A look at Saint Louis FC’s win over Charlotte last weekend.
Saint Louis FC have jumped New York Red Bulls II, North Carolina FC, and Tampa Bay Rowdies to the first place spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over Charlotte Independence. My main takeaways from last weekend’s match were a goal from open play, more stern, impermeable defending and finally seeing some better build up play through Albert Dikwa when he came on for Kyle Grieg.
Let me start by saying, I just moved to the St. Louis area and historically, STL FC haven’t been a team that I have followed. That being said, I have watched all of their first four games this season and, like any fan of Saint Louis FC, old or new, I really like what I see. There is composure in every position along with a healthy dosage of grit. The technical ability and awareness of Lewis Hilton as a number 6 is something that is going to remain vitally important throughout the season along with the Oscar Umar role when he’s healthy again, of course. But thus far, with a lot of chances being created every game, it’s exciting times.
It was great to see a goal from open play vs. Charlotte, especially so early in the game – the 5th minute – and one that exhibited both power and finesse. Left back Bradley Kamden Fewo shrugged off a defender – literally sending the defender sprawling to the ground – on the touchline, then whipped a cross into a great area where Grieg had to adjust and contort his body slightly backward to send a low looping header past a goalkeeper left affixed to his goal line. By the time the goalkeeper knew what had happened, Grieg was penguin sliding towards the stands full of raucous and soaking wet home fans. Goals from set pieces are, as anyone knows, a seriously important part of the game. Saint Louis FC have proven to be a real threat from a dead ball situation, something that will likely continue to propel them towards good results. But, as a fan, it’s really great to see a goal created in open play.
My second main takeaway from the game was another commanding defensive performance. And it can be argued that last week, giving up a late goal at home, wasn’t what some might call a commanding defensive performance. But, Rowdies really didn’t test all that much and the penalty, at least from the angle I was sitting at, was really unlucky and could have had something to do with the bounce of the ball off of the dry artificial turf, a surface that is notorious for unnatural spins and bounces. Even fewer chances were conceded against Charlotte Independence. Scoring in the 5th minute is a fantastic way to start a game but can also be very dangerous. But, the team defended well as a unit, cutting off passing lanes and disallowing 1v1 situations to occur. In an almost Shakespearean turn of events, in the 82nd or so minute, Sam Fink, whose handball late on against Rowdies last week gifted them a penalty, went sliding in on what appeared at first to be a rash challenge on Jorge Herrera in the box. In the end, after appeals from both teams for vastly different outcomes, the ref booked Herrera for a dive. To me, this moment was important for Fink, his performance redemptive, to allow him to feel like he can be aggressive and defend in the way that he likes.
My last takeaway involved Albert Dikwa and his involvement in the game. Obviously, Grieg was given the nod over Dikwa by Anthony Pulis this week, and in hindsight, rightly so as Grieg scored the winner. But last week against Rowdies, I felt like Dikwa wasn’t as involved as he could be. Maybe that was Rowdies, who are a fantastic team, doing a good job of not allowing him to receive the ball and run by forcing him to play speculative long balls. Whether Grieg scored or not, I felt Dikwa’s exclusion from the starting line-up was justified. But when Dikwa came on for Grieg in the 64th minute, he changed the game. It could have been a case of fresh legs, but Dikwa was involved, if not heavily involved (see Joaquin Rivas’ shot that rattled the crossbar in the 75th minute) in every bit of STL FC’s build-up. He was lively, took several very good touches and offered a competent player to build off of, which was very reassuring to see.
It is still obviously very early in the season but thus far, Saint Louis FC, under Anthony Pulis, looks the part. Now, and I believe that this will naturally come with more fixtures, it would be nice to see a higher conversion rate on these chances created. The game against Independence could have easily finished 3-nil in STL FC’s favor. With two massive games on the road coming up, first at Atlanta United II and then at Pittsburgh Riverhounds, finishing some of those chances might need to become more of a necessity than an ought to’ve if this unbeaten run is to continue.