St. Louis City SC's Leagues Cup Debut Ends in Defeat

The team may have lost momentum due to the nearly four hour inclement weather delay

Jul 25, 2023 at 2:13 pm
click to enlarge Aziel Jackson on the ball in City's 2-1 defeat against the Columbus Crew.
Aziel Jackson on the ball in City's 2-1 defeat against the Columbus Crew.

The Columbus Crew are one of the most ball dominant teams in Major League Soccer. Columbus’ possession-based approach was on full display as it defeated St. Louis City SC 2-1 at Field in the group stage of the Leagues Cup tournament.

Inclement weather in Columbus prevented the scheduled 6:30 p.m. kickoff, which did not take place until 10:16 p.m. The delay proved to be a challenge for the visitors as they attempted to stay focused and relaxed in the locker room.

“We watched City2 [City’s reserve team] and watched a couple other [Leagues Cup] games. We just let the players be and do their things,” head coach Bradley Carnell said in a post-match press conference.

Though both teams compete in MLS, Sunday night’s match was played for the Leagues Cup tournament. All 47 teams in MLS and Liga MX (the domestic soccer league of Mexico) participate in the tournament. The reigning champions of each league receive a bye into the knockout round, while the remaining 45 teams are seeded into 15 groups of three.

CONCACAF ( the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), the governing soccer federation, organizes the competition. The two finalists and third best team in Leagues Cup earn spots in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, an international tournament consisting of the best teams in the region. The Leagues Cup final will be on August 19. The MLS regular season will resume on August 20.

A Disappointing Debut
Columbus seemed unfazed by City’s press throughout the match. Their equanimity enabled the team to create numerous dangerous opportunities.

This calmness allowed Columbus to earn a dangerous free-kick in the ninth minute. Columbus’ Gustavo Vallecilla recovered a loose ball near midfield and passed it to Aidan Morris. City’s Tomás Ostrák and Rasmus Alm pressed Morris but Morris passed the ball forward to Darlington Nagbe.

Nagbe initially received the ball facing away from City’s goal. City’s Miguel Perez immediately pressed from behind Nagbe’s left side. Nagbe used Perez’s momentum to his advantage by calmly turning right with the ball into open space.

Nagbe dribbled the ball into a dangerous area and City’s Jonathan Bell fouled Nagbe. Columbus’ set-piece specialist Lucas Zelarayán stood over the free-kick. City’s goalkeeper Ben Lundt stood motionless as Zelarayán scored to give Columbus a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute.

Carnell rested captain and starting goalkeeper Roman Bürki for the match against Columbus. City supporters on social media questioned what appeared to be a lack of effort on Lundt’s part. They believed Bürki would have made the save.

But there was little Lundt could have done. Most free-kicks are shot over the wall of defenders and goalkeepers position themselves where they can always see the ball. In this case, Zelarayán’s shot went around the wall and for a brief moment, Lundt was unable to see the ball. As a result Lundt remained stationary as Zelarayán’s shot hit the back of the net.

Columbus’ second goal was emblematic of its bravery to break City’s press. Columbus center-back Sean Zawadski received the ball in Columbus’ half of the pitch. He dribbled past City’s Samuel Adeniran and ran through the heart of City’s midfield.

“We were open too much through the middle,” Carnell said later. City allowed a center back to freely dribble 20 yards forward, and Columbus punished City accordingly.

None of City’s midfielders confronted Zawadski as he passed the ball to right wingback Mohamed Farsi. Farsi passed the ball to Christian Ramírez who crossed it to Cucho Hernández in the penalty area. As Hernández shot the ball it made contact with the outstretched arm of City’s Lucas Bartlett. Referee Reon Radix believed Bartlett committed a handball violation and awarded Columbus a penalty kick. Hernández scored the penalty to give Columbus a 2-0 lead in the 29th minute. Columbus continued to dominate the second half as City’s offense lacked its usual spark.

Finally in the 85th minute, City rallied with Indiana Vassilev crossed the ball on a corner kick to Nicolas Gioacchini who flicked the ball toward Columbus’ goal. The ball deflected off Columbus’ Jacen Russell-Rowe and into the net. Columbus held on to its 2-1 lead for the remainder of the match.

Delays Took a Toll
Carnell would have preferred for tournament officials to make a definitive decision on the kickoff time rather than receiving updates every three minutes in the locker room.

The coach believes the constant updates and delaying kickoff affected his players’ mentality. “We are not robots, and the players can’t just flick a switch and get active,” he said after the game. “That’s something that was lacking a little bit tonight: the thought and care and welfare of the players.

“You could feel a bit of edginess and disappointment [between the players], but it was the same for Columbus as well,” he added. “We just have to travel. That’s the only difference between the two teams.”

City Still has a Chance in the Leagues Cup
Despite the defeat, City’s Leagues Cup journey is far from over. City and Columbus compete in Group D along with Liga MX team Club América. The top two teams from each group qualify for the round of 32.

City’s final group game will be against América on Thursday at Citypark. Qualifying in first place is unlikely, but City could possibly qualify in second place with a convincing victory over América.

But América is the most successful team in Liga MX history with 13 league titles. América finished in second place during the 2023 Liga MX Clausura regular season and made it to the semi-finals of the Liguilla (essentially the equivalent of reaching a Conference Final in MLS).

Carnell believes his team has an abundance of options and will be prepared for its match against América. “We’ll discuss this as a staff and come up with the best plan possible for Club América,” he said.

This reporting was supported by the River City Journalism Fund.

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