Another box checked, many more ahead.
St. Louis CITY SC head coach Bradley Carnell conveyed that business-like message Thursday afternoon, shortly after his group punched the first Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs ticket in the Western Conference. A 0-0 draw with LAFC, combined with other late-night results, got the job done in Matchday 33 – though a slight delay meant there weren’t any postgame celebrations at CITYPARK.
There was little doubt St. Louis would reach this point, sitting comfortably first in the West with four games to go. But the validation is nonetheless sweet and creates an eagerness for what "landmarks" lie ahead.
“From day one we spoke about being competitive and I think we've proved that,” said the South African manager. “Then we started thinking, ‘Alright if we can scratch the eighth or ninth spot, it would be awesome too.’ Then we just continuously picked up points and were consistent.
“And they, yes, expectations were to make the playoffs. We checked that box. Now what's next for us? Can we now get a top-four finish? Once we get that box checked, then can we win the Western Conference? So it's all things in baby steps and stages.”
There are elements of coach talk in Carnell’s remarks, of not looking too far ahead. But that mantra’s served the first-year club well, defying expectations both external and internal to a 15W-10L-5D record (50 points) before Saturday’s test at Minnesota United FC (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
In the sprint towards Decision Day on Oct. 21, St. Louis are the third expansion team (excluding the shootout era) to produce at least 50 points and make the playoffs. They could surpass the expansion-season points record LAFC (57) own and build upon several records they claimed during a head-turning start to life in MLS.
“We've created something that people respect and I think that's what we wanted to achieve, just to get our spot in the league, to get respect, to be competitive,” said Carnell, before referencing the LAFC draw. “I think we showed that all last night against the Rolls Royce of the league. We get a point from it, not three. But I think we grew a lot more and one more step in the right direction.”
Now, there’s a distinct possibility the Western Conference’s path to MLS Cup on Dec. 9 could run through CITYPARK. If St. Louis ensure that future, as a No. 1 seed, they’d also book a 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup spot.
It’s all extra motivation for a Midwestern club that’s done things their way, rewarding a soccer-rich, cultural hotspot.
“We've seen since Day 1 what the supporters culture is like in St. Louis and we embrace that,” said Carnell. “The fans embraced us, they embraced our style of play and we've given back with some fantastic, memorable games I would say out here at CITYPARK.
“If we can get all going together again, we can be a force to be reckoned with.”