How City SC’s Anthony Markanich Went from Worst to First

The Illinois native struggled for playing time in Denver — only to notch six starts, and a goal, on St. Louis’ much better team

Oct 17, 2023 at 6:42 am
click to enlarge Anthony Markanich scored his first-ever MLS goal on August 30 in a 2-1 win against FC Dallas. - COURTESY CITY SC
Anthony Markanich scored his first-ever MLS goal on August 30 in a 2-1 win against FC Dallas.

This story was produced in partnership with the River City Journalism Fund.

Anthony Markanich started the 2023 Major League Soccer season with the Colorado Rapids. The Rapids ranked near the bottom of the Western Conference standings throughout the season. Markanich appeared in 10 out of a possible 23 matches in Colorado. He started in three of those matches and totaled 340 minutes. In short, Markanich was consistently benched on one of the worst teams in MLS. 

“It was tough,” Markanich says in an interview. “[Colorado] didn’t make any real changes, and young guys who didn’t really play much weren’t given a chance.” 

But Markanich turned heads when he unexpectedly joined St. Louis City SC on August 1. Luckily for Markanich, City thrives in identifying undervalued players and giving them opportunities to shine – and that has led to Markanich not only scoring his first MLS goal but also earning an assist and making nine appearances for City,

“We put belief and confidence into the players. We have belief and trust that what we are doing is the right way,” head coach Bradley Carnell says.

The Journey to Colorado

Markanich grew up in Bourbonnais, Illinois, just across the river and a few hours’ drive northwest of Citypark. He began to play soccer at age seven with his twin brother, Nick. “We competed in everything: Soccer, video games, literally everything. We made each other better. Without Nick, I wouldn’t have the same competitiveness,” Markanich says. 

The two brothers combined for a staggering 92 goals and 23 assists during their senior year at Bradley-Bourbonnais High School. Their talents led to them being recruited to play Division I soccer at nearby Northern Illinois University together. 

Despite his impressive pre-collegiate career, Anthony Markanich majored in sociology at NIU and thought of working in law enforcement because being drafted seemed unlikely. “I wasn’t a big prospect going into college,” Markanich says. 

But Markanich’s draft stock shot up after four stellar seasons at NIU. He appeared in 67 matches (all as a starter), and scored 17 goals while providing 24 assists. His 24 assists are tied for second all-time in NIU soccer history. Markanich’s offensive output as a left-back is what put him on the radar of several MLS teams for the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. 

Colorado drafted Markanich with the 26th pick in the first round. Nick was drafted 30th overall in the second round by FC Cincinnati. Since the draft occurred in January, the two brothers were unable to finish their final semester of college. Anthony Markanich decided to finish his final coursework online this semester. He will graduate with a sociology degree from NIU in December. 

“My parents were always big on school and education, so I wanted to finish for them,” Markanich says.

click to enlarge Markanich has played frequently since his move to City SC on August 1. - COURTESY CITY SC
Markanich has played frequently since his move to City SC on August 1.

Struggles in Colorado

Markanich needed time to adapt to the intensity and speed of the game in a professional environment in Colorado. Markanich appeared in three matches (all starts) during his rookie season in 2022. He learned a lot during training sessions and believed he could compete for more minutes in the 2023 season. 

But Markanich was given few opportunities in 2023. 

“I went to the coaches and asked a few times what I could do better so I could know what to focus on,” Markanich recalls. “They said I didn’t get the roles that they wanted from me in my position.” 

Interestingly, one of his opportunities included a substitute appearance against City on April 22 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “I just remember the pressing [from City]. It works and it’s hard to play against because everyone’s coming at you,” Markanich recalls. 

Markanich had been on City’s radar even before the match against Colorado. “We are data driven. We look at certain metrics and key attributes. If players fit the profile then we pair it with a character test and see how that could look in our game model,” Carnell says.

Markanich’s turnover rate, interceptions, crossing and offensive abilities were all qualities that intrigued City. City believed Markanich fit its profile and would provide depth at left-back. “We’ve been strategic. We don’t just sign random players throughout the season. We are looking at what players best fit our model,” Carnell says.

Markanich first learned of City’s interest in July. “A couple teams reached out, and one of them was St. Louis. I was happy and hoping [it would happen] because it’s closer to home,” Markanich says.

City’s interest surprised Markanich due to the lack of playing time he had in Colorado. But he was prepared to make the step up from the worst team in the Western Conference to the best one.

 “I love Colorado. But I wanted to get out to start playing more,” Markanich recalls.

click to enlarge Markanich feels right at home in City SC's aggressive playing style. - COURTESY CITY SC
Markanich feels right at home in City SC's aggressive playing style.

Revitilized in St. Louis

Carnell believed City could change Markanich’s fortunes despite his struggles in Colorado. 

“Some players get devalued because they might not be as pleasing on the eye test,” he says, referring to the sports term for evaluating a player solely on observation. “But we like that because we think we can compensate for any eye tests that go against the player. We compensate with some other values.” 

Markanich made his Citypark debut on August 30 against FC Dallas. He entered the match as a half-time sub for Kyle Hiebert. “Since [Dallas] was a man down, [Carnell] wanted to attack more on the left, so that was my role,” Markanich says.

Carnell’s half-time instructions clearly resonated with Markanich. Markanich broke the deadlock and scored his first ever MLS goal to put City 1-0 up in the 82nd minute. City ended the match with a 2-1 victory. “It was amazing. Especially for my family, they were so happy,” Markanich recalls. 

Markanich boasts nine appearances (six starts) since his move to City. “I thought the transition would take a lot longer. I didn’t think I’d be playing this much so early on,” Markanich says. The culture and team unity at City helped Markanich adjust quickly. “When I first got here, [Roman] Bürki and [Nicholas Gioacchini] took me out to dinner at Cafe Napoli, which was really nice,” Markanich recalls. 

The St. Louis Way

Markanich’s story of going from being undervalued at his former club to performing well at City is emblematic of the club’s recruitment strategy. Players like Jared Stroud, Samuel Adeniran and Nicholas Gioacchini struggled for opportunities at their previous clubs, but have thrived in City’s system. 

“It’s the system that puts players into a profile and a space where they can excel. So if a player is tried in other ways and it doesn’t work, we offer them our way to see if it works,” Carnell says. 

And the coach, for one, is feeling confident. The team has set numerous records throughout its inaugural MLS season, and City has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. “We like to go against the grain. This system is always the winner,” Carnell says.

Julian Trejo, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, is a native of Arkansas, and a former goalkeeper for several state championship teams. His work is supported by the River City Journalism Fund.

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