(Editorial) – After a dismal “here we go again” loss to FC Montreal, Saint Louis FC sit four points out of the last playoff spot with 18 points in 17 games. They’ve now lost five of their last seven matches – the numbers on the surface suggest that the team is slumping but still in the playoff hunt (only four points below the red line). That was the case in June. Looking a bit closer, it is now much more ominous: Saint Louis FC’s playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread.
A Lack Of Goals
Saint Louis FC have scored only 19 goals this season, which is 20th out of 24 teams in USL. Early on in the season, the team was doing well to string passes together and create a high volume of chances in games. Their problem was poor finishing. Since then, they’ve fallen off. Injuries to Brandon Barklage hurt their ability to possess the ball and combine. Jamiel Hardware‘s injury removed their primary creative attacking weapon. These injuries caused a significant reduction in chance and shot creation.
Consistent play from the forwards could have helped alleviate this issue. Bryan Gaul and Jermie Lynch are tied for the team lead with 4 goals each. Two of Gaul’s goals have come from the penalty spot. He has not produced enough from the run of play. Lynch has great moments but has been very inconsistent. His hotheaded nature has been his undoing at times. No other player has more than two goals on the season.
Mike Ambersley has provided good pace as both a midfielder and forward. He only has nine shots this season. He can be a good underneath striker but isn’t in position to take up a solo forward role up top.
The rest of the forward core has not contributed enough. Jordan Roberts has barely gotten on the field. Chicago Fire loaned Bryce Kingsley scored against Charlotte but has looked out of place. He does not seem to be combining well with his teammates. The 22-year-old has not fit well in any of the formations he has been put in. Aaron Horton made his debut in Montreal as a sub but was later subbed out after playing 34 minutes.
The primary forwards have not contributed enough with the chances they’ve gotten. They have not stepped up when the team needed. None of the reserves have been diamonds in the rough.
Habitually Conceding Goals
As described previously, Saint Louis FC has been conceding a distinct type of goal of late: The ball is in the midfield with neither team with a distinct advantage as far as numbers, location of the ball, or possession of the ball. A quick turnover by Saint Louis FC or a good move by the opponent creates a bit of space for a through pass. That pass creates a rush, turning the midfield trench battle for possession into a counter. The attackers get in on goal or find a way to shake a defender. The striker provides an excellent finish with Mark Pais or Alec Kann hung out to dry.
FC Montreal’s first goal is a good example. Montreal has just won a throw in at midfield. The throw in is taken and a defender switches field to the far side. Charles Joly makes a good run to beat the back line as an excellent through pass cuts through the spacing in the defense. Joly is too fast for even Jacob Bushue and a good finish to the far post makes it 1-1.
Prior to that pass, the play looked under control and harmless. Seconds later, it’s a dangerous chance with defenders hustling to try and recover. A few more seconds later, it’s a goal.
These types of plays and goals have occurred too often for it to be coincidence. It could be that Saint Louis FC is trying to play the offsides trap and it just isn’t working. Perhaps the line needs to move back so they are closer to goal. Maybe the midfield needs to high press the ball a bit more so there’s no room to make that dangerous pass that starts the play. Maybe the back line is just falling asleep at an inconvenient time and they get burned.
Whatever the issue is that’s causing this defensive weakness, it needs to be fixed for this team to have a chance to climb in the table.
The squad is very young. Ten of the players on the roster are in their first season of professional soccer. Many more are in only their second year. It could be that the slump is young players going through growing pains.
One must also wonder if the team is sticking together through this rough patch. Head Coach Dale Schilly certainly could have his hands full with a frustrated locker room who are struggling in many aspects.
By the standings, this season is very much salvageable. When looking closer, not so much. The team is not scoring goals. They’re conceding them in bunches, with one bad habit that can be scouted and replicated. Right now the team just has too many problems to fix. They need to start fixing them soon.