BenFred: As St. Louis City SC launches in 2023, reason for optimism mounts | ben fredrickson


Watch players who produce impressive stats within a new style of play.

Look at the fan response, whether measured by the crowd at a game or showing up at the airport to welcome a player who hasn’t played in one yet.

As the 2023 launch of Major League Soccer expansion team St. Louis City SC approaches, the hype is mounting. Just look.


St. Louis City2, the home team in the MLS development league that began in March, was riding a seven-game winning streak until a 2-1 loss to Colorado Rapids 2 on Saturday night at Korte Stadium in Southern Illinois Edwardsville. Of the 21 MLS Next teams in action, City2 is tied for second in wins (nine) and points (30). He has scored 28 goals and allowed just 16-14 games. City2 is in the top five for goals, assists and goal attempts, according to league records. Only three teams have allowed fewer goals, and no team has allowed fewer shots against or created more interceptions.

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City2 striker Josh Dolling is one of just 12 players in the league with six goals or more. Defender Josh Yaro is in the top five in interceptions. Midfielder Celio Pompeu is one of the top-ranked players in the league in various dribbling and passing categories. It can be argued that City2 is the best defensive team in their league. He has allowed 39 shots in 14 games. No other team has allowed less than 45.

Further down the MLS academy ranks, City’s under-17 and under-16 academy teams earned appearances in their respective national championship competitions. Forty-four of the 52 homegrown players are local products. Some were first seen by athletic director Lutz Pfannenstiel during one-man scouting trips to high school games shortly after he was hired.

Three new teams underway. Three new teams in the mix to be among the best in their class despite learning a new philosophy and discovering new teammates’ styles of play as they go. The result should be clear enough. All of this bodes well for the big team’s launch in 2023.

It suggests good things about the football talent this area produces, not surprisingly, but also the ability of this organization to explore it and combine it with additions brought in from the outside who fit the system.

Most importantly, these starter kits provide a preview of an on-field identity that should appeal to and entertain the most committed soccer enthusiasts, as well as engage rookies and newcomers. City wants to be aggressive, all the time. He wants to go on the attack and stay there, turning defense into attack. He wants to play in a way that forces people who think football is boring to realize they were wrong. Now, there are numbers, and wins, to back up the talk.

The vision was clear even in City2’s loss on Saturday, when City2 coach John Hackworth’s team spent the entire first half tilting the action toward Colorado after conceding an early goal. A furious shove came late and threatened to level the 2-1 loss. The early signs of a rivalry with Colorado are starting to blossom, as evidenced by a healthy dose of two-way trash talk after the final whistle. (Yes, the Kroenke sports empire also owns the Colorado soccer team.)

It was a 4th of July weekend. It was raining. It was a half-hour drive for many in the stands. People had all kinds of reasons not to come. But there was still a crowd big enough to stun one of the Rapids employees on the road trip. Tailgates appeared in the parking lot before and after the game. Few flags. A steady drum beat provided by a singing fan provided a bass line for the action. In attendance was goalkeeper Roman Burki, the biggest addition St. Louis City SC has made to its 2023 MLS roster to this point. Earlier that weekend, the former German Bundesliga staple had stepped off a plane to see a line of 50-something St. Louis fans welcoming him to the start of his three-year contract. Talk about a warm introduction.

“This is the best soccer city in the country,” Hackworth said after Saturday’s game. “It’s always been that way, and it’s going to get better and better for us.”

We knew the soccer fans here were hungry for MLS. It remains to be determined how competitive your team will be when it launches. The first signs are encouraging and they are increasing.