And now the games come fast and furious. Some MLS teams, like Vancouver, played on last Wednesday before jetting to weekend matches. Many played this Wednesday before heading to more matches on the first weekend in June. It’s almost more than a poor, overburdened, underpaid and ridiculously good-looking St. Louis City soccer writer can keep up with. And Memorial Day weekend didn’t help.
It’s a Recap. It’s a Preview. It’s a RecapeReview.
But sometimes the footie gods take pity and reveal connections that would be hidden to mere mortals. St. Louis City played Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. They play Houston Dynamo this Saturday. And in between? Vancouver and Houston play each other. So buckle up, dear reader, for a combo recap-preview – a recap review as it were. Maybe the first in the history of the world. Probably not. But maybe. So stop quibbling.
What Did St. Louis City Learn From the Vancouver Match That They Can Use Against Houston?
Well, for starters, Houston would be out of their bloody minds to give Eduard Lowen even the shadow of a chance at a free kick. If you haven’t seen what he did to Vancouver, see it here with Eduard Lowen’s goal. Of course, that’s easier said than done against a St. Louis City side that plays physically, especially at home, so good luck with that.
Then there’s the fact that the new formation and personnel that Coach Bradley Carnell instituted against Sporting KC seems to have worked as well against Vancouver as it did against “the artists formerly known as ‘The Wiz‘”. Njabulo Blom playing above the backline not only shores up the defense, but it also frees up Lowen to build the attack. And as Louwen said after the match, the relationship he and Blom are developing is strengthening with each game. That, combined with Indiana Vassilev playing up top with Nic Gioacchini creates just the kind of space the youngster needs to showcase his remarkable speed. Oh and also Indy knows how to score goals.
— St Louis CITY SC (@stlCITYsc) May 28, 2023
And speaking of scoring goals, do you know who else can do that? Eighteen-year-old, St. Louis native (and recent high school graduate – shout out to Pattonville High) Miguel “Miggy” Perez – scored his first MLS goal against Vancouver, picking up a rebound in the 94-minute and sending the sell-out crowd at CityPark into paroxysms of joy.
That brings the number of St. Louis City goal scorers to 11. And that’s exactly the kind of distribution that the Philadelphia Union rode to an MLS Cup Final last year. Houston, you have been warned.
What Should St. Louis City SC Be Thinking About When Facing Houston?
Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news here. Let’s start with the good news: travel. St. Louis isn’t doing any and Houston is doing a ton. The Dynamo flew to Vancouver for a Wednesday match (a leg-cramping 2,400 miles), and they are likely planning their flights to St. Louis for Saturday’s game (another 2100 miles of small seats, bad food, and recycled air). Meanwhile, St. Louis City will be, um, staying in St. Louis. And playing one fewer match. So advantage > St. Louis.
— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) May 28, 2023
But the bad news has to do with how Houston beat Austin last Saturday night. Ivan Franco scored in the 87-minute. And that is worrisome for fans of St. Louis City. Because in both the Sporting Kansas City match and the Vancouver Whitecaps match, St Louis City were truly hanging on by their fingernails for the final 20 minutes. Indeed, were it not for some “stand on his head” heroics by Roman Burki, those six points could have easily ended in two points – or fewer – and St. Louis City would find itself sitting a heckuva lot closer to Houston and Vancouver in the Western Conference standings than they currently are. Houston also beat Vancouver on Wednesday.
What Can St. Louis City Learn From Those Two Teams Playing Each Other at Midweek?
Prior to Wednesday night’s match, DraftKings had Vancouver as the favorite at -155 (Houston +360, draw +295). Thus, by the transitive property of the Whitecaps, SLCSC should beat Houston because St. Louis beat Vancouver and DraftKings thinks Vancouver will beat Houston. Got that? (Breaking news: DraftKings was right. oh boy were they right).
Meanwhile, MLSsoccer.com ranks Vancouver at 13th and Houston at 18th (with St. Louis at a lofty seventh) and curiously, ESPN.com has Houston at 12th and Vancouver at 13th (St. Louis at fifth). But whichever power rankings you put faith in, both are using phrases like “a lot of work to do” and “working its way back to being competitive” to describe Houston and “the results are frustrating” and “disaster in front of their own goal” to describe Vancouver. This basically means, that whoever wins will have beaten a team with some serious flaws. Which bodes well for St. Louis City. (Breaking news: this piece is being written during that match – thanks AppleTV – and yeah, serious flaws is a polite way of putting it).
So Should St. Louis City Be Concerned About Houston or What?
Right now FanDuel has St. Louis as the favorite (-125, Houston +310, draw 240). And while that’s encouraging (in a “well Vegas knows what they’re doing, right?”), one must admit that the injuries for St. Louis are beginning to accumulate. As of this writing Rasmus Alm, Joakim Nilsson and Caden Glover are all out, as, of course, is Joao Klauss. For a team that is as thin as St. Louis City is, Alm and Nilsson’s absence only adds to that lack of depth and flexibility. (And for what it’s worth, Jared Stroud sitting out Saturday’s match with yellow card accumulation isn’t going to help either)
And Klauss? Well, everyone wants Klauss back, and everyone wants Klauss back NOW but also, everyone wants Klauss back healthy. That said, the team is clearly learning how to score goals without him and that will undoubtedly pay dividends when he does return. And frankly, if he has to miss games, it’s better he miss them against mid-table sides like Houston and Vancouver than against, say, Nashville or Dallas or San Jose or LAFC.
So It’s a Bit of a Mixed Bag. But Consider This:
Before Saturday’s match, as the players took their warm-ups and before the sprinklers came on, an injured bird wandered lonely as a cloud along the north side of the pitch. Yes, really. A few players darted around, trying to catch it. But it proved elusive – and anyway, they had warmups to do, so they gave up. But Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel saw the bird, slowly followed it, patiently approached it and then gathered it up and took it out of danger – to the cheers of the fans who were slowly filing into CityPark.
A hundred minutes later, St. Louis had its second home win in a row. And they were in second place in the West, one point behind Seattle (who had played two more games than they had). Which means what?
It means patience pays off. Or maybe Lutz knows what he’s doing.
Or maybe both.
Photo Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports on May 27, 2023, of the St. Louis City SC Fans Headshot.
The post A Bird in Hand: SLCSC, Vancouver Whitecaps & Houston Dynamo appeared first on Last Word On Soccer.