Depth Chart Hypotheses
Let’s face it. St. Louis FC has kept a whopping three players from last year’s roster and most of us have no idea who anyone is. While I won’t be able to help you with name pronunciation, I have spent several mornings watching training and seen all but one preseason friendly. So, I thought I’d give those less fortunate than me a starter’s guide to the team while satisfying my unrelenting desire to reach maximum geek about St. Louis FC. Below are some of the players I think will start the season on or near the starting XI. (this is not expert opinion...merely musings and guesses of a superfan)
We have two newbies on the roster as Pais has moved on to Toronto FC II and Ryan Thompson was last seen as a trialist with DC United.
Devala Gorrick was one of our first offseason signings and for good reason. Named to the USL All-League Second Team last year with Colorado Springs Switchbacks, Devala is a veteran goalkeeper with plenty of experience abroad to strengthen his arsenal of skills. The front office refers to him as a true number one, so don’t expect to see the following backup very often.
Adam Grinwis comes to us via defensive stalwart Rochester Rhinos where he had 20 appearances in two seasons. In small crowd friendlies you can clearly hear Adam encouraging and organizing the team. He doesn’t stop. The best thing I’ve seen about Grinwis? I truly think he has the best service of any goalkeeper St. Louis has ever rostered.
Fans have grown more and more attached to Richard Dixon and Parker Maher over the first two seasons. Both have left but are still seen as quality players as Dixon was picked up by OKC and Parker was signed by Swope Park. This group went from being a big question mark for me in training camp to being one of my favorite positions to watch on gameday.
Matt Sheldon started at the bottom now he’s here (and rising). Quickly, here’s his path: PDL San Jose Earthquakes U23, Ventura County Fusion (PDL), OC Blues U23 (PDL), SG Kinzenbach (6th tier Germany), OC Blues (USL), and St. Louis FC (USL). Each time he’s moved up a level he’s had the talent to move up to the next one. From what I’ve seen so far, USL won’t be his final stop. Truly. Watch for Sheldon to constantly push high up the pitch to the point of making right midfielders unnoticeable. He has the speed, tho, to get back and defend when needed.
Ryan Howe was a trialist from Loyola University in Chicago before joining STLFC in training camp. Ryan first stood out to me by just being consistently solid. Like the team’s previous LB, Parker Maher, Ryan gives unrelenting determination and has the talent to make plays going forward. One of his perfect crosses ended in a headed goal in one of our earliest preseason games. His unsuspecting stature and friendly face make you want to underestimate his abilities, but more than once a game you’ll find yourself standing and applauding something he did alone and exposed in the corner.
When Maher left for Swope Park Rangers I assumed that his spot was being cleared out for Scott Gallagher product and US U18 player Aedan Stanley. When Preki came in declaring how attractive our academy system is and how he intends to use them this year, Aedan was the first that came to mind. He came into camp ready. In the first week of training I went from hoping he could keep up (like last year) to seeing him thrive among players many years his senior. Aedan has drive and very much aims to please. Ryan and Aedan, to me, are in the tightest competition for a starting role on the team.
Speaking of tight competition, I truly don’t know who the two best center-backs are. No. Idea. I will say that most of them looked bad against MLS competition except one: Costa Rican U23 National Erick Cabalceta. Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that Erick is out through May due to knee surgery. That leaves three more: returning AJ Cochran, NY Red Bulls II veteran Konrad Plewa, and SIUE alum and FC Dallas draftee Austin Ledbetter. Here’s the short of it: Plewa and Ledbetter are good defenders who look comfortable with the ball at their feet (Plewa is also the target of every set piece). AJ is the biggest and is the best in the air. While he thrived under Dale Schilly, he is seems to be struggling with Preki’s system. The talent is there for all of these players and I look forward to seeing how the position morphs throughout the season. I will say, the sooner they pick a center-back pair the better. These guys need to know each other in and out sooner than later.
So. Many. Midfielders. I’ll do my best. The defensive midfielders are actually easy. You’ll see Ivan Mirkovic and Dragan Stojkov flying around the field frustrating the crap out of attackers and keeping defenders honest most games of the season. Ivan will probably be our captain and does a good job holding our own players accountable and lifting them up when they need it. In an interview with him, the humble human said of captaining “it’s not a privilege, but it is an honor”--his intent being that he expects no special treatment for wearing the armband.
