Saturdays 2-1 come from behind victory over Louisville City saw the inaugural campaign of USL season play end on a high note for Saint Louis FC. Finishing the season in 9th place of the eastern conference, the season will be marked as a struggle but that would mask the many high’s also enjoyed by the club in it’s first year.
The season started relatively bright. After an initial loss in the clubs first competitive game, [2-0 at Louisville] wins in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and a first home win to Wilmington had St Louis as high as 4th place and looking forward to a run in the Open Cup.
The Open Cup run was a bright spot that entertained the fans as extra time wins over Des Moines and MLS bound Minnesota United ensured the Saint Louis fans got to travel to play Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park in a memorable event that saw the first competitive soccer game from across I-70 in history. STLFC eventually lost 1-0 to a stacked Sporting team that included US internationals Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Benny Feilhaber in front of almost 20,000 fans.
As the Open Cup run provided excitement it also induced a fixture pileup which saw exhaustion and injuries overcome the squad. Forward Jamiel Hardware suffered a long term hamstring issue, captain Brandon Barklage was laid low to a foot injury, and right back Richard Dixon hobbled off with another hamstring tear.
Despite a disappointing loss at home to Toronto FC2, the club managed to keep most upcoming games close. However ties were the order of the day as the team tied four games in a row against Louisville twice, and 1-1 ties against Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
A very real slump ensured during the dog days of summer. Despite bright spots, including hard fought wins in Charlotte and Toronto, the club managed only those two victories in a run of twelve games. During that stretch Dale Schilly’s team suffered some moral shattering losses twice to Montreal, Richmond at home, twice New York Red Bull2, and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. No longer were the losses close either. The margin of the other teams victories were slowly creeping up with the Richmond loss being 3-1, NYRB2 hammering Saint Louis 4-1 at home and a 5-2 debacle in Montreal.
The away form at this point was relatively good with 4 away wins. However with only one league win at home it was something of a concern as the Open Cup victories were all but a memory. Crowds were still packing into Soccer Park in Fenton and were duly rewarded at the end of August with a euphoric come from behind 3-2 victory against Charleston Battery. Goals from Mike Ambersley, Sam Fink, and an amazing last minute Aaron Horton goal sealed a much needed tonic. Saint Louis managed to maintain the momentum from the Charleston win to be victorious in the last two home games. A commanding 2-0 display gave STLFC the double over Charlotte and a 2-1 win to avenge the opening day loss to Louisville saw the season out.
In conclusion the end of the season will somewhat paper over the cracks that saw the team struggle during the height of the summer. GM Jeremy Alumbaugh and head coach Dale Schilly will look towards fixing the clubs lack of firepower, which saw them only net 30 goals in 28 games. Gaul, Lynch, Hardware and Ambersley all finished the year on four goals apiece and defender Sam Fink tallied three. Fink never missed a minute of the league campaign and will be unanimous choice for player of the season.
The shining light of the season was undoubtedly the defense. Edwardsville native Fink and New Zealander James Musa formed a stoic partnership in the center of defense and Chicago Fire loanee Patrick Doody was an almost ever present left back.
The club finished the season with a record of 8 wins, 11 losses and 9 ties for 33 points.