(Editorial) – Their inaugural season is in the books. While Saint Louis FC ended on a high note with two straight wins, including against rival Louisville City FC in the Kings Cup, the focus now turns to the off season.
Injuries and inconsistent play plagued the team in 2015. The club must improve in the off season to make the playoffs in 2016. Here are some thoughts on the men between the pipes, men behind the bench, and the potential changes for next year:
Chicago Fire loaned Alec Kann led the way in net in 2015. He and Mark Pais split starts in the first half of the season, but by midsummer, Kann was regularly starting when he was not called up with Chicago. Both were excellent this season. Alex Riggs only appeared in one game, the season finale.
With the firing of Frank Yallop, it is hard to predict what the MLS club will look like in 2016. It’s unclear what this means for Kann’s place in the organization. He developed significantly this year, and could very well be competing for the back up role with the MLS side. If Kann does return to Saint Louis FC in 2016, he will compete for the starting spot, if not win it out right.
Regardless, the goalkeeping is in good hands with Pais. General Manager Jeremy Alumbaugh has been on the record about not stopping player movement if a player has a chance to play at a higher level. Pais is an excellent shot and PK stopper. He is a vocal keeper and appears to have the potential to play at a higher level. The fact that he wasn’t the primary starter this season will probably delay potential offers.
The club would be wise to hang onto Pais for 2016. If Kann or another Chicago keeper of similar quality does not arrive, Pais should be the starter in 2016. He should be as good, if not better, than Kann was this year. Doing so could give him lucrative opportunities in the future.
Riggs is a bit harder to gauge due to his lack of playing time. Even when Kann was starting, Pais was the keeper on the bench. Riggs was clearly third in the pecking order. In last Saturday’s game, he did make three saves, including this. It’s the organization’s call on bringing Riggs back, but based on that small sample size, it’s worth it even if he’s going to be a backup.
While Head Coach Dale Schilly has taken some heat this year for the team’s performance, he should not be fired. Removing him or any of the coaching staff would set a bad precedent for potential future coaches. Injuries derailed this team and they were never able to get in sync as a result. While this season was a disappointment on the field, the results are not grounds to remove Schilly or other members of the front office.
Making a first year expansion team competitive is not easy. Of the 12 expansion clubs in the league this year, only 4 of them are in the playoffs. While MLS is not the perfect comparison, only two from-scratch expansion teams have made the playoffs in their first year in the league. The Miami Fusion and Chicago Fire in 1998, when 8 of 12 teams made the playoffs.
Schilly and Alumbaugh should be given the chance to make changes based on the lessons learned from this year. The style of play (and potentially the formation) needs to be addressed. There most be a clear vision going into 2016. Having a vision and properly building a team around that vision will go a long way in making the playoffs next year.
Schilly should be given the freedom to change his coaching staff as well as having a significant say in player decisions in this Saint Louis FC off season.