(Editorial) – Saint Louis FC got a much needed win this past Saturday at Oklahoma City. The entire squad had been snakebitten of late. An exciting home opener led to a disappointing result, but the team was coming together. A second home game saw the unbeaten Rochester Rhinos play STL FC off the field. While there was frustration, Head Coach Dale Schilly has the team sticking together. Matthew Bird of the St. Louligans had an excellent column, echoing keep the faith.
Still, while the club on the whole seemed in good spirits despite a few bad results and unlucky bounces, a few players in particular seemed the most snakebitten. Jamiel Hardware and Mike Ambersley had yet to score or assist on a goal this season. Hardware has played primarily as the central attacking midfielder at the top of the diamond. He’s had good moments at times this season, but is still going through some youthful growing pains. The system requires the CAM to be responsible for many of the creative attacking ideas. At times, those have been lacking for the 23-year-old Jamaican.
Ambersley has been in and out of the lineup with a healthy competition at striker. Bryan Gaul remains the primary hold up play option. Jermie Lynch provided a needed boost earlier this month. Both these players have scored earlier this season. While a veteran like Ambersley would not be rattled as much as the youngster Hardware, he had a golden chance against Rochester and couldn’t deliver.
Hardware had a fabulous goal, receiving a long ball in the box from Sam Fink. He broke one defender’s ankles like Steph Curry on Chris Paul, made another one miss, and put the ball past the keeper. Not only is scoring a goal just what the doctor ordered for Hardware, it’s the way he scored it. The goal was creative and very characteristic of a CAM and #10 style player. That one had to feel good.
— USL (@USL) April 26, 2015
Ambersley’s goal came just 10 minutes later off a rebound inside the box. While an easier finish on a wide open net, Ambersley was in a good position before the rebound and did well to recognize it and get to it first. As a 10 year pro, he didn’t need a golazo. It just needed to go into the net.
While the back line may not be frustrated with their play as individuals, every goal STL FC has given up this season was either a fabulous play by the opposition or a significant defensive breakdown. On the whole, the back line and goal keeper have yet to have a bad game. Even against Rochester, the defense did well absorbing pressure and putting out fires. Mark Pais has been one of the best keepers in USL. He’s started every game except the one against Rochester, and in that game Alec Kann was arguably the best player for STL FC.
The back line’s moral victory came in their improvement and adjustments as the game went on. STLFC saw very little of the ball early on and Energy FC were swarming around the Chupacabra goal leading up the goal in 13th minute. After that, the back four adjusted. The team did a much better job marking Casey Townsend and Chuy Sanchez, the best attackers on Oklahoma City in the match. In the final 15 minutes, the team did an excellent job absorbing pressure and preventing the tying goal.
This was particularly impressive considering Nick Bibbs and Oskar Gasecki making their second and first starts of the season, respectively. Pais was excellent. James Musa and Fink are getting better as a center back tandem with each match.
The result and the way it happened has to be a morale booster for the entire team. Not only was this a much needed win for STL FC, the way they won and the performance from a few key individuals was just what they were hoping for. The finishing was finally there. A young talent like Hardware has to be feeling more positive.
Look at any expansion team at any level of professional sports. The first year is a struggle. Take New York City FC, 2015 expansion side in MLS. They have world class talent in David Villa and Mix Diskerud, but only one win in six matches. They have MLS veterans like Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert. They have one of the best young American soccer coaches in Jason Kreis. They also had never played a game together before January. Their defensive alignment has been off. Their attack has been disjointed. Miscommunication has been a theme. Why? Lack of chemistry. Lack of familiarity.
That’s very different from a Rochester team that made only a few changes from 2014 to 2015.
STL FC has had some of the same issues, and those have been magnified by having a younger squad with limited professional experience and veteran leadership. But after a month of growing pains, the process has come to a small incremental fruition. Schilly has not gotten them to the top of the mountain yet, but for the first time in awhile, they’ve taken a water break and noticed some progress and a pretty sweet view. Lead the climb for now, Jamiel. It won’t be easy or quick. Stay patient and hungry. Trust the process. With a little luck, Rochester and Sacramento will be looking over their shoulders come August.
Main Photo courtesy of Mark Guthrel, team photographer for St Louis FC.