St. Louis CITY soar in Year 1: "Our biggest enemy is ourselves"


WASHINGTON – No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

St. Louis CITY SC, smashing MLS expansion team records, are atop the Western Conference table as regular-season action pauses for Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game presented by Target (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) and the revamped Leagues Cup.

The point bears repeating because newcomers aren’t supposed to be this dominant, this successful from the get-go. Yet here is head coach Bradley Carnell’s team, defying all ground-floor expectations to become a realistic Audi MLS Cup Playoffs contender in 2023. 

“I wasn't expecting us to be this good,” goalkeeper Roman Bürki, one of the club’s two All-Stars, said after Tuesday’s training at the National Mall. “I was expecting us to be competitive, of course. To now be where we are, it's also a surprise for me. 

“I always believed in the team and I said even before we played the first game, that my goal is to go to the playoffs. Now we are on a good way and it's amazing to see what a whole team, when they work together and have a true team characteristic, what they can do on the field against teams that are maybe individually better players. But we work as a team and it's amazing to see.”

The surprise factor? It's shared among other MLS All-Stars who have gathered in the nation’s capital this week to face English Premier League powerhouse Arsenal FC.

“For their first year doing so well, it's really impressive,” said Nashville SC attacker Hany Mukhtar, the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP and Golden Boot presented by Audi winner.

“Not a lot of teams in MLS history have made such a big impact right away. We were a good expansion team here in Nashville, but they're winning games over games. We had difficulties in our first year with new players and it's hard because you're learning how each other play. Picking it up this quick, it's impressive.”

Philadelphia Union center back Jakob Glesnes, the 2022 MLS Defender of the Year, was full of praise for a club that might have had four total All-Stars if midfielder Eduard Löwen and striker João Klauss weren’t battling injuries.

“Nobody was expecting that they would be up there from the start, but also you can see how much a winning mentality makes a difference,” said the Norwegian standout. “When you get that streak and it builds, how far a club can take it. The atmosphere there is great. They've done a great job as a club.”

Asked about STL’s shock value, center back Tim Parker pushed back slightly. He was acquired in an offseason trade from Houston Dynamo FC, and now has a career-high three goals as St. Louis have gone from winning their first five games to sitting on 41 points, third-best overall in MLS.

“We've passed that surprise phase, passed that test a few times now,” said Parker. “It's just been a gradual evolution where a lot of guys on St. Louis are learning the league still, so they're not used to it as much as some of us are. But I think we've done a really good job of playing at home, then our style suits us on the road as well. We make it tough for teams to play against us.”

Even still, some big questions linger around St. Louis. Will this incredible season translate into a trophy at year’s end? Will their all-action style prove sustainable? Might some of the underlying numbers catch up to them? Does a Secondary Transfer Window splash await? Is their “Designated Team” concept, as sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel phrased it, going to work long-term?

Those might determine how magical STL’s year-one journey ends up, even with their downtown CITYPARK fortress behind them. Parker, one of their league veterans, cautioned how the club must approach this last third of the regular season.

“I've repeated over and over again that it's a long year,” said Parker. “MLS is going to MLS in terms of results. Clubs truly can beat anyone on any given day, so sometimes things might not be going in your favor, then the next day you win and the three teams you needed to lose drop points.

“So it's if we keep doing the right things and keep our heads down, stay in our way, we'll do well in this league. We've said it over the course of the year, our biggest enemy is ourselves and when we don't look like us in our style that's when we seem to have trouble.”