Two of the hottest teams in United Soccer League Championship will square off Saturday at Soccer Park in Fenton.
St. Louis FC (11-10-9) enjoyed a recent five-game win streak and is 5-1-1 over its last seven matches. Battling to reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, STLFC is 8-1-6 at home this season and currently holds the No. 9 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Their opponent, at at 7:30 p.m., is two-time defending USL champion Louisville City FC (14-7-9), which currently holds the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Division. The visitors, who have clinched a playoff spot, are 5-4-5 on the road this season but enter Saturday’s action riding a nine-game (6-0-3) unbeaten streak.
The top 10 finishers in the Eastern and Western divisions will qualify for the USL Championship playoffs.
Renewing their King’s Cup rivalry, the teams played to a scoreless draw at Louisville Slugger Field on May 18.
“Louisville’s a quality team, a veteran team with a number of players who’ve been together for a while,” STLFC coach Anthony Pulis said this week. “Facing them will be a challenge, but we’re excited about it. At this point of the season, every game is important and right now this is the match we’re focused on.”
STLFC is coming off a frustrating 1-1 draw at home against Atlanta United 2. The local club controlled play and had a number of decent scoring chances. But after going up 1-0 in the second half, STLFC surrendered the tying goal less than five minutes later.
“We watched the film and talked about the game and then we moved on,” Pulis said. “We had more than enough chances to win that game, but we weren’t able to get the result we wanted. We felt like we left two points out there, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. As professionals, all you can do is hopefully learn from that experience and move on to the next game.”
With just four games left in the USL Championship regular season, every result is key for STLFC in its playoff chase.
After Saturday, matches will be played Oct. 9 at 16th-place Loudon United FC (7-17-6) in Leesburg, Va., on Oct. 12 at home against the first-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds (17-4-10) and Oct. 19 at seventh-place North Carolina FC (14-9-8).
STLFC enters the weekend three points ahead of 10th-place Birmingham Legion FC (11-13-6) and 11th-place Charleston Battery (9-9-12). Those squads square off Saturday night in a key showdown match in Alabama.
“At this point, all we can do is focus on getting results in our matches,” Pulis said. “We want to finish the regular season strong and the game that matters most right now is the one we play Saturday night. Louisville’s a veteran team and they’re looking to finish the season strong, too.
“We’re looking forward to this as a challenge.”
STLFC has rebounded well after a 1-8-4 midseason slump in USL Championship action that followed a strong run to U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals featuring wins over a pair of Major League Soccer clubs, the Chicago Fire and FC Cincinnati.
“We’ve competed well against some top competition this season,” Pulis said. “And now the goal is to finish strong heading into the playoffs.”
STLFC’s balanced attack is keyed by midfield leader Lewis Hilton, who’s scored two goals and has a team-leading five assists. Leading the squad with seven goals each are forward Kyle Greig (four assists) and defender Sam Fink, an Edwardville High product.
Tyler Blackwood, who was acquired in a midseason trade with Sacramento, has come on strong to score six goals for his new squad.
Other top scorers are Russell Cicerone (five goals, three assists) and Kadeem Dacres (four goals).
In goal, Jake Fenlason has seven shutouts and Tomas Gomez, from Webster Groves High, has five.
Louisville’s attack is keyed by Magnus Rasmussen (10 goals, three assists), Luke Spencer (seven goals, two assists), Napo Matsoso (four goals), Adbou Mbacke Thiam (three goals, two assists) and Niall McCabe (three goals, two assists). Oscar Jimenez leads the way with seven assists.
In goal, Chris Hubbard and Benjamin Lundt each have four shutouts.