St. Louis City versus the Vancouver Whitecaps — The Joker (?) vs. Batman and Robin

Jake Nerwinski jokingly hopes to be the “villain” and take down his former teammates when St. Louis takes on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday.

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St. Louis City SC coach Bradley Carnell has looked out on the pitch at the Vancouver Whitecaps and seen something familiar.

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“It’s almost like playing against your brother because they have similar principles; I can see it in many moments,” he said. “I can see a collective buy-in from the group, I can see an effort, I can see a will and a desire to work with and without the ball. It’s been fun watching them this season too.”

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The ‘brothers’ will kick off Wednesday at B.C. Place in different stages of their lives. The young, expansion St. Louis side has clinched first place in the Western Conference, setting a record for wins by a first-year team in the process.

The elder brother Whitecaps have yet to approach that level of success in their 13 seasons of MLS, spending the better part of the decade careening between disappointment and controversy and back again. This year’s team might be the most quality side in club history, but it hasn’t separated itself from the pack in the West like their younger sibling has.

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And speaking of brothers, it’s the return of Jake Nerwinski to B.C. Place for the first time. The former Whitecaps’ fullback didn’t have his option picked up by Vancouver in the off-season, ending his six-year tenure with the club — the longest stretch at the time aside from Russell Teibert.

It also split up the “Jersey Boys,” as his partnership with fellow N.J. product and BFF Brian White was known.


St. Louis City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., B.C. Place

TV: Apple. Radio: AM730

“I think it’s going to be a special moment. I spent six seasons there, my first professional club, the only one I’ve known until now,” said Nerwinski.

Nerwinski has been supplanted by Ryan Gauld as White’s running mate. The two have been dubbed “Batman and Robin” for their offensive prowess as the top-scoring duo in MLS, combining on a league-leading 15 goals since 2021.

White is only a goal behind in the Golden Boot race with 14, while Gauld has recorded 22 goal contributions (11 goals, 11 assists) in league play this season. He also has the most goal contributions since May 31 in MLS with 21.

“Hopefully I’ll be the villain,” Nerwinski said, laughing. “To see what they’ve done this year. I’ve seen it up close … the last few seasons. I think they’re two of the best attackers in the league, and they’ve always had that chemistry and you see it even more this year.

“So that’s one of our top priorities, to be able to stop them creating chances together.”

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Nerwinski has found his new Jersey Boy in winger Jared Stroud, a Chester Borough, N.J., native who was traded to St. Louis in the off-season from Austin. He also overlapped time with White at the New York Red Bulls.

“We instantly clicked,” said Nerwinski. “You see the struggles that he had last year, barely touched the field for reasons that I don’t know. But he’s come into this club with new life.”

Nerwinski has admitted being cut loose by the Whitecaps stung, but he’s joined a team of “Everybody’s Nobodys,” as Carnell likes to call them.

“I think we all have very similar stories, of people calling us rejects — like we were — and castaways. We don’t like to be called that anymore,” Nerwinski said.

Now St. Louis has blown away all pre-season predictions — former Whitecap and STL centre-back Tim Parker made sure to point that out on social media — clinching first overall with two games left.

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“Brad talks about our hard resets. It’s something that we like to do,” said Nerwinski. “We accomplish something, we’re happy about it … but we’re not satisfied and that’s not just going to take over our moment or the rest of the season. It’s knocking these things off our list that we want to accomplish and immediately moving forward and working on our next one.”

“Jake’s done amazing,” Carnell said of his fullback’s impact. “Jake always pushes himself to another level. I don’t think he’s had any doubts, even at moments when he’s taken a bench role and a supportive role from the sides.

“He’s one of the more experienced guys in our roster. So we rely on Jake a lot for his expertise, on-and-off the field and just his character … And you see over the last couple of games, being crucial in some goal contributions as well, and really stout, gritty defending. He’s come up against some difficult opponents, and he’s come out through … shining on the other side.

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“And everybody has ups-and-downs. That’s just totally the normal progress of life. But it’s how you bounce back and how do you get back in the game. And credit to Jake, he’s stayed the course.”

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