Established MLS teams still don’t get St. Louis City SC. But CITY players get head coach Bradley Carnell, and he gets them.
As MLS expansion team St. Louis City SC left the pitch after shutting out Real Salt Lake at their home, the shrieking coverage had already gone out.
Salt Lake media spoke of humiliation at home, how RSL crumbled after a good first half, and then expressed outrage and confusion. The home side played an expansion team. How can this be?
Indeed, except for MLS Multiplex, no one among media or City opponents, saw this coming.
St. Louis left Salt Lake with a 5-0 shutout that cemented the new side’s best record of any MLS team, let alone an expansion franchise.
What the rest of the MLS universe regards as a confounding and painful mystery, is actually a sound foundation of basic soccer. It has been applied to the St. Louis City SC effort from before the beginning. Every player has been recruited to make the plan work.
And they have made it work with inspired precision.
The front office contracted Carnell and got him in early, the top candidate for the position. The new head coach, with both playing and coaching experience internationally, began picking players that fit what Pfannenstiel calls St. Louis CITY playing style.
Carnell comes from South Africa. After he finished playing in Bundesliga, he became the University of Johannesburg men’s team head coach, then assistant coach of both the Free State Stars in South Africa and the Orlando Pirates.
In 2017, he came to MLS. He steadily worked his way up to the interim head coach of the New York Red Bulls in 2020, leading the team to sixth place in the MLS Eastern Conference–the only interim head coach to guide a team to the postseason.
Carnell had always been the biggest blip on City’s radar, which is why team President and CEO Carolyn Kindle Betz approved moving quickly to get him signed. Several clubs already had inquiries for him.
The other teams didn’t move as quickly as St. Louis on Carnell. Now opposing front offices and coaching staffs are still moving too slowly to get prepared for what CiTY brings to the pitch.
Updated scouting could solve that, but the data isn’t there yet. Sources still advise opponents to prepare for a Carnell team expecting only the 4-3-3 defensive formation.
His teams have shown more formations than that.
Until opponents gain a sense of urgency, St. Louis City SC will keep marching through MLS pitch by pitch, match by match.
Then, when they do prepare more effectively, this Bradley Carnell-led squad will have adjusted their scheme to reach deeply into the post-season.