Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Saint Louis FC Off Season Part 3: Strikers

(Editorial) – This article is Part 3 of a series that investigates the Saint Louis FC off season and the potential decisions and changes that could be made. It also seeks to predict what will occur and give an idea of what the team will look like next year, as well as what role the retained players will have.

For Part 1 of this series on goalkeepers and the coaching staff, click here.

For Part 2 of this series on defenders, click here.

Injuries and inconsistent play plagued the team in 2015, especially in the attack. The club must improve and get healthy in the off season to make the playoffs in 2016. Here are some thoughts on the men in the attack.

It as not pretty for the attack this season statistically. Saint Louis FC finished third to last in the USL in goals scored with 30 goal in 28 games. They finished 19th in the league in shots, averaging only 10 per game. They also only had 16 assists on those 30 goals: most goals were unassisted instead of a result of stringing passes together through several players.

While the lack of scoring is not entirely the fault the forwards, they did not perform in 2015. Bryan Gaul led the team in goals with 6 in all competition, 4 of which were PK goals. As the season wore on and Gaul was unable to find a home up top, he was moved into the midfield. It’s clear that Gaul’s role with the team will no longer be as a striker. If he does stay with the club in 2016, it probably won’t be at forward.

Jermie Lynch was a typical #9 this year. He was the best hold up player this year and challenged apposing center backs physically. Like Gaul, he had trouble converting on headers early on in the year. The team did a good job in the first two months creating a high volume of chances, but was unable to convert those. Much of that falls on the play of Lynch and Gaul.

Still, Lynch developed a bit of a reputation as a poacher this year. This was his first real opportunity as a pro to start and play regularly. Lynch made 20 appearances and 12 starts between league and Open Cup play, a career high for him. Like many others, he had injuries that kept him out for over a month.

Lynch is young and a bit of wild horse. He has a temper. Still, he has potential. He has a clearly defined and valuable style of play as a striker. While he could be playing elsewhere next season, I would bring him back. If he can be more consistent in every facet of his game, he absolutely can become one of the better center forwards in the USL.

If there’s any forward who’s safe next year, it’s Mike Ambersley. The 32-year-old is a smart veteran and an absolute work horse on both sides of the ball. He might not be the most talented player, but he’s gotten the most out of it. He’s an NASL and USL journeyman. He’s played on the wing, in the middle of the park, or up top as a channel runner. He’s contributed in each of these roles. With his versatility and experience, he’s a vital piece to this team and a role model to young teammates.

While Ambersley is a good piece for an attacking core, on a good team he is a secondary scoring option. When your team has a goal scorer like Luke Vercollone or Ariel Lassiter, Ambersley is a good piece to put around that striker. Saint Louis FC still need contributions from elsewhere.

Kingsley Bryce and Aaron Horton were both summer additions to the club. Bryce was loaned down from the Chicago Fire in May. Horton was signed in June.

Bryce took some time to integrate into the team, but found a home in the final two months of the season as a wide attacking threat. The 22-year-old developed a good relationship with Jamiel Hardware and Jordan Roberts. He was even the Man of the Match in the season finale. With massive changes coming to the Fire, it’s unclear what Bryce’s future is with Chicago. Should he be back with Saint Louis FC, Bryce certainly could contribute.

Horton did score a game winning goal for the club, but made only 5 appearances and played only 59 minutes. He never started a game. Considering how poor the attack was throughout the year, it’s not a good sign when one striker cannot crack the starting lineup. It’s safe to assume he wasn’t outperforming Roberts in training. If the front office sees potential in him, they might bring him back. I would not be surprised if he does not return. He could come back as the last striker on the roster.

Roberts became a go-to forward in the second half of the season, making 6 starts. He had a few good moments with Hardware and Bryce, but had only an assist and no goals in 576 minutes of play. It’s difficult to criticize him when he’s starting on a struggling team, working his butt off, and not getting the help he needs to score. The 22-year-old has a good work rate. An argument can be made for both retaining him and trying to find better options elsewhere.

Hardware is the most dynamic attacker on this roster, as he showed early in the season. Like several teammates, he got hurt as he was improving in form. He sat out the entire month of May after having a great end of April. Two games after his return, another injury hit. He played the rest of the season with a cast on his right arm.

The cast seemed to bother Hardware, as his balance and some movement was restricted due to the cast. Still, the potential as a #10 is there. At 22-years-old, a healthy Hardware can do this. I’d be shocked if Saint Louis FC let him go.

Lastly, poor Mike Roach. Roach was injured for the better part of three months this season. However in the limited time he had, he contributed. Roach came off the bench to assist on the goal in the club’s first home win. In a brief but triumphant return, he helped create the game winning goal in the club’s best comeback win of the year.

Roach only made 1 start in his 9 appearances. While he was a back up play maker, I don’t think his participation in critical late game achievements are an accident. I would bring him back next year. If nothing else, he’s a backup who can push Hardware.

Regardless of what Head Coach Dale Schilly does with his striker core, improvements must be made. The players who were injured need to get and stay fit. Remaining healthy is a skill. Any new additions need to be viable contributors. Cutting the worst striker and signing another player who will clearly be the worst striker will not improve the team. Remove the bottom and replace it with players who can clearly compete for a spot in the 18, if not a starting role.

More competition at forward will force everyone to step up their game and will help the younger players achieve their potential.


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