The expansion AC St. Louis club heads to Miami for a Wednesday night, 6:30 pm CT clash at Lockhart Stadium. AC St. Louis, 7-12-8, are looking for the chance to sneak into the USSF D2 playoffs, which begin on October 6th and 7th, and basically need to win out their final three games and hope for help from other teams in keeping NSC Minnesota, Montreal and Puerto Rico from winning in their final contests. Miami FC was eliminated from the playoff picture Sunday when Montreal defeated FC Tampa Bay, but are playing for pride and looking to avenge their 3-1 September 5 loss to the St. Louisans in the teams’ only previous meeting.
Miami FC have won twice since losing to AC St. Louis, beating Montreal and Rochester. MLS veteran Abe Thompson scored the game-winner in each win and leads the team with six goals, ahead of another MLS veteran, Christian Gomez, who’s notched five goals. (Paulo Araujo, Jr, loaned to Real Salt Lake, had scored 8 goals for the Blues before heading west a few weeks ago). Miami FC has added several players on loan from MLS clubs over the last month or so, including defender Aaron Hohlbein from the KC Wizards, along with Chivas USA youngsters Chukwudi Chijindu and Gerson Mayen, all of whom have been getting fairly regular play with the Blues. Danilo Martins and Lennon Celestino are two other players who have been making their mark in Coach Daryl Shore’s lineup as of late, with Brazilian Martins scoring three times in just seven games.
Perhaps the biggest difference-maker recently for the Blues has been goalkeeper 25 year-old goalkeeper Matt Glaeser. Glaeser has won both games in his two starts, allowing one goal each time out since taking over the last two games from Caleb Patterson.
Despite the Blues being out of the playoffs, don’t discount their motivation to win Wednesday. Not only are they looking to avenge their earlier loss in St. Louis, but the team that has frustrated fans with their inability to get a winning goal in their eleven draws will be looking to continue to stay out of the NASL Conference cellar, currently occupied by Crystal Palace Baltimore, two points behind Miami FC. Also, with the team’s potential re-christening as the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers for the 2011 season, management will be looking to continue their late season winning streak as a nice tie-in to their possible rebranding of the club to the old NASL name.
For AC St. Louis, it’s all on the line. Although there is a scenario in which AC St. Louis could win twice and draw once in their remaining three matches and make the playoffs (tying Puerto Rico in points if the Islanders get no points in their last two games, with AC St. Louis having won the season’s series), I’m sure Coach Dale Schilly isn’t focusing on such niceties, but rather has his troops committed to winning their final three games. The team, which had a 2-7-1 record when Schilly took over, is 5-5-7 under his stewardship.
Schilly has employed a pretty stable lineup the last month, featuring USL veterans Mike Ambersley, Luke Kreamalmeyer and Jack Traynor, former New England Revolution midfielder Michael Videira, Brazilian veteran Gauchinho, and a group of players in their first professional season that includes Brad Stisser, Chris Salvaggione, Mark Bloom, Zach Bauer, Troy Cole and loanee Luis Gil. Gil has played in six games so far, although the 16 year-old has yet to play a full 90 minutes. His game winning-goal last Saturday against Austin may set him up for more playing time. Goalkeeper Alec Dufty has played every minute for AC St. Louis this season, including the team’s three Open Cup matches. Midfielder Jeff Cosgriff and defender John Lesko are the only other players who have seen significant minutes lately as Schilly, who didn’t have the benefit of pre-season games to evaluate his players, has found his core group and ridden them to the edge of the USSF D2 playoff picture. Hopefully, for AC St. Louis fans, there’s enough gas in the tank to get there.
Mike Ambersley, who’s tied for 4th place in USSF D2 goal-scoring with Montreal’s Ali Gerba, almost netted Saturday against Austin as his booming shot hit the crossbar. With nine goals in the regular season, Miami FC’s defense will be focusing on him, along with winger Luke Kreamalmeyer, who’s four goals and seven assists prove that he is a dangerous part of the Saints’ attack. Young attackers Stisser and Salvaggione both took some hard knocks against Austin after they combined to put AC St. Louis on top at the hour mark last Saturday.
A loss tonight would put AC St. Louis out of the playoff picture, so I am expecting an intense battle between the two NASL Conference foes. Should be quite interesting, with a lot of young talent on display for both sides.