You rarely hear a coach downgrade the importance of a vibrant win just minutes after the final whistle – much less the first home victory in club history, achieved in front of a pulsating sellout crowd, full of soccer-mad people who’d waited long decades for such a moment.
Yet that was Bradley Carnell’s clear message on Saturday night.
“Tonight was not about the result,” declared St. Louis CITY SC’s head coach after his side defeated Charlotte FC, 3-1, in their inaugural home match at CITYPARK, roared on by 22,423 fans whose spirit and intensity lived up to their town’s cherished status as the cradle of soccer in the United States.
“We were fighting with the emotions of 70 years of history and bringing MLS to St. Louis,” noted Carnell. “We're honoring the life of Anton [Walkes] and paying respect to him at the same time. And we knew coming up against a Charlotte team that is very gritty, very, very aggressive, very athletic, have some difference makers in that team – we knew this was going to be a very, very difficult challenge.
“So, that we came out victors on the day, not expected, just in terms of the whole process. I mean, we're truly happy, we'll take the three points, but there was many more messages than the result today.”
A weekend-long celebration
CITY SC’s hotly-anticipated arrival on home turf. The passion with which CLTFC are playing in memory of recently-departed defender Anton Walkes. Add in the home team’s high-tempo playing style and some friction between a few combustible characters on the pitch, and the intensity of this historic occasion in downtown STL was off the charts.
To be fair, The Lou made a whole weekend out of this one. Things started popping off on Friday, as the new club hosted a “CITY Block Party” around their ground both the night before and on gameday, with thousands packing the closed-off streets in the leadup to the game. That only continued inside CITYPARK, from the tifo and full-stadium card display just before kickoff to the cascading waves of noise created by the chants and songs of the St. Louligans and the rest of CITY’s supporters' groups.
“Last night, the party started, and the fans brought it today,” said Carnell. “I said to the players, I said to the staff, this has been incredible, so a big thank you to the fans. This was something that you can't compare to Europe. So yeah, I think we've set the bar really high. There's not too many stadiums with this atmosphere, I can tell you that now.”
Embracing the "mindset of the St. Louisans"
It took CITY’s second straight comeback to keep the vibes elevated to that lofty level. A gorgeous header from Charlotte’s new Designated Player Enzo Copetti, supplied by his fellow DP Karol Swiderski’s pinpoint delivery, delivered an early gut punch.
But a Bill Tuiloma own goal leveled matters – “we earned the right to get back in the game,” said Carnell, “and then we start getting a grip” – before goals from Eduard Löwen and João Klauss kept the magenta-clad hosts soaring, as St. Louis sustained a ferocious pace with their energy and bite.
“I’m feeling amazing,” said Klauss afterwards. “Today I think was the perfect first game at home for us … amazing night.”
After widespread predictions of a difficult debut season for a squad built with few big-ticket signings to date, CITY are now 2-0, just the fourth team in MLS expansion history to earn that record. Even if that pace proves difficult to sustain, they hope their work rate and commitment reflect their town’s character in good times and bad alike.
“We want to embrace the mindset of the St. Louisans, we want to embrace the culture of the community,” said Carnell of his team’s style. “Lutz [Pfannenstiel, CITY SC’s sporting director] is here for a reason. And I think I'm here for a reason. And the players have bought into it. The players know exactly: When we do do it, we can really compete on the day. And when we don't, we could just be very ordinary on the day. So we have to really stay true to who we are and what we believe in and what we stand for.”