Club América Hits St. Louis City SC With a Reality Check

St. Louis City's 4-0 loss bounces the team from the Leagues Cup

Jul 28, 2023 at 1:40 pm
click to enlarge Despite a strong starting lineup, City SC struggled against Club América.
Despite a strong starting lineup, City SC struggled against Club América.

Club América is one of the most storied clubs in global soccer, whereas City is a club in its infancy. And it surely looked that way on a steamy evening at Citypark with América dismantling the home team 4-0 in a Leagues Cup matchup.

América is one of the best teams in North and Central America. It holds the record for the most titles in Liga MX ( the domestic Mexican soccer league) with 13. América is also the most successful club in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, an international tournament consisting of the best teams from North and Central America. It holds a record seven championships.

“[América] looked 100 years old in their history. We looked like seven months old in our journey,” head coach Bradley Carnell said in a post-match press conference.

The defeat signaled City’s exit from Leagues Cup at the group stage phase of the tournament.

But it could have been worse. América failed to capitalize on an abundance of opportunities it generated with its deft playmaking. The ease with which América broke through City’s press reflected the gap in quality between both sides. “[América is] very good on the ball. They don't make a lot of mistakes. So, at moments when we thought we had them, we didn’t,” center-back Tim Parker said.

A Fortunate First Half
The greatest challenge for City throughout the match was defending América’s two strikers Henry Martín and Julián Quiñones. Martín and Quiñones finished as the top two goal scorers in the Liga MX’s 2023 Clausura tournament, which ended in May.

Martín and Quiñones are mobile target strikers. Both are capable of challenging defenders for aerial balls, but can also run through the channels and shield the ball to give their teammates time to join the attack.

The question was not if Martín and Quiñones would be able to create opportunities, but rather how many the duo would generate. An América goal kick started an intricate array of headers and passes leading to the first goal. The initial kick found Quiñones who headed the ball forward to Martín. City’s Parker intercepted the pass, but Quiñones managed to head the ball back to Martín.

Martín flicked the ball into space for Quiñones. Quiñones proceeded to pass the ball forward to Leonardo Suárez. City’s Eduard Löwen pressured Suárez, but Suárez managed to dribble past Löwen to pass the ball back to Quiñones.

As the ball traveled to Quiñones, Martín began his run off-the-ball to evade Parker. Quiñones passed the ball to Martín who scored to put América 1-0 up in the fifth minute.

From there América completely dominated the first-half, though scoring just one goal off of nine shots. América’s wastefulness provided City an opportunity to regroup and adjust accordingly for the second half.

Deploying two center-backs was simply inadequate to deal with the threat posed by Martín and Quiñones. The duo thrive in 1v1 situations and combination plays, and the two center-back formation used by City provided Martín and Quiñones too much space.

Adjusting to a three center-back formation would have minimized the space afforded to Martín and Quiñones, but Carnell opted against making changes at half-time.

A Disastrous Second-Half
Carnell’s reluctance to make changes meant the second-half started right where the first-half left off. It was only a matter of time before the visitors scored another goal.

América doubled its lead off an exceptional corner-kick routine in the 50th minute. Suárez passed the ball short off the corner-kick to Kevin Álvarez. Álvarez passed the ball to Álvaro Fidalgo who passed it back to Suárez.

City’s Akil Watts marked Quiñones, and Quiñones took advantage of the mismatch. Suárez crossed the ball, and Quiñones flicked it into the goal.

América’s third goal demonstrated why City perhaps should have switched to a three center-back formation. An América counter-attack found Quiñones on the wing. City pushed numbers forward in search of a goal and left Parker isolated with Martín at midfield.

After a few rebounds, the ball found Álvarez who ran unmarked and scored in the 54th minute. City’s defensive positioning on the goal was subpar, but an extra center-back to aid Parker might have prevented the goal.

Carnell pulled Watts in favor of Célio Pompeu immediately following the goal and City reverted to a 3-5-2.

Trailing 3-0 meant City committed numbers forward and were once more vulnerable to a counterattack. América’s Brian Rodríguez kick-started a counterattack in the 77th minute.

Rodríguez passed the ball to Suárez who crossed it into the box. Alejandro Zendejas scored to put América up 4-0.

An Expected Defeat
América is the best team City will play all season. Carnell views his team’s defeat as a wake-up call. “We’ve been living in a fairy tale, in a dream world of proving people wrong. Then you match up against an opposition like this and you get to kind of see where your levels are at, individually, tactically, collectively which is not a bad thing.”

There was little City could do to stop any of América’s four goals. It was a story of good defense facing better offense. When facing an effective ball-dominant team such as América, City relies on mistakes and turnovers to generate offense.

But a well-oiled machine like América makes very few mistakes, therefore opportunities were scarce for City throughout the match. City would’ve preferred to advance in Leagues Cup, but an early exit provides a much-needed break for the team. City’s next match is on August 20 against Austin FC at Citypark.

Players will have a week off to recover and recharge for the final phase of the Major League Soccer season. Carnell’s instructions to his players are clear. “Now is the time to think about your families, go home and enjoy some family time. Switch off, don't think about soccer for a little bit because there’s going to be enough to do in the next couple weeks.”

City sits atop the Western Conference with four point lead over second place Los Angeles FC with 11 matches to go in the season. City can now focus all its energy on finishing the season strong and making a deep run in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Löwen believes the break will benefit City. “We'll try to rest as well as possible and come back with a fresh mind and body. Then we'll get back to the league again.”

This reporting was supported by the River City Journalism Fund.

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