St. Louis FC tied Saturday night at Soccer Park in Fenton. But honestly, it felt like a loss.
“Frustrated,” coach Anthony Pulis said following a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United 2 before a crowd of 4,812. “We created some unbelievable chances tonight. I don’t think our play was fantastic, but I counted like six, clear-cut opportunities. You can’t miss opportunities and expect to win the game.”
STLFC’s players were just as frustrated.
“To be honest, at home, I feel like we have to get the three points (for the win). It feels like a loss to be honest,” STLFC midfield leader Lewis Hilton said.
“I’m annoyed,” said Tyler Blackwood, who scored the STLFC goal. “At home, I feel like we have to find a way to get three points.”
Blackwood, who’s been STLFC’s top offensive threat following a midseason trade, put the home team on top in the 67th minute when he knocked in a well-played cross to the far post from teammate Bradley Kamden-Fewo. But visiting Atlanta United 2 answered quickly, rallying for the tie when reserve Amir Bashti converted a pass from Mo Adams to even the score at 1-1.
Battling for a playoff spot, ninth-place St. Louis FC is 11-10-9. Atlanta United 2 improved to 8-16-7 but is 3-0-2 in its last five.
Midway through the season. Atlanta United 2 suffered through an 0-10-4 stretch. STLFC is 5-1-1 over its last seven matches.
“The first half was frustrating because it felt like Kyle (Greig) and I were chasing it a little bit,” Blackwood said. “Coming out in the second half, I wanted to try and make some sort of impact. Obviously got the goal, but then, I don’t know, I guess we just switched it off. It just hurts.
“Honestly, I’d much rather not score but get the win. We want to make playoffs, the fans deserve playoffs, it just hurts right now.
“We just have to get back the mentality we had when we went on that five-game streak. If we score first, we have to be impossible to break down. We have to have everyone locked down for 95 minutes. We have to be locked down, where nobody’s taking chances. My memory after a game is terrible — I don’t remember much about how they scored — but I just know that we have to stay switched on.”
STLFC produced the night’s first chance when Hilton had a shot from outside the penalty area sail wide. In the 13th minute, after an STLFC corner kick went untouched through the Atlanta United 2 penalty area, Matt Bahner’s pass into the box was headed over the goal by Phanuel Kavita.
In the 16th minute, after receiving a pass from Russell Cicerone, STLFC’s Blackwood hit a volley attempt wide.
“First 15 minutes, I’m thinking we should be 2-nil up,” Pulis said. “It crosses your mind that we can’t keep missing these chances and expect to win. They didn’t have that many chances; the frustrating thing was that we just weren’t clinical enough in front of the goal. It’s two points dropped, simple as that. But it’s not the end of the world. Still in a decent position, still have four games left. And lots to play for.”
Atlanta United 2 created a decent chance in the 20th minute. After receiving a long ball at the edge of the box, Atlanta United 2’s Patrick Okonkwo took a shot after a quick spin. But he shot wide.
Just before halftime, STLFC created a decent chance when Hilton’s free kick was headed toward the middle by Kavita to Blackwood, whose volley attempt went wide.
In extra time at the end of the half, Atlanta United 2’s Luis Fernandez created a chance off a counter attack that STLFC goalkeeper Tomas Gomez tipped over top of the goal for a corner kick. But nothing came of it.
In the 59th minute, Atlanta United 2’s Mo Adams received the ball on the right side of the penalty area, but shot wide.
In the 62nd minute, after Blackwood created a turnover on a strong challenge against Atlanta United 2 goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira. STLFC’s Cicerone collected the blocked clearing attempt but after waiting too long, his shot attempt was blocked.
Seconds later, after a through pass from Matt Bahner, STLFC’s Kyle Greig moved into the penalty area. But the chance was foiled, thanks to a well-played slide tackle.
After goals from each squad, STLFC created a decent chance in the 78th minute when Cicerone played the ball to Blackwood, whose low shot from the edge of the box was stopped and controlled by goalkeeper Castanheira.
In the 86th minute, STLFC reserve Masta Kacher tested Castanheira with a blast that then deflected off the cross bar.
Looking for back-to-back playoff berths, STLFC will close the regular season with four matches in October.
Ninth-place STLFC will host sixth-place Louisville City (14-7-9), the two-time defending USL champion, on Oct. 5, will play at 16th-place Loudon United (7-16-6) on Oct. 9, will play at home against the second-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds (16-4-10) on Oct. 12 and will play at seventh-place North Carolina FC (14-9-8) on Oct. 19.
The top six finishers in each league will receive a first-round bye, with the playoffs beginning with No. 10 seed hosting No. 7 seed and the No. 8 seed hosting the No. 9 seed.