Many consider it to be the historic soccer capital of America. What some still consider the greatest game ever played by the U.S Men’s National Team, 5 of the 11 starting players on the 1950 FIFA World Cup team that stunned powerhouse England were from St. Louis. Since that time, some of the greatest players in U.S. soccer history have either hailed from St. Louis are played college soccer in St. Louis such as Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Brian McBride, and Tim Ream. When the U.S. Open Cup was in its infant stages, St. Louis teams generated the most success, starting with a team named Ben Millers winning the championship in 1920. This city clearly has a rich soccer history. But can it sustain an MLS team?
Since the news of the Rams moving to Los Angeles, and the NFL abandoning St. Louis a second time (see the Arizona Cardinals) the MLS has declared a renewed interest in bringing an expansion franchise to the area. Last week, Commissioner Don Garber met with St. Louis Sports Commission Chairman Dave Peacock to continue a dialogue. The two of them had reportedly met ten years ago to have the same conversation, but as we can see, there is currently no Major League Soccer team in St. Louis.
St. Louis has had many iterations of professional soccer in the past. Besides the semi-pro teams that emerged victorious in the early years of the U.S. Open Cup during the ’20s and ’30s, perhaps the most prominent team was the St. Louis Stars of NASL fan during the ’70s. Ironically, that team moved to LA too. There was also an indoor soccer team called the St. Louis Steamers that averaged almost 12,000 fans per game for the better part of the ’80s. While none of these franchises had a happy ending, the departure of an NFL team leaves a gaping hole to be filled in the sports landscape of the city.
As many news outlets have been reiterating, there are usually three factors for bringing an MLS team to a city. 1) An already present fanbase 2) A viable ownership group 3) A viable (preferably downtown) stadium site with easy access for fans. One of the reasons that talks to bring a team to St. Louis in the past may have stalled could have been the issue of a viable stadium site. But now that the Rams have flown away to the West Coast, a beautiful, riverfront stadium site suddenly appears within grasp. The MLS appears to be so interested in this site, that the St.Louis Dispatch has even reported that the league has begun gathering potential owners. Other markets have already expressed their vehement interest in a franchise such as Sacramento, San Antonio, and San Diego, but if the MLS is truly planning to expand to 28 teams by 2020, perhaps all these markets can make their way into the fold.
Short of a definite answer, it appears MLS is coming to St. Louis within the next five years. The NFL leaving AGAIN is the perfect opportunity for MLS to capitalize on a market that only has baseball to watch in the summer and hockey in the winter months. The fanbase appears to already be in place, with 43,000 fans seeing a USMNT World Cup Qualifier in Busch Stadium, a minor league team starting play last year in the USL, and if the site deal can be closed soon (not like the catastrophe that happened with NYCFC in Flushing) this deal to move into the 21st largest media market in America is too good to pass up.