On the left you’ll probably see Sebastian Dalgaard of OKC Energy fame. The Danish footballer has the tendency to drift all over the pitch, but not like the fiery Ivan and Dragan. He floats around and seems to find himself where the play can be made. I love watching him cut into the middle and shift the defense a bit, allowing Preki’s ball-on-the-ground attack to find a path into the box for a goal. Dalgaard is likely to be good for at least a few goals himself--probably more if he plays under the striker like he has a few times in preseason. When I got to watch St. Louis play Orlando City for the dry run of their new stadium, I watched Sebastian play the same role as Kaka in the same game. While they are on totally different levels of talent, you can easily see a similarity of positioning.
The right side is a bit more murky than the rest of the midfield. Like I said, this position gets lost at times--especially when Matt Sheldon is at right back. That said, I have a favorite. Octavio Guzman, like Ivan Mirkovic, played under Preki at Sacramento Republic. Guzman is the team’s designated free and corner kick taker and therefore needs to be on the field somewhere. It’s not a gifted position because he fits in just fine as a center midfielder alongside Ivan. However, after watching him score twice on Swope Park on the right and not get lost against Tulsa (with Sheldon on the field), I’m convinced he’s the right guy for the right side job. I also feel that he does better with the comparatively open space provided by being on the wing versus the center.
Extremely honorable mentions for all of the midfield roles go to Mats Bjurman, Denis Ahmetovic, and Tyler David. Mats and Denis both have had shining moments on the wing and will have a fair share of starts and subs this year. Bjurman, like Dalgaard, has gotten some time playing under the striker and looked very good there scoring a goal against Swope Park Rangers. He’s a shifty, hard working player that finds himself in the right places more often than not. Denis has gotten better every time I’ve seen him play. He got lost a lot early on. However, last night against Tulsa he made some really crunching tackles that were a joy to watch. Denis is physical. He’s direct. I’m sorry to say it again, but he works hard (every Preki player works hard so get used to it).
Tyler David almost deserves to start, but I think suffers in this system because he’s not as fast as Dragan and Ivan. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in droves with defense and vision. I’ve said before and I’ll say again. He doesn’t look down with the ball at his feet. He’d much rather pick out a pass downfield. My favorite play of the friendly at SLU was when he made a hard run directly at the right goal post, drawing defenders when he got the ball. He immediately picked out a late runner in Dalgaard running at the opposite post who was waaaaay out of everyone’s mind except his. Dalgaard was wide open. I won’t tell you what happened next. Just know Tyler has the smarts and the skills to start on this level and WILL get playing time with this team. He actually slots in perfectly to shut a game down when you’re up a goal but don’t want to bunker. He can sit back, keep plays from developing, and pick out down field attackers to secure a win.
1. Jose Angulo is the most proven striker on the roster--a true number 9. From what I’ve heard from those who have seen him play, if you get him in the right spot with the ball, it’s going in (think Irvin Herrera). Angulo is a proven goal scorer in both the USL and NASL. When he played for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2013, he beat out Dom Dwyer for the league MVP because he tied him on goals but had more assists. I know he hasn’t scored for us yet, but I think it’s more a problem of getting the ball to him than it is him not delivering. That’s not a promise, but it’s more than a feeling.
2. Milan Petosevic plays with heart. Preki’s system calls for strikers to press the back line. An average Preki striker surely runs twice the distance of your average prima donna, “I don’t play defense” goal scorer. Milan looks happy to be of service in this regard. One of Guzman’s goals against Swope came from Milan pressing the keeper into a turnover. Milan’s celebration after Guzman’s goal was just as intense as the goalscorer’s himself. He finds just as much joy defending a ball into a goal as he does scoring one with his own foot. I almost forgot to mention he’s 6’3”, 182 lb. Take one look at the Ottawa Fury and you’ll be happy you played this monster against their Wheaties-eating back line.
3. Newcomer Christian Volesky joins the team after a recent release from Sporting Kansas City. I very much think we needed just his kind of reinforcements up top. He’s a guy that can get injured from time to time (he has a mild groin injury as I type this), but still found ways to score 20 goals in 50 appearances with Rochester Rhinos. I haven’t seen Christian play yet, so I can’t say much. But I know he likes to play Preki’s style of soccer. So if you take that with his scoring record, I think we have a guy that can, at the very least, slot into the 3rd choice striker role. Perhaps a supersub? Perhaps he even unseats one of the gentlemen above.
Well, that’s it for me. I could go on and on, but for that you’ll just have talk to me in person. I will gladly oblige. It’s my favorite. Below is a proposed game one starting XI because I must. Please send yours my way via twitter: @stlsoccerreport. I anxiously await the conversation, the ideas and thoughts, and especially that opening day excitement. See you there. -PG
Here is my best guess at a starting XI for opening day. What would yours be and why? Fill one out and post it to twitter: @stlsoccerreport