ST. LOUIS — There are sure to be a lot of days like Wednesday on St. Louis City SC's road to finally hitting the field. But there won't be many "firsts" as important to the on-field product.
St. Louis City SC announced Bradley Carnell, 44, as the franchise's first head coach on Wednesday.
Carnell is a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, and enjoyed a successful playing career both in the German Bundesliga and the South African National Team.
After playing, Carnell got into coaching and eventually made his way to the MLS as an assistant and then interim head coach for the New York Red Bulls.
Now, his name is already a historic one in St. Louis soccer history as the first head coach of City SC.
And you better believe he's learning about those deep St. Louis soccer roots.
"I'm learning as I'm going. I think the first interaction I had with the ownership group, who are natives of St. Louis and are really humble, hardworking and an honest group of people. This is something that stood out first and foremost," Carnell said in an interview with 5 On Your Side's Frank Cusumano. "Then I came to know about the heritage, and history and culture of the soccer background, and this is one of the hubs of American soccer. One of the capitals. And many esteemed soccer players have come through the ranks here."
Carnell, who is married with two children, said it wasn't just a soccer fit that brought him to St. Louis. The culture of the city also felt just right for his family.
"I just think the overall warmth of the community ... everyone holds the door open, everyone says 'hi' and 'good morning', so I just think the down-to-earth nature of every individual and core St. Louisan, how they are on a daily basis is a true reflection of their modest and humble approach to their daily lives," Carnell said. "These are elements I grew up in coming from Johannesburg. I really do feel common synergies here when I'm around the area and I know for sure my family and I will feel right at home."
As far as the soccer side of things, finding a head coach for their inaugural season was one of the best boxes to check for St. Louis City SC in 2022. Carnell ended up getting the nod, but the search was an expansive one.
"We had over 150 applicants for the job. Some really, really big names from all over the world," St. Louis City SC Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel said. "Some title-winning coaches as well. But at the end of the day we made a very nice, detailed checklist of what our perfect, ideal head coach would look like. What are the attributes, what are we looking for, for that man? At the end of the day there was a few very important parts. For example I believed we needed a guy who knew the MLS really well and has a lot of MLS experience... We saw it in the past. Lots of foreign coaches who came here with a bag full of titles and they failed. And we wanted to make sure we had a guy who knows his business. Secondly, our own St. Louis City SC playing style, that's something I implemented from day one. That really positively aggressive approach of pressing, counter-pressing and trying to really be focused on transitions. And that's pretty much a similar style the Red Bulls stood for... And also a system I grew up with in Germany. So our philosophies, our way we think football is pretty much the same."
The construction crews continue to pound away at the new downtown stadium site and there's still the whole business about selecting players for a team, but the gears are starting to turn fast for the newest pro team on the scene.
A year out may have seemed pretty early to lock in a head coach, but City SC wants to be proactive on and off the pitch.
"People might find it strange (to name a coach so early), but I find it very, very logical. Because I want to have Bradley involved when it comes to the recruitment, when it comes to the scouting of players. Not just the international players, but the American and MLS players," Pfannenstiel said. "And secondly I think it's important that he already gets to know the football culture of St. Louis. That he's involved in the academy, that he's involved in the MLS Next pro team. So he gets all the information he can get in that year and to work together not just to find the best players on the planet, because that's pretty easy to find the best players. They're playing for the biggest teams in the world. We need to find the right players. We need to find the right players with the right mindset for our playing style. I think that will be the secret sauce to mix it all together."
Now for the on the field product and coaching philosophy, Carnell wants to bring that same mindset, and build a team that's going to set the tone.
"On the field of play we want to be proactive. We don't want to react to the ball when the opposition has it. We want to try and come up with scenarios and tactical approaches and coaching methods to try and win the ball back actively," Carnell said. "We're just not a team that sits back passively and waits for things to happen. We want to be on the front foot, proactive in the feet, in the brains to try and create numerous scoring opportunities in best-case scenario high up the field, which is the closest route to goals."