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Oppo Research: 5 Things about St. Louis City SC

Matt Baker of Flyover Footy explains why NYCFC should fear Aziel Jackson.

St. Louis City's Aziel Jackson has a flow | St. Louis City

In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue spoke with Matt Baker of Flyover Footy to learn more about St. Louis City SC, New York City FC's road opponent on Saturday: Here is your NYCFC vs St. Louis preview.

1. Growth from players to win a playoff game

Hudson River Blue: St. Louis finished first in the Western Conference in their inaugural season, scoring 62 goals, the third-most in the MLS. With many key players besides Nicholas Gioacchini and Jared Stroud returning this season, what are the club’s expectations in 2024? 

Matt Baker: The club’s expectations center around winning a playoff match. It’s easier to do that as a Top 4 team, so that’s what the club and fans are really targeting. We’re realistic in regressions that occur in a Year Two with teams having a better idea of our style of play and tendencies, as we saw a bit of in the latter half of 2023 too. There were still significant injuries in 2023 despite winning the regular season conference, to both of our DPs in Klauss and Eduard Löwen, so having them healthy and in form will be key to our success.

The club is counting on the next steps in the growth of Sam Adeniran at forward and AZ Jackson in the attacking midfield too, as well as veteran performances from Tim Parker and Joakim Nilsson on the backline and new fullback additions in right-back Tomas Totland left-back and Nikolas Dyhr — both brought in to attack as much as they defend, which is a hallmark of Bradley Carnell’s high press/counter attacking style.

2. Disorganized play needs to be improved

HRB:  St. Louis played to a 1-1 tie with Real Salt Lake on Matchday 1, as both teams scored late to share the points. What were some takeaways from that game?

MB: It was clearly opening week for St. Louis, and we were one of the many teams who struggled amidst the Champions Cup. A draw at home usually isn’t good by any measure but this team struggled to find that final pass and create any meaningful chances outside of a second-half long-pass and incredible individual effort by Sam Adeniran. The lines for St. Louis weren’t connecting well enough, duels weren’t being won in our attacking half and for large portions of the game, Klauss wasn’t being utilized as the line-breaking forward he can be. St. Louis will need to do a better job winning these battles when they progress the ball and do a better job of creating spaces in the final third for better shot opportunities, otherwise they could continue to struggle.

3. Strong lineup despite mid-week fixture

HRB: St. Louis lost on the road Tuesday night against the Houston Dynamo in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. How will that affect the team for Saturday’s game?

MB: Assuming they come out of the game healthy, and seeing as much rotation as we expect, I look for a mostly full roster available to select on match day in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 formation, depending on the fitness of Klauss and Sam Adeniran after Houston. Last week there was a strong lineup (on paper) against RSL in the middle of CONCACAF Champions Cup matches, and the Tuesday to Saturday turnaround is much easier to work with than Saturday to Tuesday. We’re dealing with center-back depth issues right now, as center-back Kyle Hiebert will be unavailable against NYCFC due to a knee injury, center-back Tim Parker left RSL with muscle tightness and CB Josh Yaro had multiple instances of needing to step aside due to contact with his head.

4. The X-Factor: Aziel Jackson 

HRB: What's the X-factor that could decide this game?

MB: I would say Aziel Jackson. He is so active in the attacking half and has a tendency to drive the ball or to always put himself one pass away from connections. His positioning can be all over the place - defending the left but attacking on the right and Carnell has shown great confidence in that flexibility. His ball handling as well can be elite as long as he doesn’t try to do too much or take on too much responsibility himself. If AZ can find success in putting the ball in dangerous places for teammates or opening space himself, then St. Louis will be in a good position

Aziel Jackson: His first and only goal for St. Louis

5. Predicted Starting XI

HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI? Final score?

MB: Tough given Champions Cup on Tuesday, 2-1 St. Louis.