It’s not enough for St. Louis City to secure the top spot in its conference and charge into the Major League Soccer playoffs with more wins than any previous expansion club.
City wants more.
An MLS Cup title would sure be nice. But even beyond that, St. Louis’ aim is success beyond Season 1.
As the regular season draws to a close and the playoffs loom, St. Louis is the top team in the Western Conference, becoming the first MLS club to win its conference in a debut season.
The team is also the first expansion club since the shootout era to win 17 or more games in the regular season. City currently sits at 17 with one game remaining, a match at home against the Seattle Sounders this Saturday on Decision Day.
With 56 points, they’re a point away from LAFC’s single-season record of 57 points in an inaugural year.
“This proves to everyone that if we have big dreams, we can accomplish big things. So we won’t give up on anything,” said Diego Gigliani, team president and general manager. “We will fight every single game and hope to get as far as we can in this playoffs but, more importantly, over the long term, year in and year out.”
And they’ve done it all without a big-name player like Lionel Messi or Carlos Vela. Instead, City’s season has been more of a collective effort. The team has the second-lowest payroll in the league.
That’s not to say there aren’t stars. Brazilian João Klauss and German Eduard Löwen are the team’s designated players. Klauss and American Nicholas Gioacchini share the team lead with 10 goals each. Löwen has 14 assists, tied for third in MLS.
“A growth mindset is key for all of us and that’s what we always spoke about, we can do a lot with a low-budget roster, and that’s exactly what we did,” coach Bradley Carnell said. “We knew that the system was important, and that we can do a lot with a little. So that’s been our whole motto through the whole season. But yeah, just credit to the guys for wanting it.”
After a couple of failed attempts to bring MLS to St. Louis, Carolyn Kindle — granddaughter of the Enterprise rental car company founder — assembled a majority-female ownership group that was awarded an MLS franchise in 2019. A $450 million downtown stadium was built without public funding, and now there’s a waiting list for season tickets.
The COVID pandemic delayed City’s launch until this year, but players got a chance to acclimate in 2022 with the club’s lower-tier MLS NEXT Pro team.
Carnell said the team’s MLS debut, a 3-2 victory over Austin, set the tone for what was to come. St. Louis went on to win its first five games.
“In that first game, we go up, we go down, we come back, and then we win the game 3-2 with a late winner. So from that moment, we created sort of a monster, a snowballing monster that just got bigger,” Carnell said. “We go 5-0 and it becomes a fairy tale season from the very early days. And then to maintain that was obviously a big challenge. Am I surprised? I’m just grateful for the boys that they’ve accepted the culture, the identity and the intensity that we play at. And you know, we’re still not done yet.”
Having already clinched the top seed in the conference, St. Louis will have home-field advantage in the playoffs. Carnell said no one on the team is satisfied with the success so far.
“Not yet. It’s just the way we are. We have some hungry, optimistic and passionate individuals in our locker room and even on great days, like a 5-1 against Cincinnati, or a 6-3 against Austin, we walk in the locker room and we are very angry because we gave up a goal or we gave up three. We have a very dedicated, driven team that sets high standards.”