Another win for City SC, but the team’s first shutout makes it sweeter
As captain of St. Louis City SC, goalie Roman Burki is obliged to say something to the team before each game, a little pep talk before the team takes the field. A lot of times he wings it, letting the spirit move him.
“This time, I was really paying attention what I’m going to say before the game,” he said. “I said we need that clean sheet mentality to win this game, and the team delivered with the fans in the back. It was an amazing day.”
A clean sheet is soccer-ese for a shutout, and while City SC was getting off to a 3-0 start, one thing the team had done was win, but the final scores were more the product of City SC outscoring the other team. Though the team had been good at limiting the opposition’s scoring chances, it hadn’t been good at stopping all the scoring chances. In the first three games, City SC allowed five goals.
That changed on Saturday, as City SC shut down San Jose for a 3-0 win that also earned the team in place in Major League Soccer history: they became the first Major League Soccer expansion team to win its first four games, surpassing the 3-0 start of the 2009 Seattle Sounders.
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“You could see Roman was itching for the clean sheet,” said coach Bradley Carnell. “He really wanted this one badly. We gave him a ball in the locker room congratulating him on his first clean sheet. But I thought it was a total team performance.”
“It means everything,” said center back Lucas Bartlett, an unlikely starter at center back after Tim Parker’s groin injury kept him from playing. “We’ve been fighting for it the last three games. I was really happy that we got it tonight when I was playing, but it’s something we’ve all worked for, the entire team, top to bottom.”
While the defense got the shutout, City SC’s offense kept going, scoring three goals for the third time in four games. As usual, Klauss got one, his third in four games, and he was joined by Niko Gioacchini, who got the start as Carnell chose to go with two strikers, and Tomas Ostrak, who came off the bench to score and seal the win. City SC is tied for the lead league in goals with 11.
City SC is also the only team with a perfect record left in the league after the other unbeaten, untied team, LAFC, was tied by Seattle earlier in the day. City SC has a perfect 12 points after four games.
“I think today was our best game so far all season,” said sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel. “I think you could feel today exactly the principles we were talking about from Day One. You saw the the pressing, you got the feeling that we really played our game. We didn’t give them a second to breathe. And I think we deserved that victory and I’m really really proud about the coaching staff and the players.”
“The energy, the excitement, the relentlessness and ruthlessness of what we are doing and just the moments of quality,” Carnell said. “We show against the ball, we show with the ball, executed the game plan in mind, and I thought the boys had their most complete performance.”
And, for once, the team didn’t have to come from behind to do it. City SC had trailed in its first three wins, but against San Jose, it was pretty much in control from the start on a frigid night at CityPark, where the temperature was 25 degrees at kickoff, with a wind chill even lower.
“I was thinking about going into dribbling and running through the whole field,” said Burki, who as a goalie had to spend long stretches standing around. “It was really cold, but I had good gear. I was OK. I was always in the game communication-wise or just with a small touch on my feet.”
“This was really cold, really cold,” Klauss said. “I was shaking and I was praying that I would finish the game. I think it was worse than Leverkusen (in November), or the same. But we are used to it. When we are inside, we don’t feel it.”
The scoring started in the 34th minute when a long series of passes starting in City SC’s own end ended with John Nelson playing a ball into the box that Gioacchini touched twice, once to settle it and then as the ball bounced ahead of him he fought off a defender and then knocked the ball in with the outside of his right foot as he fell to the ground. It was the first goal for Gioacchini in MLS play.
Three minutes into first half injury time, Klauss made it 2-0. He had taken a pass from Eduard Lowen and was trying to get the ball to Rasmus Alm running down the center of the field but the pass was broken up by the San Jose defense. They’d have been better off letting it go. Instead, the ball came back to Klauss, who ultimately bulldozed his way through four San Jose defenders before scoring his third goal in four games and has a goal or an assist in every game.
Burki made his one big save in the 61st minute, coming over to block a shot from Cade Cowell, who was standing just inside the penalty spot, and minutes later, City SC put the game away. In the 68th minute, after shots by Lowen and Indiana Vassilev were blocked, the ball came to Ostrak, who moved to his left and shot, with the ball deflecting off a San Jose defender and going in.
All that was left was to finish the game, protect the shutout and take another lap around the stadium to salute the fans in the team’s second sellout crowd. The win may have been City SC’s best to date, but they’re hoping it’s just a rung on a ladder, not the top of the hill.
“I hope we’re going to continue with the performances and hopefully win the next game,” Ostrak said. “So, I look forward to the next games.”
Up next is a game at Real Salt Lake on Saturday. And if the team breaks a record this time by starting 5-0, it will be their own record.
Photos: St. Louis City SC beats San Jose Earthquakes to stay undefeated