In the wake of Saint Louis FC’s offseason signings, Nicholas Murray at USL headquarters released a masterful description of tactical possibilities based on the addition of new, exciting attackers. Please get yourself somewhat up to date by perusing that article if you haven’t already.
Thanks to the building of a successful roster in 2018 and retaining the same coach, Saint Louis FC will be returning 11 players–all familiar with the way Pulis likes things done and well implemented into the
I won’t bury the lead. Joaquin Rivas faced a Preki-led Saint Louis FC two years ago in preseason. It was a really fun game at SLU’s Hermann Stadium. Well, fun in atmosphere at least. The team lost 3-0. That said, I saw one player who easily outshone the rest in talent and flair. One of the goals scored was a worldy from 30 yards out by none other than aforementioned Joaquin Rivas. After that day, I followed his progress to see if it was real or luck. It was real. He went on to score 12 goals last year in 29 appearances on a lackluster Tulsa Roughnecks squad.
Joaquin Rivas is a left-footed winger who can also play under the striker. He’s not a playmaker per se but is indeed dangerous all over the field. Something to note is that he’s one of two left-footed pro players on the squad–the developing attacker Audi Jepson is the other. More on this later.
Let’s talk more about stolen Roughnecks, shall we? Paris Gee is a Canadian fullback/outside midfielder whose highlights look truly promising–I think. If what he does on his highlight reel can be repeated consistently, he will be the
Another new player added to the roster is former Timbers 2 and FC Cincinnati attacker Russell Cicerone. Russell was beloved by Cincy fans for his high work rate (I’m convinced this is something also highly valued by the gaffer) and talent with the ball at his feet. We all know how loaded that FCC roster was last year, and still, Cicerone worked his way into the squad for an average of 47 minutes per game in 10 appearances. Cicerone’s stats have never been impressive, but we’ll see how Alumbaugh and Pulis’ scouting eyes are with him and a few other statistically bland attackers recently signed to the squad. It doesn’t hurt that Cicerone can play both up top and on the right wing.
Caleb Calvert is another one of those statistically bland attackers. He tallied 1 goal and 3 assists on loan with the Charlotte Independence from the Colorado Rapids in 18 appearances last year. That said, I think I know what the front office sees in him. He’s 6’2”, 180 pounds, and is a nice replacement to for the departed Michael Cox. For one or both Calvert and Cicerone, I think consistent minutes may also lead to more consistent production.
Matt Bahner is the other fullback signed to the team, helping fill the gap of 4 natural fullbacks lost this offseason in Stanley, Culbertson, Polak, and Barden. Unlike Gee, Bahner shines in defense. Think Culbertson without the double dive.
Last of the newcomers are Guy Abend and Oscar Umar. These guys are extremely similar and will have to share a paragraph. Guy comes to us from Reno 1868 FC. He didn’t get a ton of minutes from them, but I think under Pulis he will be a mainstay. The Israeli is a defensive-minded midfielder whose main tool going forward is a long ball in behind. I have a sneaking suspicion this is also the kind of guy Jeremy Alumbaugh loves, but I keep forgetting to ask. Oscar Umar is a Ghanaian national who came to the US via the Right to Dream Academy. Oscar already has the tools to play in this league but shows signs of a higher ceiling than Guy. Watch for Oscar to shut down games, push Abend in training, and even play in a double pivot alongside him for a more defensive look.
So how will all of this come together? I have some ideas of possible preseason looks. I can think of at least one person who should stop reading here, but this nerd lives for this kind of talk. On top of that, if you listen carefully, hints have been dropped by Alumbaugh in my interview with him, so let’s nerd out together…
This was the primary formation last year with different forwards giving different looks. Typically, you saw Kyle Greig working hard alongside the athletic Dikwa or imposing Michael Cox. Look for Cicerone to push Dikwa this year in the athletic role, and for Calvert to be the target striker. Surely we will see Lewis Hilton run his ass off next to Abend or Umar. They will sit in front of any two of Reynolds, Fink, and Kavita. Honestly, Pulis’ hardest job this year will be telling one of these three they can’t play every single week (maybe?? See 3-4-3).
Now let’s talk about the wide edges of the field, which present the most questions and proving. Rivas starts in your best eleven, but where? I think we have our answer in our best attacking loaner last year, Pierre Da Silva of Orlando City SC. Pierre is left footed, plays the same positions as Rivas, has a similar skill set as Rivas, and was very successful helping the STL attack. When I saw Da Silva in action with the team last year, I thought he was far and away more individually dangerous on the right, cutting inside to shoot or combine. I hope to see Rivas doing the same thing, but sometimes Pulis put Silva out wide. I assume this was to accomplish other goals beyond my comprehension, but one thing I will say is that Pierre’s crosses were less than impressive. We’ll see how Rivas measures up in that regard.
Let’s not forget past favorites! Austin Martz provided a lot of, if not most of, the attacking pressure before he went down with a severe injury. In Hugh Robert’s Backyard Footy interview with agent Brian Krahling, Krahling points to Martz as being one of the fastest burners in the USL. Martz is a must play, whether as a starter or a sub (does he need protection from injury?). Either way, he’ll either cause or take advantage of tired legs. Austin works hard going both ways and can put in a nice cross. Kadeem Dacres wasn’t able to produce like we hoped last year, but showed signs of extreme talent toward the middle-end of the season. I also heard he played through some tough injuries, so we’ll see if the good soldier can improve that in a healthy new season. Lastly, Audi Jepson is a player who showed a lot of promise in attack. He’s a perfect backup to Rivas this year with the ceiling to overtake or even play opposite him if one or both can be relied on in defense.
Finally, fullback. I have heard rumblings of Gee and Rivas continuing the success of work together this year. So, I put up this formation choosing an attacking right side of Rivas and Gee and left of Dacres and Bahner to start a game. Lots of switching of sides and positions depending on subs and the flow of the game.
There are rumors and hints of a 4-2-3-1 in St. Louis this year. If it happens, I personally don’t think Rivas will be the first to try on the 10
This one is just for me. Last year in preseason I got to see what I thought was a 3-4-3 with Greig up high and Hertzog and Dikwa just below him. I. Loved. It. This was also before Phanuel Kavita went down, so at the time they were able to utilize all of Kavita, Reynolds, and Fink–which I mean…what’s not to love? I think it never got a fair shake because of the Kavita and Barden injuries, but I am certain we’ll see at least some speculative 3 back formations coming at us. This is just my FIFA 19 attacking setup. -PG
Top photo courtesy of Will Bramlett: workinthemorning.com