It seems like yesterday that FC Cincinnati was the new kid on the block. Flying high after a decent five-match start that saw them sitting on 7 points. Then, of course, the bottom fell out and Cincy received its first piece of wooden cutlery.
While the first five games for FCC were impressive at the time, it is nothing compared to the astounding start of St. Louis City SC. The league’s newest ‘City’ St. Louis won all five of its matches in March, but has since dropped both April matches vs. Minnesota and Seattle. Still, through seven matches St. Louis surely looks like a playoff contender.
Beginning with our Jersey Swap podcast, CST has reached out to local podcasters, journalists and fan media to provide an in-depth view of FC Cincy’s opponent for the week. I reached out to one of the leading St. Louis City SC sources, Matt Baker, to provide some additional insight on what to expect from the expansion side.
Matt (@MattBakerSTL), first-off, is a Louligan at heart along with being the co-host of Flyover Footy, a podcast that covers most things soccer in STL. He is also a contributor to the City SC Report and discusses City on St. Louis radio station KTRS 550.
Check out our short exchange in preparation for Saturday’s match!
Q: What area of the field is strongest for STL and what area gives you the most concern?
A: The middle of the field is where I think the biggest strength is for STL. Eduard Löwen leads the team in a lot of passing categories including assists and has really proved skillful with the ball at his feet in the middle of the field. His awareness is incredible and he has an ability a lot like Nico Lodeiro to draw players into him and know where the ball needs to be placed for a good chance to be created. We have a lot of underlapping runs from our wide mids that help to create space in our attacking middle too.
Getting up to the top, Klauss & Gioacchini have had a real nice partnership in creating chances for themselves – as long as they don’t get too wide from each other. STL plays best when they’re able to have numbers in the attack that creates a lot of lanes in transition. Klauss has also proven great at being a facilitator himself regardless of a 2 striker or lone-striker formation. He draws players to him well and can deliver a good ball inside when he finds himself deep to the side of the box.
While our backline is strong and the players are good in the system, our transitional defense is the one area that’s most concerning. If we’re countered, space opens up between the fullback and center backs and it’s sometimes difficult to be into position especially if we’re outnumbered. Burki will come off his line A LOT to help, and hasn’t been burned by it since Driussi did it at Austin – he often acts as another defender w/quick reflexes but the concern comes when he’s forced to fall back to his line and our defense doesn’t get set while in transition.
Q: STL had a great start roaring out to a five-game win streak. What are the expectations for the team this year?
A: The highest expectations by the fans to start the season was to make the playoffs and realistically, to squeak into that 8/9 slot. There’s a lot of pressure that comes from being the expansion side – I don’t need to tell your fans that – but our side talked a big game even as they tried to downplay expectations to just a “happy to be here” mantra with Lutz Pfannenstiel saying multiple times that the expectations for year 2 will be different.
However, tracking back 2 years ago to our Academy and last year with CITY2 – this young organization has a decent history of success already. GA Cup semis, Cup title game for CITY2… it’s and now that we started by winning 5 games, you started to see a decent amount of “the sky is falling” after 2 losses. The expectation is still making the playoffs – not even getting a home match yet – but these 2 losses in a row have definitely helped temper those wild ideas of supporter shield contenders in year 1.
Q: How has Johnny Nelson been playing after being taken from FCC in the expansion draft?
A: He’s been incredible, honestly. He came in and challenged Selmir Pidro for the starting left back spot and hasn’t looked back. He’s among our team leaders in duels, interceptions, multiple passing stats, and he should have at least 2 more assists than he does. Just an all around perfect type of player in our system who can push forward and deliver service to our attackers or track back to stop in transition. He’s been so good that he’s caused a good deal of our fanbase to wonder if we’ll ever get a chance to see Selmir Pidro in an MLS match.
Q: Are there any injuries, suspensions, etc. that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
A: A few injuries, no suspensions. Joakim Nilsson, CB from Sweden is still out until at least late May after knee surgery. Njabulo Boom is out. We found out on Tuesday that the groin injury he sustained in Seattle is going to sideline him for 5-6 weeks. Rasmus Alm suffered a knee contusion against RSL and has missed the last 2 matches but Bradley Carnell has said he’s pretty close but he’ll probably go into the weekend as questionable.
We’re likely to roll out a 4-2-3-1 or a more vertical 4-4-2 (Carnell likes to call it a 4-2-2-2. We’ve ran the 4-4-2 four times this year and haven’t run the 4-2-3-1 since 3/11 at Portland. It all depends on if Nicholas Gioacchini starts or not. I think especially if Rasmus Alm isn’t able to go or is on a minutes limit, we’ll go with a 4-4-2 that sees Nelson, Hiebert, Parker, Nerwinski, Löwen, Vassilev, Ostrák, Stroud, Gioacchini and Klauss.
I have yet to pick STL to lose and at home, this won’t be the first time. I’ll say 1-0 St. Louis.