A positive start to the season continued over the weekend for Saint Louis FC.
Saint Louis FC emerged from a weekend full of enticing fixtures victorious, but not unscathed. Saint Louis FC were away at ATL UTD 2 in Kennesaw, earning a hard-fought 2-nil victory. The gutsy performance was slightly marred by Bradley Kamden Fewo picking up an injury in the 17th minute, which brought an end to his night. Kamden Fewo was in obvious discomfort on the ground after sliding into a challenge and when he tried to stand up and “walk it off,” it was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to continue, which visibly frustrated him. The only slight positive to take away from the early Kamdem Fewo injury was that Matt Bahner came on and filled in well.
The ATL team that started the game featured a few players, notably Andrew Carleton, Florentin Pogba, and Romario Williams, that should have led to a more dominant display. But, ATL UTD 2 were very disjointed and undisciplined in the first half. Pogba, who was playing as the left center back, was caught out of position, seeming to prefer to just kind of pop up in random places around the field, on a number of occasions and the back line didn’t seem to be getting much help from a very young midfield. I haven’t watched this Atlanta United 2 team this year and all I really knew about them going into this game was their position in the table and their results which aren’t fantastic. That is somewhat expected from a second team where the whole goal is to pick the best players, or players that are performing, to come offer their services to the first team. I thought I’d see Romario Williams, who has played for Atlanta United’s first team and Pogba, who I am sure is dying to break into the first team, put on more mature performances, but they didn’t really seem up for it. Pogba was even subbed off at half time. That being said, Carleton, a bright, young talent that has appeared, sparingly, for the first team, was a thorn in Saint Louis FC’s side all night, along with second-half sub Kunga.
Saint Louis FC went ahead in the 9th minute, about five minutes after Lewis Hilton rattled the crossbar from a residual chance from a routine corner, courtesy of a penalty taken by captain, Sam Fink. Whether the penalty was justified or not was definitely up for debate. I watched the game on TV and there was essentially one camera angle throughout the whole game, which was a perfectly fine, wide angle, but didn’t really allow for different looks at the penalty shout. Kyle Grieg, who was the Saint Louis FC player fouled, was definitely in the box and definitely went down a little theatrically, but, due to another player blocking the view, it was hard to tell if there was any real contact from Jack Metcalf on Grieg. It looked to me like one of those situations where the defender and the attacking player swing at the ball simultaneously and the attacking player ends up kicking the leg/foot of the defender. In these scenarios, the attacker is always the one that makes a meal of it and it is typically a foul in favor of the attacker. Atlanta United 2 players seemed pretty adamant about the fact that there was little to no contact, but, in my opinion, any player sliding in from behind in the box, is asking for trouble. In the end, the penalty was given and Fink slotted it to Alec Kann’s right while Kann dove left.
Saint Louis FC doubled their lead in the 20th minute through Russell Cicerone. The goal came from the type of counter attack you work on in training. After an Atlanta set piece, STL recovered the ball, which was played into Grieg, who had dropped deep. He dragged Pogba with him and out of position. Grieg dropped the ball to Hilton who pinged it long to a streaking Cicerone. But, Cicerone still had a lot of work to do. Atlanta center back George Campbell was able to recover and engage Cicerone. He put his head down, cut inside onto his left foot and cut a shot back across goal to Kann’s left, beating Campbell and Kann to score.
Now, two goals to the good in 20 minutes against a completely out of sorts Atlanta United 2, I was hoping for a deluge. But, it was not meant to be. Pogba was brought off at halftime for Wesly Decas, which solidified the back line, and Carleton came to life in the second half, creating several chances. STL FC didn’t see a whole lot of the ball in the second half, but it certainly didn’t phase them. They are proving to be a side that seems as comfortable without the ball as they are with it. Selfless defensive work from the two up front: Albert Dikwa, who had another solid performance both in the build-up and defensive work rate, and Grieg, helped keep the clean sheet intact.
The biggest difference I saw between the two teams in this game was that one felt like a team and one felt like an amalgamation of players that hadn’t really been training together or were really all that familiar with each other. Other than Carleton, who was very good on the night and will, I am sure, do very well in the USL Championship until his time in MLS inevitably comes, and maybe fullback Laurence Wyke and captain Metcalf, none of the ATL UTD 2 players exhibited the urgency I would expect from players hungry for a chance to prove their worth and break into the first team.
Saint Louis FC returns home this weekend to face Birmingham Legion, who have had a rocky start to their season, winning one game and losing three. But, the one game they have won thus far was their only road game, at defending champs, Louisville City FC. So Legion has something to offer and has the potential to throw a wrench into this Saint Louis FC – a team that is currently firing on all cylinders – near-perfect season. Kickoff from World Wide Technology Soccer Park is 7:30 p.m. central time.