Where should expectations be for St. Louis CITY SC?

Extratime 4.18.23

St. Louis CITY SC are back in business.

The expansion side has reclaimed the early Supporters’ Shield lead, pacing the league in points (18), wins (six), goals scored (20) and goal differential (+11).

Those high-flying marks emerged after Saturday’s 5-1 rout of FC Cincinnati, a bounce-back result in Matchday 8. It also arrived after two straight losses followed the newcomers' record-breaking five-game winning streak to start 2023, ending a mini-slide.

But how legit is Bradley Carnell’s team? Will the Western Conference group be a real Audi MLS Cup Playoffs contender at season's end? The Extratime crew debated that in Monday’s rewind show.

“I think that this is a team that can go on a run in the playoffs because of the spine of the team,” said Kaylyn Kyle. “…Those five players through the spine of your team, it's exciting.”

Those five players, Kyle noted, are goalkeeper Roman Bürki, center back Tim Parker, midfielders Eduard Löwen and Indiana Vassilev, and striker João Klauss. Bürki sports the captain’s armband after a lengthy career at German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, Löwen and Klauss are living up to their Designated Player tags, and Parker (from Houston) and Vassilev (from Miami via Aston Villa) were acquired within the league.

As strong as that foundation is, Matt Doyle wonders if there are enough difference-makers of the variety that typically deliver trophies in MLS.

“The pushback I'll give on that is that what we've seen over the course of the past decade is you need special, high-level match-winners to win MLS Cup,” said Doyle. “ … They're a really good team that's going to bring it every week. We're going to see them in the postseason. I question whether or not they have enough high-end talent, special talent.”

In the months ahead, St. Louis have an open DP spot to deliver a difference-maker of the ilk Doyle is referencing. For one, they’ve been linked with Brazil national team striker Roberto Firmino as he leaves English Premier League side Liverpool this summer – a testament to the connections sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel has in the global market.

Whether or not a piece of that profile comes to The Gateway City, Doyle feels a vital piece of the puzzle exists on the bench-side touchline.

“The big story right now, at this point for St. Louis, is we're probably going to end up talking about Bradley Carnell in the same way that we talk about Jim Curtin and Wilfried Nancy in terms of developing young or marginal players,” Doyle said, referencing the acclaimed Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew head coaches.

Co-host David Gass cautioned not to get too over-excited about the Cincy result, noting the Eastern Conference side was without midfielder playmaker Luciano Acosta as he recovers from a shoulder injury and striker Brenner before his reported transfer to Serie A’s Udinese is finalized. Those factors, combined with a two-plus-hour inclement weather delay, create an “outlier” of sorts.

But there’s no denying how opportunistic St. Louis have been.

“​Sometimes soccer can be a weak-link game, and right now St. Louis don't have a weak link and they don't make self-inflicted mistakes like we just talked about with the Galaxy,” Gass said. “So they are able to maintain a high level, and then they've taken advantage of moments that have popped up for them.”

For more Extratime analysis, check out the Matchday 8 rewind episode via MLS Season Pass on Apple TV or the podcatcher of your choice.