Bradley Carnell St. Louis CITY

Preseason is all about laying a foundation for the marathon that lies ahead. For St. Louis City SC, that process is doubly important in 2023, as the club prepare to kick off their expansion season in MLS.

Speaking to reporters on his Thursday video call, head coach Bradley Carnell acknowledged that establishing team chemistry and camaraderie is a challenge when assembling an entirely new group.

But the 46-year-old South African said that reality doesn't necessarily have to come with added pressure as the league's 29th club eye their first-ever match: a road fixture against Austin FC at Q2 Stadium on Feb. 25 (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

"First of all, the pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves," Carnell said. "We're a team and a coaching staff who have had some great experiences as individuals and as a collective we've had a little bit of a snippet and a sniff of what maybe something could be, like with the CITY2 team [in MLS NEXT Pro] last year.

"Obviously this a new different kettle of fish. It's MLS. The competition, the quality becomes a lot better. But we want to drive ourselves hard. We don't want any excuses for the type of actions that follow on the field. We want to make sure we're planning and preparing each day to take a step forward. So, while there's no pressure, we don't feel we need to have the pressure. We only set the pressure ourselves with the high demands and the standards we drive every day because we want to see and define what success looks like."

Finding leaders

An expansion team is a wholly unfamiliar group by definition, meaning that establishing locker-room dynamics takes time. Carnell said the preseason so far has been crucial for that, as his players get to know each other both on and off the field.

Thus far, the coach said several veterans have stepped up, highlighting Swedish defender Joakim Nilsson and Bundesliga veteran goalkeeper Roman Bürki as two players at the forefront in that regard, among others.

"There's different ways to establish and find leaders," Carnell said. "Some are leaders by doing, some are leaders by talking. Some are a louder voice than others, some embrace it, some need to be challenged a little bit to feel comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. So, whether guys are singing on the tables or the chairs and feeling really uncomfortable – because, you know, soccer players aren't always the best singers – or putting players into different groups, different backgrounds, different experiences and really talking about some personal stuff, maybe emotional stuff, maybe things that they've experienced prior, it's all about getting on the same page.

"... There's a bunch of guys who've I wouldn't say surprised me, but we have a good group now where the leadership council will start developing itself and we'll determine that at the end of camp too. We'll name our captains and leadership council in due course. "

Building from within

Beyond those veteran faces, Carnell said he's been pleased with what he's seen from the club's younger generation.

Fifteen-year-old US youth international forward Caden Glover, the club's first-ever homegrown signing, is among those making his mark in camp. Carnell also mentioned 15-year-old defender Tyson Pearce and 17-year-old academy standout Miguel Perez in that category, saying he's been encouraged by the blend of youthful exuberance and veteran savvy among the group.

"We've been seeing some real flashes of where this thing can go and what it can become and it's part of the club's philosophy, part of the club's culture to develop from within, to inspire the community with the style of play," Carnell said.

"So, the sooner we all get on the same page, for sure it's got its challenges, and I think the coaching staff has been amazing to embrace these challenges and set the standards really high. But after 10 full training sessions we feel as a staff, as a group that we're on the right track."

After debuting at Austin, STL will return home for their first-ever MLS game at CITYPARK on March 4 vs. Charlotte FC (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).