skip navigation

Saint Louis Uses Counterattack to Fuel Playoff Push

By JOHN ARLIA -, 09/28/18, 10:57AM EDT


Increased efficiency from reduced possession has powered STLFC’s four-game unbeaten run

Corey Hertzog runs down the left flank in Saint Louis FC's win over San Antonio FC. | Photo courtesy Mark Guthrel / Saint Louis FC

Saint Louis – Sitting outside of the playoff places with six weeks remaining in the 2018 USL regular season and facing a pivotal stretch of four straight matches against playoff contenders, Saint Louis FC knew it needed to pick up results in a hurry if it hoped to reach the USL Cup Playoffs for the first time in club history.

That challenge has appeared to produce a novel tactical pivot from Head Coach Anthony Pulis that changed his team’s mentality away from a group that likes to keep possession of the ball to one that looks for opportunities to strike on the counterattack.

The result has been two straight victories and a four-game unbeaten run that sees STLFC sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference standings as it enters a potential postseason preview against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) with a playoff berth clearly in its sights.

Over its current unbeaten run, Saint Louis has shown the ability to win in different ways, coming away with three points from a 4-3 goalfest against the Swope Park Rangers as well as keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 home victory over Reno 1868 FC a week earlier. The lone constants over that stretch, however, have been STLFC’s counterattacking threat – especially down the left side of the field – and its clinical finishing.

Before beginning its run of good form against Reno on September 8, Saint Louis had held the majority of possession in three of its four prior contests but managed just four goals and four points against Portland Timbers 2 and eliminated sides Fresno FC, Tulsa Roughnecks FC and Seattle Sounders FC 2. Since that string of results, however, the side has been out-possessed in each of its four matches while averaging just over 40 percent of the ball.

It has made up for that with improved finishing as it has converted its shot attempts at a 16 percent clip, two percent higher than the club’s overall regular season mark.

In the victory over 1868 FC, STLFC maintained just 41 percent of possession despite having a man-advantage for the final 37 minutes of the second half after Jordan Murrell was sent off for the visitors. Saint Louis funneled 48 percent of its attacks down the left-hand side in the match and made its dominance on that end of the pitch count in the 27th minute when outside midfielder Austin Martz beat his defender on the wing and fired in a low cross to Kyle Greig, who produced a super finish to give his side the lead.

Saint Louis brought its newfound strategy into its match at Real Monarchs SLC four days later, as the visitors maintained just over 30 percent of possession but managed more shots on target than the hosts. STLFC grabbed the lead in the ninth minute as Greig produced a superb bit of hold-up play on the left and played a one-two with Kadeem Dacres before sliding a pass to Albert Dikwa, who was bundled over in the penalty area by a Monarchs defender.

Wal Fall saw the resulting penalty kick saved by Jake Leeker but followed up on the rebound to secure a point for his side in a 1-1 draw. STLFC employed a similar approach in its following victories against Swope Park, where the side didn’t record one key pass from outside the right side of the penalty area, and this past Saturday against San Antonio FC, where a driving run into the left channel by Joey Calistri helped create space for Lewis Hilton’s arrival to score what proved the winning goal. Those two results brought STLFC within four points of clinching a playoff berth with three games to go.

Saint Louis will look to bring that same approach to the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex against a side that has at times mirrored the counterattacking style Saint Louis has engaged, having held the majority of possession in only seven of its 15 home matches this season. It should make for a fascinating tactical matchup in one of the biggest games of Week 29’s weekend slate.

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos