The first season of the new rivalry between Sporting Kansas City and St. Louis City SC is in the books. It got off to a rough start for Sporting KC fans, but it ended in the most delightful way. No matter what happens in this rivalry going forward, Sporting KC won the first year, three wins to two, and they eliminated the number one seed in the Western Conference as the eight seed.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch did their end of season editorial, and it struck a chord in this growing rivalry. As KC fans and journalists would be in a similar situation, there is bitterness oozing out of this story. There is no praise for Sporting Kansas City’s two delectable goals in the 2-1 SKC home win, but instead he places it all on defensive errors from St. Louis City. There are compliments aplenty for St. Louis’ play, when to my eyes they didn’t look good at all besides that one Joao Klauss header that Tim Melia stuffed.
And they even get in on the “Kansas” jabs. Yes, Children’s Mercy Park is a few miles into Kansas, it’s true. But St. Louians know better than the rest of the country and the world, most of Kansas City is in Missouri, not Kansas. It’s a silly jab. I suppose that’s what rivalries are. Banter.
I particularly like his line, “people thought Austin would win the MLS Western Conference this year.” I do think Austin’s fall was shocking for some, but the underlying numbers said they weren’t the second-place team they were in 2022. I think, while they are different teams, it’s an apt comparison for STL. All year, people have been saying their play is unsustainable and that proved to be true. And at just the right time. Or wrong time, depending on your perspective.
What Went Wrong for St. Louis?
There is no doubt St. Louis had a successful debut season. Most everyone thought they’d be bad, but they were the best team in the West on points. They have the best record for an expansion team ever. Bettering a very quality LAFC side in their own inaugural season.
I take some solace in the fact that I said they’d be better than the pundits were giving them credit for. The style of soccer they announced they would play — energy drink soccer — is tough to play against.
Sorry SKC fans, I don't think St. Louis will be as bad as everyone is predicting. Maybe… but they have a system and a style and found players that seem to fit. That play style is tough to handle. Just like at #RBNY who are one playoff appearance away from a consecutive record.
— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) February 25, 2023
However, it can’t be ignored that they simply don’t have the stars for the big moments. The columnist, Benjamin Hochman, called Edward Lowen the team’s best player. Where would he fall in Sporting KC’s hierarchy? Top five, maybe? I’m not even sure he can start over the trio already fighting for two spots in Erik Thommy, Gadi Kinda and Remi Walter. I can’t see benching any of those three for Lowen.
St. Louis play energy drink soccer. Red Bull soccer. And that is an effective style in the regular season. The New York Red Bulls aren’t really a tournament team though. While they’ve won three Supporters’ Shields (2013, 2015 and 2018), they’ve never won MLS Cup or even a US Open Cup.
They were runners up in MLS in 2008 and the Open Cup in 2003 and 2017 (losing to Sporting KC), so it’s not like they’ve had no success. But think back to those teams and even they had stars. And let’s not forget RBNY made the playoffs an MLS record 14 straight seasons and that streak remains active. However, they don’t win the big one. And that’s going to be increasingly hard to do in a growing and evolving MLS.
I think that’s where St. Louis will settle in as well, if they don’t go get some stars. They will continue to be a thorn in KC’s side. They will probably be a solid regular season team if they keep playing the way they play. But you need stars in big moments and their Sporting Director, Lutz Pfannenstiel, doesn’t believe in Designated Players.
The Designated Team failed St. Louis City SC when it mattered the most. For Sporting KC fans, here is to hoping it keeps failing them in critical moments. Welcome to MLS little brother.