I made the trip to St. Louis for the Americans’ opening World Cup qualifier against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The trip served a dual purpose of allowing me to see my second national team game as well as visiting some college friends from my Mizzou days.
I have read about the history of soccer in St. Louis, dating back to the city’s large influence on the USA’s 1950 World Cup squad that beat England and spawned a movie. I knew that the current Bosnian population in the city is significant. St. Louis also sold out a Chelsea-Man City friendly in 2013 that stands as the biggest crowd ever at Busch Stadium.
Knowing all that and that it had been 26 years since the U.S played a pair of qualifiers in nearby Fenton, Mo., a big crowd was expected for Friday’s game against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This even despite the fact that the opponent is a tiny island nation of just over 100,000 and the U.S. was going through its roughest period in several years.
The crowd came in at over 43,000, not a complete sellout, but a great crowd. St. Louis’ problem with getting the U.S. to come probably has had more to do with a lack of a suitable stadium than a fear of not drawing a crowd. The Rams play in a turfed dome that is under fire at the moment, so that’s not a great choice for soccer. However, once the new Busch Stadium opened in 2006 it has become a suitable venue, and since 2013 soccer has come and drawn well every time.
Which brings me to the point: St. Louis needs an MLS team. Major League Soccer expansion has been a soap opera of cities fighting over getting a team, especially after many of the league’s expansion sides have done extremely well right away (see: packed crowds in Seattle and Portland since they joined and Orlando and New York City FC averaging around 30,000 each in expansion seasons without even making the playoffs). St. Louis has been on the fringes of the discussion at each wave of expansion.
While Orlando, Atlanta, Miami and Minnesota have been awarded franchises and second teams have come/are coming in New York and Los Angeles, St. Louis hasn’t been able to snatch a team. Even as further expansion is rumored, Sacramento and San Antonio are the cities making more news. St. Louis is mentioned in both of those links, but no ownership group has emerged to make a push.
Currently, St. Louis FC play in the third tier USL. The club debuted this season. They play in that same Fenton venue which hosted the U.S. in 1989.
Obviously with any expansion team, finding good owners and a good stadium site are essential. That has to happen before MLS can come, but to steal a line from one of my favorite movies: if you build it, they will come.
Another benefit is the rivalries that would come from having an MLS team in St. Louis. Obviously, from a Chicago perspective this would be the best and closest thing to a real rival. The pre-existing Cubs-Cardinals rivalry and, to a lesser extent, the Blackhawks-Blues rivalry should help make a quick rivalry with the Fire and a St. Louis MLS team. Also, an in-state rivalry with Sporting Kansas City would be great. Chicago and KC are two MLS cities with no natural geographic rivals and St. Louis would fix that for both.
MLS has always has a good presence in the northeast, expanded well in the west with the Pacific Northwest in addition to three teams in California, and made a push in the previously ignored southeast with Orlando and Atlanta. Now it seems the Midwest is falling behind. Chicago and Kansas City are about 500 miles apart. Chicago to Columbus is about 350 miles. That’s it for MLS in the region. Minnesota is coming and that will help a bit. St. Louis would further fill in the region. MLS also isn’t in Detroit, Milwaukee or Indianapolis.
It would be nice to see St. Louis get its well-deserved MLS team. Make it happen.