Tomas Ostrak article header

Written by Michael Haffner

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Laser-focused. Quick, efficient passes. Attentive, but cool under pressure. And that’s just Tomáš Ostrák playing ping-pong.

When I arrive on the first day of training, the morning session goes long. Yet, the team doesn’t seem the faintest bit tired despite the extra time on the clock. They are laughing and joking as they walk back to the training facility. Some engage with the camera recording for social media. Some even move to the other practice field and do their own shooting drills.

Ostrák is offered an opportunity to get cleaned up and relax a bit before meeting with me. He opts instead to get straight to it. “Let’s do it now,” as he takes off his cleats, still standing. Not a sore foot in sight. Just forward motion, moving on to his next objective.

As we sit down and I get my equipment set up to record, several players walk by, joking with him about being the “star man” that’s interviewed. “You wanna join me? Come on!” he repeats to each player. He’s serious. He doesn’t want the spotlight or the red carpet. He doesn’t treat the interview like an obligation – just the next step to get to the ultimate goal.

I mention that when I previously came in months ago to conduct a different player interview that he was playing ping-pong with an acquaintance in town. We had a brief exchange then, but the main takeaway was that he was good at ping-pong. Very good, in fact. When asked if there are any similarities between the game on the table to the game on the field, Ostrák laughs it off. “It’s just for fun.”

But if you watched the Czech-born attacker this past year with CITY 2, it’s easy to draw comparisons. Quick. Efficient. Attentive. A player that wants to get the job done in as few steps as possible. One to two touches, then shoot or pass it and go for the goal. But it’s what you do with those little touches that separates the most creative players from the rest. And in the eyes of Coach Bradley Carnell, Ostrák has that.

“Tomáš is extremely creative, you know,” Carnell explains. “He’s one of our artists in the final third play. It's our job as coaches to get them to their final third. And then the artistry comes into it.” He says with a smile, “I think he’ll be a joy to watch.”


It was March of 2022 when it was announced that Ostrák would join CITY. When he arrived in St. Louis at the end of July, it was not just his first taste of St. Louis, but his first time in the United States. He was immediately struck by the size of the city – a characteristic that’s uncommon in the smaller cities he’s used to. His hometown of Frýdek-Místek is a city in the Moravian-Silesian Region of the Czech Republic. A city known for its industrial heritage, particularly its steel production and textile manufacturing. Additionally, Frýdek-Místek is a popular destination for winter sports and outdoor activities, with ski resorts and hiking trails.

“The buildings are so big,” he recounts when sharing his first impressions. I share how the outskirts of St. Louis might have more of the outdoor hills and hiking he’s accustomed to seeing. But beyond the size of the city, he admits he was initially intimidated by the language divide. His English language skills weren’t quite there yet. But it provided an opportunity for him to deepen his connection with his coach. “Bradley (Carnell) speaking German helped me and made it easy for me to understand what they wanted. Because my English was... I don't know if it is good, now… but first learning in German was easier.”

During training on this beautiful January afternoon, his English is more than good. He’s vocal during the buildup of plays. There’s an energy to how he carries himself because he’s genuinely excited to be playing. It sounds cliché to say, but it’s one of the reasons he chose to come to St. Louis despite his previous Bundesliga club, FC Köln, offering a contract extension. “I wanted to play a lot more minutes in Köln. I needed a change, and I see the potential to play more in St. Louis. But we will see. Is it the right or wrong decision? I have a good feeling that it is right.” His smile says it all as he admits, “I feel good.”

In the Bundesliga, FC Köln is known for playing the style of play that Lutz Pfannenstiel and Carnell have been talking about from the start. They press hard. And it was promoting this style and philosophy to the game that captured Ostrák’s attention during his first video call with the two team leaders. “I can say it's really the same ideas, because at Köln, we played this style where you push a lot higher. You press, and then don't let them have any free time. You press and press to get the ball and push as far as possible to the goal. And the same ideas are here. So for me, it was easy to acclimate because I was so used to the style.”

Ostrák finished in the top 20 of voting for “Talent of the Year” for the Football Association of the Czech Republic – an award category honoring young players. The 23-year-old was able to prove his worth when he joined CITY 2 mid-season, providing two instantly memorable goals in the MLS NEXT Pro playoffs. But the goals and playing time that he wanted didn’t come right away.

“It was hard to get on the field at the start because we were winning. I didn’t get the minutes I wanted. It was a little bit tough because I was like the 15th player or 14th player on the bench. All the players played well, so coach didn't need to change anything.” But this mild frustration only fueled him to work harder in training. “I worked on myself. I got to improve some things to become the player they needed. And I think in two to three games, I got to show it.”

He showed it when the team needed it the most. The opening goal of the game against North Texas SC in the 73rd minute was a clinical finish on his right foot from a pass across the middle of the box. A week later against Tacoma Defiance in the Western Conference Final, Ostrák seemed to create magic out of nowhere. He casually carried the ball in from the sideline, dipping around two defenders before sending a left-footed curler from the top of the box into the top corner of the net. Two goals with both feet, proving that the “Talent of the Year” nominee is shooting to be a valuable asset to the first team in 2023 and beyond.


Now, four months later, he seems to be right on track. In the pre-season match against Philadelphia Union, Carnell played him up front with Jared Stroud, Nicholas Gioachinni, and Samuel Adeniran, resulting in a combination that delivered on the style fans have long heard about. “We challenged Philadelphia in that second half with two strikers and a 10. And you can see in the transition moments – when we broke in transition and when we turned them over – there were some excellent moments. And I think Tomáš plays a big role in the creativity in the attacking midfield, as well as in the work rate against the ball.”

Playing hard, aggressive, and pushing forward. It’s a strategy that you continue to hear from the players and coaches and could be the winning approach to make the playoffs – a goal Ostrák reveals the team has in their first year. “We’re going to be competitive,” he explains. “I have a good feeling about the team. We have a good energy.”

To play the type of game that CITY coaches are describing, you don’t have time to overthink. “Don’t hold on to the ball too much,” is some of the guidance Ostrák has received from the staff. “You don’t have time to keep the ball on your feet.” As a result, you have to train your body and mind for it to become instinctual. It’s a matter of understanding the movement of the ball, but also the position of your opponent. How they are standing and shifting becomes key to your move. You have to think rapidly and react in a way that you are simultaneously defending and attacking.

Perhaps ping-pong and taking on a player one-on-one is more alike than Ostrák may think. Either way, he’s ready. Whether it’s with a paddle or with either foot, he seems poised to fire.