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St. Louis City 2 looks for revenge and a ticket to a soccer championship

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis City 2 midfielder Célio Antonio Pompeu Pinheiro Martins (11) goes airborne while trying to keep control of the ball from Chicago Fire 2 defender Kyle Bebej (2) on Aug. 6 during a matchup at Ralph Korte Stadium in Edwardsville.

As the Cardinals prepare for a postseason run which will begin a week from today, another professional team in St. Louis is one game away from playing for a league championship.

St. Louis City 2 takes on Tacoma this weekend in the MLS NEXT PRO Western Conference Final. It’s the first year for the team that serves as a developmental squad for City SC, which begins Major League Soccer play next year.

As many as five City 2 players could be on the top-flight team’s roster in 2023. But first, they all have to deal with Tacoma after losing to the Defiance 5-1 in July.

“We have a big chip on our shoulder,” said City 2 Head Coach John Hackworth. "It was the one game, where after the game I was really upset with the team because we weren’t ourselves.”

Despite that blemish, it’s been a banner inaugural year for City 2. The team finished the regular season on top of the Western Conference standings and has already won a playoff game.

“To be where we are now, it is unexpected. It is surprising,” said Hackworth while making it clear success on the field was a key goal. "I always want to win. We want to win. We want to set a precedent.”

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
John Hackworth, St. Louis City SC 2 Head Coach, speaks to the media on Friday morning after a practice at the Washington University Orthopedics High Performance Center in Downtown West. "We know we're not only facing a team that not only has quality — they're well coached— but they have some of that same fight that we have," Hackworth said of the Tacoma Defiance who they will play in the playoffs on Sunday. "They've never given up, so this sets up to be a really tough contest but we certainly feel like we're prepared and ready for it."

The soccer club decided to enter a team in MLS NEXT PRO before City SC started playing so players could develop and systems could be implemented to establish a winning culture. And it’s helped boost a relationship with fans in a city with a strong core of soccer supporters.

Hackworth believes that’s been vital, especially after a loss. “They still supported us. They still sang crazy after the end of the game. They're still asking for high-fives,” he said.

Rob Playter is one of those fans and understands the stakes for many City 2 players.

“They're playing for MLS contracts in a lot of cases,” he said. Playter is a member of the St. Louis City Punks supporter group and is upbeat going into Sunday’s match at Ralph Korte Stadium.

The game is taking place on the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus because of construction-related problems with the new Centene Stadium in Downtown West. “The whole season has been an amazing experience. I think they have a great opportunity to make it to the Final.”

Brent Jones
St. Louis Public Radio
Construction surrounds St. Louis City S.C.’s Centene Field on Aug. 5 in Downtown West. The MLS team is slated to play its first game in 2023.

Fellow Punk, Brandon Hoernis says City 2’s success extended beyond the soccer pitch.

“We needed to bring our A-game to the stands because the team was doing it on the field and we needed to make sure they knew we appreciated it.”

The St. Louis City Punks are planning to show up in full force again Sunday to possibly help push City 2 to another playoff victory and a spot in the championship match.

Follow Wayne on Twitter at @WayneRadio.

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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