By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, March 18, 2016
Even though Saint Louis FC was out of the postseason picture in its first USL season, the fan support was electrifying and the club generated some exciting moments along the way. The Aug. 21 stoppage-time winner against the Charleston Battery probably took the cake. Dale Schilly’s side needed a maturation process and perhaps a few extra pieces to push into the playoff conversation. Heading into 2016, Saint Louis has a good returning group with a year under its belt, as well as a few names that just make a postseason berth a reality.
Head Coach: Dale Schilly
Stadium: World Wide Technology Soccer Park
2015 results: 8-11-9 record; 9th in Eastern Conference
2015 postseason: Did not qualify for USL Playoffs
Goalkeeper: Mark Pais made eight appearances last season as he backed up Alec Kann, who joined Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City. Pais has some new competition among the goalkeeping corps as Jamaican international Ryan Thompson was brought in during the offseason Thompson drew deserved attention with his play during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup that included a semifinal victory against the United States.
Defense: The majority of last season’s back line has been retained, with James Musa and Sam Fink teaming up at center back for much of last year. Chad Vandegriffe and Richard Dixon also return at outside back options. There is some added depth to this group with former Houston Dynamo center back A.J. Cochran on board. The St. Louis native and 2014 MLS SuperDraft selection spent a portion of last year on loan with the Charleston Battery, and he should bring some added confidence and experience to this group for 2016.
Midfield: STL FC wanted to add some leadership to its midfield the club found just that with Chad Bond. The Wales native looks forward to his fourth USL season, with previous stops including the Los Angeles Blues in 2012, the title-winning Sacramento Republic FC in 2014 and Tulsa Roughnecks FC last year. Bond will now attempt to mesh with a relatively cohesive returning group that features Parker Maher, Jacob Bushue and Charles Renken, all of whom played in at least 25 games last season.
Forward: Saint Louis’ attack was itching for a player or two to take the scoring reins. Much of the same front line is back at it, with the club hopeful that some breakout performances are on the horizon. Mike Ambersley, Jamiel Hardware and Jermie Lynch each tied for the goal-scoring lead with four apiece. Some new blood will be mixed in, including El Salvador international Irvin Herrera.
Strengths: The key upgrades in midfield with Bond and Cochran in defense could prove to be the remedy in making things click from front to back on this team. Cochran has had some invaluable time in MLS and is poised in the air. Bond’s box-to-box play and athleticism should open doors in the attack. So as long as these two pieces live up to the billing, Saint Louis could be in store for a much improved campaign.
Weaknesses: Perhaps one year of professional experience together will remedy the team’s difficulty in finishing up front. It became a broken record at times in 2015 because STL FC was more than capable of possessing and creating chances. Not much has changed on the front line, so this will be a gut check moment and season for this group. Another 30-goal season won’t be enough to work into the upper half of the Western Conference field.
Key number: 86,000 – Thanks to $86,000 of crowd funding, the previously flooded and damaged World Wide Technology Soccer Park will be good to go when Saint Louis hosts Tulsa Roughnecks FC on April 16.
Noteworthy matchups: Saint Louis and newcomer Swope Park Rangers are sure to develop a Western Conference rivalry because of their proximity and soccer-crazed markets. STL hosts Swope on May 7 at World Wide Technology Soccer Park to begin a four-game season series. With the change of conferences, Saint Louis will have two crossover matches against the Eastern Conference’s Louisville City FC. Saint Louis heads to Louisville Slugger Field on May 14 and hosts City on Sept. 17 in its second-to-last game of the regular season.
Coach’s view: “We came into the season with a lot of guys just out of college, and at times it showed, but those guys learned and improved and showed with their plate late in the season that they can compete and be successful.” – Dale Schilly
Current roster (updated: March 18, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Mark Pais, Ryan Thompson
Defenders: A.J. Cochran, Richard Dixon, Sam Fink, James Musa, Chad Vandegriffe
Midfielders: Brandon Barklage, Chad Bond, Jacob Bushue, Vince Cicciarelli, Tyler David, Parker Maher, Charles Renken, Kentaro Takada
Forwards: Mike Ambersley, Jamiel Hardware, Irvin Herrera, Jermie Lynch, Jordan Roberts