Inside St. Louis City SC ahead of their MLS debut vs. FC Austin

Champions League experience, ‘BRAINWASHING’ pressing patterns into players and a coaching staff with a point to prove: Inside St. Louis City SC ahead of their MLS debut this weekend

  • Coach Bradley Carnell is bringing a high-pressing style to the expansion club
  • The team will play their first game on Saturday vs. FC Austin away from home 
  • Click here for all your latest international Sports news from 

As Roman Burki edged closer to leaving Borussia Dortmund last year, it wouldn’t have been crazy to expect a battle for his signature.

The goalkeeper had spent seven years (mostly as a starter) at the German powerhouse, making 210 Bundesliga appearances and starring in the Champions League.

He officially found a new home in March 2022. But when he signed with MLS expansion outfit St. Louis City SC, there wasn’t exactly a bidding war by his own telling.

‘I think [Lutz Pfannenstiel] was the only sporting director who really asked about me,’ he told

‘And I could imagine playing in MLS for a new team, and just the whole project, the whole new club from scratch basically was really attractive for me to help build the club.’

Roman Burki will look to provide leadership in the goal for St. Louis in their first season

He previously played for seven years at Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s powerhouses

He’s not the only one in St. Louis with a bit of a point to prove.

Roughly half of the club’s roster is without MLS experience (either they’ve played abroad or hadn’t ascended to MLS domestically yet), and some, like ex-Koln midfielder Tomas Ostrak, bounced around on loan deals at their previous clubs.

‘It was for me a good feeling because it’s like, “OK they really want me,'”‘ he said.

The team’s head coach, Bradley Carnell, will also be eager to repay the club’s faith in him as he takes on his first permanent head coaching job and leads a ‘largely inexperienced’ staff in St. Louis.

There will be learning for Carnell and his assistants to do, and jelling for his players to do as well. 

But St. Louis – who make their MLS debut this Saturday vs. FC Austin – are viewing the challenge ahead as a rallying cry, not a burden on their shoulders.

‘We almost wanna take that tag [being an expansion team] and almost strengthen us,’ Carnell told

‘Our unit, our bond, our togetherness. If there’s so many of these dangers around the corner of an expansion team or warning signs or it’s really difficult – forget the first year, I wanna use this to energize us. I wanna use this to empower us. I wanna use these messages to build a team and almost want the team to play with a chip on their shoulder.’

While 12 players on the current roster – including Burki, Ostrak and the team’s two designated players, Klauss and Eduard Lowen – got to know each other last year by playing on St. Louis’ second team, there’s still been extensive work for Carnell to do in getting this group up to speed.

Bradley Carnell will look to bring an aggressive pressing style to St. Louis as head coach

St. Louis defender Kyle Hiebert pressures Bayer Leverkusen’s Adam Hlozek on November 18

Fans packed out St. Louis’ brand new CITYPARK stadium when Bayer Leverkusen came to town

A disciple of the Red Bull system, as he served as an assistant (and briefly interim head coach) for four years in New York, Carnell is aiming to bring a similarly aggressive, high-pressing style to the Midwest. It wasn’t that straightforward drilling his ideas home initially.

‘The first week, it was like a shock to the system,’ he said.

‘It was almost a brainwashing, just get guys focused and dialed in [on] what we’re trying to do. And sometimes it feels really uncomfortable doing the things we wanna do, and when we’re telling the defenders to step in certain areas.’

The players, though, seem to have taken to the high-octane style.

‘I love it,’ striker and Missouri native Nicholas Gioacchini said. ‘It’s tough at first. Once you get into the groove of it, it’s magic, it’s awesome.

‘It’s football, it’s being aggressive, it’s being able to put teams in difficult situations and capitalizing on it. And I’d say we have the team for it. We have the mentality for it, we have the physique for it. And we’re ready to go fully on with his tactics.’

Tomas Ostrak is seen during a preseason friendly vs. the LA Galaxy on February 8

The first-time head coach’s vision for his side – he wants the team to thrive with the ball, too – has been molded with the nascent club’s supporters in mind.

‘I think it goes further than just the team,’ Carnell said. ‘I think it goes to what type of brand and soccer style appeals to a certain public. Just thinking about the city of St. Louis and the community, just to play an energized brand of soccer. 

‘We know it’s gonna be – yeah, we’re the new kids on the block, so what does that mean? And how can we mitigate that? And we feel that the best way to mitigate it is to be a collective, work as a team.’

While St. Louis has yet to kick a ball in a competitive game, the area comes with soccer fans and history that far precede the club.

Considered the ‘soccer capital’ of the US, the city has produced 76 members of the US men’s and women’s national teams (including Tim Ream and Josh Sargent of the last men’s World Cup), and the sport has been played there since at least the late 1800’s.

CITYPARK has a capacity of 22,500 people, and players expect a good atmosphere this year

Carnell, who referred to the MLB’s Cardinals and NHL’s Blues as the team’s ‘brothers,’ is fully aware of St. Louis’ storied sporting legacy. 

‘There’s a lot of history and we keep this with us every single day,’ he said. ‘This guides us, it forms us, it shapes us.’

More recently, St. Louis’ love of soccer has translated to an organized supporters group.

Formed in 2010, the ‘St. Louligans’ have been supporting local teams like AC St. Louis in the NASL and Saint Louis FC in the USL Championship (now both defunct) for more than a decade.

And with a team to root for now in the country’s top flight, the local response has been massive.

Tickets for the club’s first home match (vs. Charlotte FC on March 5) went on sale earlier this month and sold out in five minutes. Last November, fans packed out the club’s brand-new, 22,500-person capacity CITYPARK in frigid temperatures as the second team played Bayer Leverkusen in the stadium’s first-ever event. 

‘Without fans, there’s no football,’ Gioacchini said. ‘So, the more present they are, the better. The fans really do push players, sometimes it goes underestimated, but it’s a big part of the game. And I’m really excited, the team’s really excited, everyone’s excited to see how explosive our fans will be.’

‘St. Louis supports all sports,’ team president and CEO Carolyn Kindle added Wednesday at an MLS press event in Manhattan.

‘And so whether it’s NCAA, professional sports, I think St. Louis was just excited to have that professional soccer team because it’s been talked about for so many years.’

Roughly three months after that exhibition vs. Leverkusen, St. Louis are gearing up for the real games, and expansion clubs have seen a wide range of outcomes in recent debut seasons.

Nicholas Gioacchini joined St. Louis after previous stints in Ligue 1 and with Orlando City

Eduard Lowen (left) and Klauss will be relied upon to produce as designated players

LAFC quickly established itself as one of the best teams in the league in 2018 and won MLS Cup last year, while FC Cincinnati didn’t make the playoffs until its fourth season (last year) after debuting in 2019. 

Others like Inter Miami and Nashville SC settled in between those extremes.

With experienced MLS defenders like Tim Parker and Jake Nerwinski in the squad, in addition to Burki in goal and former Arminia Bielefeld center-back Joakim Nilsson, St. Louis can reasonably hope to at least be stingy at the back in their first season.

Getting early results could prove to be a tall task. Ostrak and his teammates, though, are viewing that pressure as a privilege. 

‘The energy’s pretty good,’ he said. ‘Everyone wants to be part of the history.’

Source: Read Full Article