Is it time to recalibrate expectations about what St. Louis CITY SC can accomplish in 2023?
That question was kicked around on the latest Extratime episode, with the expansion club carrying a four-game winless streak (0W-3L-1D) into their Matchday 21 visit to the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday evening (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
They’re still second in the Western Conference table, but worries are surfacing as quad injuries to their two Designated Players – striker João Klauss and midfielder Eduard Löwen – linger, potentially through Leagues Cup beginning in late July.
“At some point, the blues are going to come of being an expansion side and there's going to be tough games and you're going to deal with injuries and you have international call-ups and playing in multiple competitions – there was going to be a dip at some point,” said Sacha Klejstan.
“However, they've done so much in these first 18 games to get on 29 points already, that's going to push them towards the playoffs. I don't expect them to finish in the top three or four in the West. But they've done so much in the first half of the season that it pushes them much further along than anyone expected them to be at this point.”
St. Louis set several MLS expansion records during the first half of 2023, highlighted by rattling off five season-opening wins. They have a clear and defined play style under head coach Bradley Carnell, who’s got buy-in from stars and relative unknowns alike. CITYPARK, their soccer-specific stadium in the heart of downtown, routinely sells out as well.
But recent cracks leave Andrew Wiebe feeling St. Louis have slipped down a peg or two.
“For me, now the fight is for a home playoff game,” said Wiebe. “I don't know if they'll get that, to be honest with you. I think it's very possible they slide below because the Western Conference is just a grab-bag and it's very random right now and very tight when it comes to the standings.”
Like with every team, there’s the chance to shake things up with deals in the Secondary Transfer Window, which opens July 5 and lasts until Aug. 2. Trades, transfers and free moves are all possibilities.
Yet even with an open DP spot, The Athletic’s Tom Bogert doesn’t expect anything earth-shattering from this new Midwest club.
“Even if they make a significant addition, it would be someone like Löwen or Klauss, who we didn't really know well before they came and we were all asking questions like are these DPs good enough? They are,” said Bogert. “So for me, I don't think it's going to be anything massive. But they've got flexibility.”
St. Louis, still in an enviable spot for most clubs, are sixth in MLS with 1.61 points per game. Their incredible start built up a cushion, too.
That leaves Calen Carr not doubting their quality, but trying to put things in perspective for a first-year team.
“When I think of this team, it's just big swings,” said Carr. “Sacha mentioned the beginning of the season, they're winless in their last four now. But that kind of is par for the course for an expansion team. You don't really have the experience and that's where I lean always towards the teams that I know – LAFC, Seattle.
“… I think they're in that next tier below, which is jumbled for sure in the Western Conference. I put them just below that top tier.”