Why St. Louis CITY SC dismissed Bradley Carnell & what's next


St. Louis CITY SC sent a loud and clear message on Monday by parting ways with head coach Bradley Carnell less than a year after their "fairy tale" 2023 MLS inaugural season.

"We want to make the playoffs," St. Louis sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel told reporters in a virtual press conference. "We believe that goal is now in danger. And unfortunately, it's part of professional sports and professional soccer where you have to make those decisions."

Sophomore slump

Unable to replicate last year's historic form that led the then-expansion side to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, Carnell was dismissed with CITY currently nine points off the ninth and final playoff spot amid a nine-game winless streak.

Things came to a head in Matchday 23 after St. Louis blew a two-goal lead in an eventual 4-3 defeat at the Vancouver Whitecaps - a result Pfannenstiel concedes ultimately cost Carnell his job.

"If we win on Saturday night, Bradley would still be the coach today, yes," he said.

Still, CITY president and GM Diego Gigliani added that Carnell was given ample time to steer the club in the right direction.

"We don't make these decisions based on a very short run," Gigliani said. "We're 20 games into the season, and you can even go back a little bit more into the last stretch of last season" in which St. Louis were bounced by Sporting Kansas City in Round One of the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

"... Nine games in a row with no wins, three points out a possible 27 points in the last nine games is bad form. So I think this feels like the moment where the decision had to be taken and at the same point we are encouraged by the thought that we have 14 games to go."

Hackworth takes over

The man in charge of turning things around in these last 14 league games will be interim head coach John Hackworth, a longtime manager with MLS and US men's national team experience.

"At the end of the day, we have a goal to go for," Pfannenstiel said. "And I think this is something that St. Louis stand for. We want to fight, we want to grind and we still believe in ourselves. And we want to make the playoffs."

And whether it's with Hackworth long-term or an eventual permanent coaching hire, CITY will make sure to find a manager who adheres to the club's footballing ethos.

"We have a playing style, we have a philosophy, we have an identity that will not be thrown out the window," Pfannenstiel said. "I think there was a clear decision made early on about how we define ourselves, on the field and off the field. So we do still want to play a high-intensity pressing game, that will not change."

"A lot to play for"

Roster changes could also be on the horizon once the Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 18. St. Louis already have two newcomers on the way - defender/midfielder Jake Girdwood-Reich and midfielder Cedric Teuchert - but may need to make additional moves after transferring Aziel Jackson to the Columbus Crew and losing Célio Poumpeu to a season-ending injury.

"We have a transfer window coming up, we can still rectify things," Pfannenstiel said. "That's the responsibility I have to take: to sign players who will work out after the transfer window and to look forward."

That said, CITY's front office expects an immediate response in the short term - beginning with a July 3 match against the San Jose Earthquakes at CITYPARK (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

"We're now getting fresh blood and fresh thoughts. A lot of motivation and a lot to play for," Pfannenstiel stated. "I think you will see a team that will be ready and very motivated on Wednesday evening."