They lost their second home game. And they lost for the third time this season. To a team that even with that win is only one point away from missing the playoffs. A team that they had beaten convincingly a scant six weeks ago.
St. Louis City lost.
And losses suck.
St. Louis City Lost
— St Louis CITY SC (@stlCITYsc) April 30, 2023
“We Knew This Was Going to Be a Physical Battle”
“Portland just looked like the team that wanted it more and it hurts me to say that,” head coach, Brad Carnell, said afterwards. “We got what we deserved – we couldn’t match what they put out. This was very self-inflicted and that’s the disappointing thing – we don’t like playing like this in front of our fans.”
Again and again, Carnell and the players came back to the fans – how the team felt it had let down the sellout crowd who stood through it all, as they always do, even during this match’s gale-force winds and pelting rain. And you have to wonder, by the way, if these crowds mean something different to a guy who has toed the line in New Jersey, bringing quality sides to the pitch in front of half-empty arenas. You have to wonder if, say, a Jake Nerwinski or Tim Parker, who has heard the lonely echo of a ball bouncing around a desperately empty Bell Centre, feels a different kind of responsibility to a dedicated fan base than players who have spent their careers playing to full houses every week.
“The Guys Are Brutally Disappointed in the Locker Room”
But the test of a team, of any team, is not the loss. Teams lose. The test is what happens after the loss. Who is to blame? Where are the accusations? Where is the finger-pointing? And this team? This team pointed those fingers at themselves. “Did I give the right messages?” Carnell said afterwards, “I look to myself first.” “We do not blame the refs,” John Nelson said. “We deserved to lose,” Celio said.
Look, bonds are not forged in easy times. Bonds, like steel, are forged in heat, and tested under duress. For it is easy to stand up and take the bullet when you know there’s no bullet coming. But to stand up and say, “No, not the refs, no, not the Timbers, no, not the weather. It was us. We failed; we failed ourselves, we failed each other, we failed you.” That’s where the bonds are formed the make champions.
“We Let Them Walk All Over Us”
And you can say, well, that’s good old Midwestern American values right there. Except the coach is from South Africa, the captain is from Switzerland and the rest of the team are from Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, hell even Long Island. No, this is just values. This is just what adults do. This is what teammates who feel they’ve let each other, those around them, and their city, down.
Which, in a sense, is not surprising. Because what has always been remarkable about this team has been how connected they are to each other. On the pitch, they know where each other are without looking. They know where each other are going to be without seeming to have to think about it. They know the pace and the angle and who likes the pass over the left shoulder and who likes it over the right That’s remarkable in any team, but in an expansion team? It’s almost unheard of.
And it’s true off the pitch, as you heard in the post-game interviews after the tornado-delayed FC Cincinnati beatdown. Everyone – players, coaches, staff – talked about how they kept each other loose, kept each other focused, and kept the energy up. Hell, you even heard it after the Open Cup win, when Aziel Jackson credited his goals to the shoes Roman Burki loaned him. Yes, really.
“It Wasn’t Us Out There”
None of this is normal. The fact that there is chemistry here, is something special and unique. And the wonderful thing – yes, wonderful – about what happened on Saturday night when St. Louis City lost at CityPark was that the players experienced how fragile and rare that chemistry is. It’s there, but you have to respect it by earning it, every minute of every second of every game. Every second ball, every pass, every run, every tackle, every free kick. That special chemistry is there for them, in a way that it is not there for other teams. But they have no natural right to it. And Saturday reminded them what it feels like when they don’t have it because they didn’t earn it.
“No, I’m Not Disappointed. I’m Angry.”
Aziel Jackson’s father is Ali Jackson, the renowned jazz drummer. And his mentor was Elvin Jones, and Branford Marsalis tells this story. “A lot of younger musicians were hanging around with Elvin Jones, and they were talking about, ‘Man, you know, you guys had an intensity when you were playing with Coltrane. The author of this article means, what was it like? How does one play with that kind of intensity?’ And Elvin Jones looks at them and says, ‘You gotta be willing to die with the motherfucker.’ They started laughing like kids do, waiting for the punchline, and then they realised he was serious. How many people do you know that are willing to die—period? Die with anybody! And when you listen to those records, that’s exactly what they sound like. I mean that they would die for each other.”
— St Louis CITY SC (@stlCITYsc) April 30, 2023
Starting on Saturday against FC Dallas, the team and the league will see what the boys are willing to do to achieve what they are capable of achieving.
Photo Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports, of the Headshot of Yimmi Chara and the Headshot of Tomas Ostrak on April 29, 2023.