CITYPARK, ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Eduard Löwen bags an 86th-minute goal to put St. Louis City SC up 5-1 over Union Omaha in their U.S. Open Cup match. The goal-filled victory is a familiar fondness for City as they continue their successes in their opening campaign as a franchise.
If you asked one hundred St. Louis sports fans a few months ago who they thought would be the most successful team from the Lou heading into May, very few (if any at all) would say St. Louis City SC. However, the newest MLS expansion franchise currently sits at 19 points over ten league matches, good for second in the Western Conference. To combat this, the Blues season has ended, missing the playoffs and finishing 6th in the Central Division, a far cry from the consistent successes of the past decade. Alongside this, the Cardinals currently sit at a staggering 10-19 through the first month of the 2023 campaign. And, of course, the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks were held out of the playoffs, despite a positive 7-3 final record.
Expansion teams in MLS don’t necessarily have a history of being successful in their opening seasons. Just last year, first-year Charolette FC finished 9th in a less-than-impressive Eastern Conference. However, City seems to have a magic spark to them as they continue to impress and provide a light in what appears to be a dark time for sports in the three-one-four.
On August 20th, 2019 MLS announced that St. Louis would be receiving an expansion team. This announcement would be met with celebration, as St. Louis is a city with a relatively rich soccer history and culture. All the way from church youth leagues up to college soccer, and the former professional teams of the city, such as the St. Louis Steamers of the MISL (back in the eighties), the city has always had soccer in its blood. To put it simply, St. Louis deserved an MLS team, and they finally received one in St. Louis City SC.
Much like the expansion drafts of other leagues, MLS has a player protection, free selection structure to set up their new teams with an adequate roster. St. Louis City would go through the process of drafting their team on November 11th, 2023. On that night they would select five players: Orlando City forward Niko Gioacchini, Inter Miami midfielder Indiana Vassilev, New England Revolution center back Jonathan Bell, FC Cincinnati left back John Nelson, and New York Red Bulls forward Jake La Cava. Alongside this City would acquire Tim Parker in a trade with Houston. The majority of the rest of City’s roster would be assembled via signings, call-ups from ‘St. Louis City 2”, trades, transfers, and selecting players in the MLS SuperDraft (Which took place on December 21st, 2022).
All things considered City were able to assemble a fairly solid roster; gathering some players from around MLS, alongside outsourcing international talents. In City’s first match, they faced a tough Austin FC team on the road. However, they came away with a 3-2 shootout victory, on the back of a match winning strike by Brazilian forward João Klauss. One of the main issues expansion teams (in any sport) face is the lack of experience playing alongside one another. There usually isn’t a natural on-field team chemistry from day one, because the majority of the players have never played alongside any of their new teammates before. Take, for example, the aforementioned Charolette FC. Last year, they started rather poorly, but as their players got more adjusted to the team’s dynamic, and pace alongside one another, they were able to string together quite a few quality victories. St. Louis City, on the other hand, never seemed to face this issue. In fact, in their first few matches, they often looked more in sync than their opponents. This led to an impressive five game undefeated streak to begin the season.
Although City has taken three league losses since their initial golden streak (including dropping a game Saturday night to a struggling Portland club), they still sit at second in the Western Conference. Not to mention they currently hold the third-best record in all of MLS. This surprising success is well welcomed by all St. Louis sports fans, as the rest of the city’s teams aren’t doing too hot right now. I’m sure the majority of fans from St. Louis would trade City’s success for the Cardinals to be first the NL Central, or for the Blues to be competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs right now. But, hey, this city’s baseball and hockey fans have been spoiled by two of the most consistent teams in their respective leagues throughout the past decade, so maybe it’s time for soccer to get some time in the St. Louis spotlight.