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St. Louis City SC taps South African soccer veteran as head coach

St. Louis City SC head coach Bradley Carnell (left) and St. Louis SC sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel pose for a photo during Carnell's contract signing.
St. Louis CITY SC
St. Louis City SC head coach Bradley Carnell (left) and St. Louis SC Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel pose during Carnell's contract signing.

St. Louis City SC is still a year away from taking the field for the first time, but the team has a coach — a standout South African soccer player with experience.

The expansion squad announced on Wednesday that it’s hired Bradley Carnell as head coach. He most recently was an assistant coach for the New York Red Bulls, and he served as interim coach during part of the 2020 season.

“It was something I never dreamed of in my wildest imagination,” Carnell said when asked what it meant to be named a head coach. “All I’ve ever done since the age of 16 when I was announced as a professional soccer player was to be me. And that’s done me good throughout my career as a player. And so far it’s holding up within my coaching career.”

St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum spoke with Carnell and St. Louis City SC Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel about the hiring — and what needs to be done before the team takes the field in 2023. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Jason Rosenbaum: Have you spent a lot of time in St. Louis before taking this job — and if so, what were your impressions about how this region embraces soccer?

Bradley Carnell: I don’t have a big snapshot of it, to be honest. I've been here on two previous occasions—one for some negotiations and discussions, and one for signing of a contract. But already by speaking to the people at the front office and looking at the energy and the buzz about how they’re going about their business, for me that spoke volumes.

And I know some of the players that have come out of St. Louis — some really esteemed players who have gone on to make really big careers for themselves. So this is for sure a hotbed of talent — and really a culture that’s been itching a long time for a MLS professional outfit here in the city of St. Louis.

Rosenbaum: There’s a lot of excitement about this team. Even something as potentially contentious as building a stadium was universally seen as smooth and beneficial to the community. How do you think it’s going to help your eventual team that you’ll be entering 2023 with a burst of community support?

Carnell: The aim and the target of the ownership group is basically what I’d say are pillars of honesty, hard work and humility when approaching their daily workload. And looking at the intent of where the stadium was built and where the training facility is situated, it’s an outreach spot for the community. It’s directly in the hub of downtown, which appeals to the masses and really connects to the community straightaway.

The implementation of the academy team is also another extended pillar into the community of what we’re all about and who they’re trying to build as young individuals and young leaders and potential leaders of the professional team.

Rosenbaum: Can you elaborate for someone who might not be knowledgeable about soccer about how the academy being set up is going to help the team?

Lutz Pfannenstiel: One of our big goals was that we’d have one of the best development systems in North America. So for us to really look after the academy was always a good opportunity to get youngsters through the system — and be as early as 2023 to be able to play MLS football.

So right now, we have two teams, the U-16 and U-17, playing in the MLS Next. And this year in 2022, the U-14 and U-15 joining in.

So we will go out there into the region and into the different parts of the city — and we will work with our youngsters in regional training camps as well.

Rosenbaum: Expansion teams have traditionally had slow starts across sports. What do you think it will take to be on the winning side of that continuum?

Pfannenstiel: We want to build something sustainable, something long term. And that is something the family, the owners and everybody here stands for. And I think this will be how we will approach our first season, our second season and many, many seasons to come off of that.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.