St. Louis City SC Resumes MLS Play With a Bang

The team bested Austin 6-3 despite intense heat at Citypark

Aug 22, 2023 at 12:44 pm
click to enlarge Forward Nicholas Gioacchini says a short break brought City SC back and better than ever. - COURTESY OF CITY SC
Forward Nicholas Gioacchini says a short break brought City SC back and better than ever.

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

The intense pressing philosophy St. Louis City SC deploys is physically exhausting for players. Critics believed City’s performances would dip as the team ran out of gas during the summer months. But City’s emphatic 6-3 victory against Austin FC proved otherwise. 

City’s last competitive match came on July 27 with a 4-0 defeat to Club América in the Leagues Cup tournament. Head coach Bradley Carnell allowed players to take a 10-day break to prepare for the final phase of the Major League Soccer season, which they much appreciated.

“It was definitely great for the mind to recuperate, think about something else and come back to training with a different attitude and a stronger will to finish off the season,” City forward Nicholas Gioacchini said in a post-match interview. 

Prototypical City SC Goals

Most goals for City result from transition — moments when the team turns defense into offense — and set-pieces. Transitional play and set-pieces are chaotic, and City prides itself on being dominant when they happen. 

Midfielder Eduard Löwen stood over a free-kick in the 22nd minute. At that moment Austin unwisely left City’s Tim Parker unmarked. Apparently, they had forgotten that it had been Parker who scored the first goal in City history in a 3-2 victory against Austin FC on February 25. Löwen’s cross found Parker’s head and he directed the ball into the goal, putting City up 1-0.

City continued to dominate in transitional play, which led to its second goal. Löwen broke up an Austin attack and immediately passed the ball forward to Gioacchini. Gioacchini found himself one on one versus Austin’s Julio Cascante. 

Cascante attempted to delay Gioacchini but continued to retreat even as Gioacchini entered Austin’s penalty area. Cascante’s reluctance to engage Gioacchini allowed Gioacchini to shoot and score to double City’s lead in first-half stoppage time. 

City continued its transitional dominance after half-time as an unsuccessful Austin cross found City’s Rasmus Alm. Alm passed the ball to Aziel Jackson and ran forward into open space. Jackson managed to lob the ball into Alm’s path and Alm darted toward Austin’s goal. 

Alm selflessly crossed the ball to Gioacchini, but his shot was blocked by Austin’s Brad Stuver. Gioacchini reacted first to the rebound and scored to put City up 3-0 in the 50th minute of the match. 

A Third Opponent

Though both teams battled intensely against one another, together they faced another foe: the heat. The temperature had touched 100 degrees at 5 p.m. and was nearly 90 when the match started. Higher temperatures result in higher levels of fatigue, which drastically lower concentration levels. “When you run out of gas, your brain is telling you to do things, but your body can’t do it anymore,” Carnell said. “The concentration levels for both teams just becomes a real lottery to operate under those levels of fatigue.” 

That perhaps was a factor in a penalty favoring Austin in the 61st minute. 

An Austin corner-kick rebounded off City’s Joshua Yaro and the ball floated toward Gioacchini.One of the most basic rules in defending is to avoid clearing the ball to the center of the box. This is particularly important during a corner-kick because attacking players are clustered in that space, so an attempted clearance could inadvertently give the attacking team another opportunity. 

The trajectory of the ball made it difficult for Gioacchini to generate much power for a header. Gioacchini might have been able to clear the ball with his foot but he opted to head the ball away instead.

Gioacchini’s header fell to Austin’s Daniel Pereira at the edge of City’s penalty area. Pereira shot the ball. City’s Kyle Hiebert managed to block it. But the rebound fell to Austin’s Sebastián Driussi. Hiebert inexplicably decided to slide Driussi from behind. His rash decision resulted in an Austin penalty kick, which Druissi easily converted.

Carnell decided to bring on fresh legs in the 65th minute as Samuel Adeniran replaced Alm. Löwen flicked a City goalkick toward Adeniran who found himself one on one against Cascante. 

Similarly to his duel with Gioacchini, Cascante opted to contain and delay Adeniran rather than contest. The result was the same. Adeniran scored to give City a 4-1 lead in the 72nd minute. 

Austin refused to give up despite its three goal deficit. Carnell believes his team’s low energy levels allowed Austin to create dangerous opportunities. 

“The fatigue set in earlier than we anticipated and when the fatigue sets in, then you're not moving to be an option. You're not moving with and without the ball. You're not moving in transition. You're not supporting the play. And then we are getting stretched.” Carnell said. 

Four goals were scored in the last eight minutes of the match. 

Goalkeeper Roman Bürki played a key role in ensuring City would maintain its lead. “Everybody was very worn out, and then at the end of the day, you can see so many goals,” Löwen said. “Roman made some big saves.”

click to enlarge City SC scored four goals in the final eight minutes of Sunday's match. - COURTESY OF CITY SC
City SC scored four goals in the final eight minutes of Sunday's match.

Finishing Strong

City now boasts a seven-point lead atop the Western Conference with 10 matches remaining. The team has scored a league high 49 goals through 24 matches. 

Home field advantage in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs is a realistic possibility. Parker hopes City can continue to grow and tighten up on defense. “We have to be able to control the game a little bit better. Come the end of the year, come playoffs, we want to close the door on teams.”

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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