Energetic, organized and dangerous – with nearly 22,500 boisterous fans behind them – St. Louis flipped the script and arguably made a veteran-heavy squad look like the expansion team, cruising to their sixth win with three or more goals scored in just 12 matches played.
While Matchday 14 marked the first meeting between the Western Conference clubs, decades of shared history between the Midwestern cities was evident among the supporters. It certainly appeared in the rhetoric from both sides heading into the match, trading slickly-produced videos detailing their histories with the game and their claims of authenticity.
"[The boys] took it personal; what it means to St. Louis and what it means to every individual who works for this club," said St. Louis head coach Bradley Carnell.
Both teams talked the talk. St. Louis walked the walk.
Amid pointed chants of "Oh, capital city!" from their supporters, the hosts never gave Sporting a chance to breathe. Coming off three consecutive losses in all competitions, and still hurting without DP striker João Klauss (injury), CITY SC took the extra motivation of a rivalry game and ran with it, snatching a desperately-needed three points.
"You get to a game like this, and it's not next week, next week, next week," said Carnell. "We want to have this competition, this internal passion and fire burning from within, but tonight was almost a 'have-to' game, and that's what I felt that the players responded in a great way."
On the attacking side of the ball, Indiana Vassilev was the spark St. Louis needed. The midfielder drew a penalty in the 17th minute for Eduard Löwen to convert, and added a pair of left-footed strikes to cap off the victory. After the match, the former Inter Miami CF man was blunt.
"Our fans are kind of a big part of us; they really contribute to how we play," said Vassilev. "We heard it's a rivalry, we heard they didn't like KC so in return we don't like KC. That's just how the cards fall."
Added Vassilev: "St. Louis CITY. Soccer capital of the U.S. I think we were able to prove that tonight."
So far in 2023, St. Louis and Sporting have been on opposite trajectories. St. Louis are currently in third place in the Western Conference table, leading the pack with 26 goals from 12 matches. Sporting are in 13th, with the fewest goals scored (9) of any team in the league. And on the field Saturday night, in the first installment of what promises to be a long and heated rivalry, there was one clear winner.
St. Louis, 1. Sporting KC, 0.
Round two is set for Sept. 2 at Children's Mercy Park.