The following is a special guest blog by Mr. Soccer himself, Bill McDermott. Enjoy!
MLS in St. Louis. Sure has a nice sound to it, but it’s not a done deal yet. The Taylor/Kavanaugh families announced on October 9 of this year their intentions to bring a MLS team to St. Louis. Collectively, they’re not just the head of this project but rather the heart.
The league has consistently stated there are 3 mandatory ingredients to be considered as an expansion city:
1. A solid ownership group-preferably all local
2. A plan for a soccer specific stadium and a venue within your city
3. An existing soccer culture in your city.
This time out, you can check all of those boxes with considerable ease.
Why St. Louis? Our city was America’s first soccer capital. That’s no longer the case but where that capital is now is up for wide interpretation. Nonetheless, it is very safe to state that the birthplace of the sport in our country, and its current respectability, awareness and a new-found cache, is right here in St. Louis – dating all the way back to May 28, 1875 when the “Blondes” played the “Brunettes” (a reference to their uniform colors) at the Grand Ave. Baseball Park.
But there’s been countless other landmarks in St. Louis’ soccer history that provided the city national, sometimes international, recognition. Five players from St. Louis were on the United States World Cup team that defeated England, 1-0, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on June 29, 1950 – Frank Borghi, Charlie Colombo, Harry Keough, Gino Pariani and Frank “Pee Wee” Wallace. A sixth St. Louisan, Bobby Annis, was on the team but did not play. In 1958, Kutis, a local club team that had won the Amateur and Open Cups in 1957 was designated by the USSFA to represent the United States in its two games that summer with Canada in the 1958 World Cup qualification process. College Soccer began competition for a national championship in1959 and since then St. Louis University has captured 10 titles all the while using an almost 100% roster of local players. Likewise the same Championship scenario has occurred for other local schools and universities over the years.
Much has been made lately of prominent world class teams of pedigree touring the United States to play games. Here again, St. Louis was the prime mover. The CYC (Catholic Youth Council) program, on a yearly basis, brought in some of the world’s most recognizable teams – Liverpool played here in 1946, and since then and continually through the decades, Manchester United, Manchester City, Glasgow Celtic, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have appeared – and that, believe me, is just to mention a few. More recently, Chelsea played Manchester City at Busch Stadium on May 23, 2013 in front of 48,263 (the game sold out in hours) while Inter Milan played Real Madrid on August 10, 2013 at the Edward Jones Dome as 54,184 watched. Since those games, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Argentina, the Ivory Coast and the United States Men’s and Women’s teams have all played in St. Louis.
You don’t have to explain to St. Louisans who Alfredo di Stefano was or how D.C. United won the first MLS Cup played in a Nor’easter in Oct., 1996 at Foxborough Stadium against the LA Galaxy or how the 2002 Men’s World Cup team, led by St. Louis University’s all-time leading scorer Brian McBride advanced to the tournament’s quarterfinal, eventually losing to Germany. St. Louisans understand the world’s game and how it all begins locally. Club and country are part of our education.
Soccer is a sport for a changing America. And the United States holds the distinction of being made up of every possible culture throughout the world. In St. Louis there are more than 70,000 Bosnians – the largest population of Bosnians in the United States and the largest Bosnian population outside of Europe. I bring this up for a reason. Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the LA Galaxy was recently named the MLS “Newcomer of the Year” at age 37. If MLS would happen here in St. Louis guess who turns 37 in 2021? None other than Vedad Ibisevic, who grew up in St. Louis, played at St. Louis University, and not only scored the goal that got Boznia Herzegovina into its first World Cup but also scored Bosnia’s first goal in the 2014 World Cup against Argentina. By the way, Edin Dzeko would be 35 in 2021, Miralem Pjanic would be 31 and since we’re dealing in pure conjecture about possible players, local product and United States standout Josh Sargent would only be 21.
There are more then 75,000 Hispanics in our region. The possibilities of players of Hispanic origin linked with potential local products of countless cultures would be endless. Point being, why shouldn’t the world’s game bring together the world’s people?
I think of all the legitimate sport alternatives in our city the two strongest pillars of longevity have been baseball and soccer. Imagine what it would mean for all of the players who’ve played the sport in our city (also known as an existing fanbase) to have the sport they love provide a civic renaissance as the one true world’s game would finally call St. Louis home on Market Street. And in the process making that street and the adjacent areas a literal sport extravaganza. Moreover and of huge importance, St. Louis would be a regular contender for CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers garnering the city 1000’s of visitors and national and international exposure. Plus, other exhibitions, friendlies, concerts, etc. would have a new home.
Imagine further the Cardinals vs. the Cubs on a Saturday afternoon, then walking up to the Soccer Stadium, stopping at the new aquarium in Union Station for a visit, to watch St. Louis play Chicago or Kansas City or Dallas or whatever city St. Louis has as a rival after decades of club and youth rivalries.
Saint Louis FC has already started to put St. Louis back on the national soccer map, MLS is required to complete the soccer pyramid. Soccer has changed the way Americans look at sport, MLS has made the sport front page news – the one missing ingredient? The sport’s cornerstone, St. Louis. I think I can speak for all St. Louisans who love soccer in that we remain steadfast in doing whatever is required to make that happen.