A year ago, Canadian Kyle Hiebert
was preparing to begin his first season in MLS Next Pro, the new Division 3 league MLS launched in 2022.
With St. Louis City set to begin MLS play in 2023 and given an extra year to get ready because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it launched St. Louis City2.
Hiebert played all but four minutes in St. Louis City2's run to the MLS Next Pro's championship game. Little did anyone know how much it prepared Hiebert and his teammates for MLS.
St. Louis City has done what only one other MLS expansion team has ever done, matching the 2009 Seattle Sounders with wins in its first three games.
It added to that with another feat even more impressive — becoming the first MLS team to open the season with three straight come-from-behind wins.
After wins at Austin FC (3-2) and against Charlotte FC (3-1) in its home opener at CityPark, St. Louis City traveled to Portland and beat the Timbers, 2-1,
Hiebert, a defender, scored the unlikely gamewinner in 75th minute, converting a header from eight yards out to complete St. Louis City's comeback from 1-0 down after just three minutes.
"It was a surreal moment," Hiebert said of his first MLS goal. "To be honest. It's been a surreal couple of weeks, I’m just having a blast. This team is special. The locker room is special and to be able to get three points on the road was big time."
Hiebert, who was born in Winnipeg, is unique in that his college career spanned seven seasons— injury-related redshirt years in 2015 and 2016, plus five years that included the spring 2021 season and extra season in fall 2021 after the NCAA granted student-athletes an extra year of eligibility in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"He's just a gem on and off the field to work with," said St. Louis City coach Bradley Carnell
. "He committed to everything we do every single day. And he's unassumingly so strong in the air, right? He uses his body very well. He's very fast on the backline to recover."
Carnell credited his staff that includes director of coaching John Hackworth
, for finding Hiebert, undrafted out of Missouri State,
"He deserves to be playing in the MLS," he added, "after two years now of chasing and soul searching and wondering where the next step is for his career and playing out of college."
Hiebert, one of five St. Louis City players to have played every minute in the opening three wins, said the manner of the victories says a lot about the team.
"Every game we've had to show, you know, resilience that we can be a team that will keep fighting, a team that can come from behind and I think we showed that again today.," he said. "I think it gives us a lot of confidence moving forward, no matter what the situation is in the game we can be a team that fights and scraps and comes out with three points."
Hiebert was an MLS Next Pro Best XI selection on St. Louis City2, which was itself unique in that it included players like teenager Miguel Perez
and Hiebert trying to break into the pros, players like Akil Watts
trying to get a second chance, and established imports like Roman Buerki
, Eduard Loewen
and João Klauss
biding their time after signing with the St. Louis City ahead of its MLS launch.
St. Louis City started five players from the 2022 St. Louis City2 team against Portland and had six on the field when Hiebert scored the winner.
"Those are my guys," the defender said. "So those are the guys I went through all of 2022 with. All the highs and lows and then to have them on in the last minutes as we were grinding out our third MLS win was just super special."
Photo: Bill Barrett/ISI Photos