s designated penalty kick taker, and Bradley Carnell said he wasn’t too thrilled by the decision to give the ball to Gioacchini, but that he supports Löwen supporting his teammates.
“I wanted to do something good for my teammate,” said Eduard Löwen postgame. “So I thought about it and gave Niko the penalty. If he doesn’t score, it’s not my fault,” he laughed. “But I was very confident that he would score.”
There were 10 more minutes played, but that was mostly a formality. The game was well over. Roman Bürki threw in a lunging save in the final minutes to deny a Houston consolation goal just for fun, and to remind everyone to vote for him for the MLS All-Star game.
“We have so much room to grow,” said Bradley Carnell. “We’ve spoken about accountability and being open and honest with each other. We’re halfway there, with so much more soccer to play.”
Three goals, three points, another clean sheet for Roman Bürki, an ideal night at the office for St. Louis City. They sweep their three game homestand, and now look to their midweek resumption of the FC Dallas away match that was suspended due to severe weather.
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