This guest contribution was written by Matthew Bird of the St. Louligans, a supporters group for St. Louis FC. Please check out the full SB Nation USL Season Preview right here.
Saint Louis FC 2016 USL season preview
Year founded: 2015
Affiliation: Chicago Fire
2015 record: 9th in Eastern Conference, 8-11-9, 33 points.
Key additions: Irvin Herrera, Chad Bond, AJ Cochran, Ryan Thompson
Key departures: Bryan Gaul, Bryan Ciesulka, Peter Kelly, Nick Bibbs
Projected starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Ryan Thompson; Parker Maher, James Musa, AJ Cochran, Richard Dixon; Chad Bond, Jacob Bushue; Brandon Barklage, Mike Ambersley, Jamiel Hardware; Irvin Herrera
Despite an inaugural season that promised so much, the team didn't show it's best last year on the pitch. After initially starting the season brightly with wins against Wilmington, Oklahoma City Energy and Tulsa, the team found the dog days of summer a real struggle. This was compounded with quite a serious injury list as STLFC lost captain Brandon Barklage, Jamiel Hardware and Richard Dixon to extended layoffs. While occasionally showing real flashes of offensive threat, the team never really gelled in the attacking third of the field and goals were hard to come by. A silver lining was the team did finally show some chemistry winning their final three home games, giving supporters optimism heading into the off season.
Four key additions to the team thus far bring veteran leadership to the team going into the 2016 season. Chad Bond arrives from Tulsa, who was fourth in the league for assists last year, and El Salvadorian international Irvin Herrera arrives after scoring 24 goals in 2015 for Santa Tecla FC. While it should be a new look offense, on the defensive side Saint Louis will look for more of the same from last year. James Musa and Sam Fink provided a solid partnership to compliment Patrick Doody (Chicago Fire loanee) in the back line. The addition of Saint Louis native AJ Cochran from Houston will give the defenders competition and coach Dale Schilly more options as Musa can also be pushed forward into midfield.
Why you should watch Saint Louis FC in 2016: If this team can finally become the sum of its individual parts and fulfill its potential then Saint Louis FC could be the hottest ticket in town this summer. Despite the struggles last season, the attendance and support never wavered, and a winning team will explode interest. It is easy to say that goals will draw a crowd but it may well be that simple. Moving to the Western Conference this season brings a slew of new teams to WWT Soccer Park. The change may be good as STLFC had a winning record against Western Conference teams last year.
Three Players to watch
Brandon Barklage: After arriving from San Jose Earthquakes just prior to the beginning of last season, Brandon brought veteran leadership to his native city. However, after limping off in the home game to Rochester early in the season, he never really represented the team in the manner in which wanted. He is desperate to show his home town his quality.
Richard Dixon: Offensively minded right back will look for a break out year that saw him picked for Jamaica for the 2015 Copa America and Gold Cup before a serious injury cut his season short. STLFC fans never really saw the best of Dixon last season.
Irvin Herrera: Pure goalscorer. Something sadly lacking last year. After averaging one goal every two games in El Salvador, Herrera will present the biggest threat up top for Saint Louis FC.
The 2016 season will be a success if...The playoffs are an absolute must, and with the players recruited, a top-four regular season placing is very realistic. To continue the momentum off the field this team must deliver on it.
Relevant links: www.stlouligans.com Supporters Group