(Joey Silver)

Joey Silver

Soccer in St. Louis

St. Louis is often regarded as the birthplace of soccer in America. Now, St. Louis has the chance to back that claim with the possibility of getting a professional team.

April 15, 2014

Joey Silver

To St. Louis, soccer is much more than just a game. Its our culture, our heritage, our DNA. 2013 proved that by having St. Louis host three professional matches from teams across the world. With each match hosting over 30,000 people, the urge for St. Louis to get a Professional team is stronger than ever.

The first match, a friendly game against two powerhouses of the English Premier League (EPL), Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC, was held on May 23 at Busch Stadium, and had a record breaking attendance (held at Busch) of 48,263. The match ended in a comeback victory for Manchester City, winning 4-3.

Chelsea FC and Manchester FC battle in a friendly at Busch Stadium on May 23rd.
Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC battle in a friendly at Busch Stadium on May 23.

“My initial thought was meh, who cares. I’m a fan of the underdog so neither of the teams were of interest to me personally when Chelsea vs Manchester City was announced,” said Steve Olson, the owner of Soccerstl.net. “The enthusiasm for the games that I saw across my social media accounts as well as at the many games I cover increased my appreciation for the impact they would have.”

The second match was held at the Edward Jones Dome on August 10, and it was a La Liga (Spanish) team, Real Madrid, and a Serie A (Italian) team, Inter Milan. The event hosted 54,184 fans, making it the largest soccer event ever held in St. Louis. Real Madrid ended up winning 3-0 with goals from superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Kaka.

Sophomore Coleton Brown was able to walk onto the field at the Edward Jones Dome because his club team, St. Louis Scott Gallagher Premier, won State Cup in his age group.

“It was pretty intense,” Brown said. “walking out onto the field and having all the people staring at you, and seeing yourself on the big screen. It was awesome.”

The third match, held at Busch Stadium on November 18 had 30,397 people attending. It was Argentina versus Bosnia and Herzegovina in an international friendly. Argentina won this game 2-0, with the two goals coming late in the match from Manchester City star Sergio Aguerio.

Houston Dynamo captain, United States player, and St. Louis native, Brad Davis, expressed his views on the history of soccer in St. Louis and the possibility of St. Louis receiving a professional team.

“In St. Louis, I grew up with a ton of support stemming from my dad’s love of the game and my brother’s ability to carve a path for me. I always grew up playing with older guys and wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps. I feel unbelievably lucky that I was able to be part of youth soccer in St. Louis.” Davis said. “My youth club (Scott Gallagher) coaches and mentors were at the top of the charts in our nation as far as youth soccer development was concerned.  They taught me valuable skills and techniques at a young age that comes into effect still to this day. I was never the biggest, strongest, or fastest but my skill and technical ability has made my career what it is today. I’m extremely lucky and blessed to have been born into the tradition and history of soccer that St. Louis has.”

Davis went to Chaminade, and also played at Saint Louis University for two years. He thinks a professional team in St. Louis would flourish, but under the right ownership group.

“A team in St. Louis would obviously be great for the economy and would create a ton of jobs. I think St. Louis is the greatest sports town, with the Blues, Cardinals, and the Rams, St. Louis has shown it can support their professional teams.” Davis said. “In my opinion, it would have one of the greatest academies for youth soccer as well. But Until St. Louis gets a true investor with deep pockets, they will never get a team. I do think if they find and investor and do things the right way which includes a stadium downtown, it would be an unbelievably successful organization.”

Davis believes that without St. Louis, soccer in America wouldn’t be anywhere near as competitive or successful as it has become.

“St. Louis created soccer in America. I don’t think anyone will or can dispute that.  Without the rich tradition and history that St. Louis has had with soccer, I truly believe the game would not be where it is today in North America.”

Davis, a relative of Coach Nick Beckmann, has been in the MLS for 14 years, where he was drafted third overall by the New York MetroStars (now named New York Red Bulls) and has played for the United States national team.

“Professional soccer hasn’t affected my life, it has been my life,” Davis said. “To be a pro, you have to be fully committed to it. Off the field stuff is just as important as on the field stuff.”

Being a professional athlete is difficult, especially when trying to raise a family. It is a much different job than people would expect, and fans don’t really get to see the full effect that being a professional athlete has on someone.

Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina warm up before their game at Busch Stadium on November 18th.
Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina warm up before their game at Busch Stadium on Nov. 18.

“All people really talk about is the fact that you get to play a game on Saturday in a full stadium,” said Davis. “They don’t talk about the training everyday, the travel, living out of a hotel room and a suitcase for days on end, and most importantly, not seeing your family for long periods of time. I have had to make many sacrifices to make a career out of soccer.”

With some disadvantages come many great things. Davis is able to do what he loves while supporting his family, he can travel the all over the place.

“On the other hand it has provided me a wonderful life,” Davis said. “Financially, it has supported my family and I for the past 14 years. It has allowed me to travel the world and see many places. It has allowed me to represent my country, which is a dream come true. So for me, all the sacrifices have been worth it because soccer eventually will come to an end and you can never get it back.”

St. Louis has always been a contender to receive a professional team, but has lacked an owner willing to spend the money necessary to get a professional team here.

“St. Louis is a market that same group of soccer promoters have done a great job selling out soccer events,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber in his State of the League Address. “St. Louis could be another great market.”

Olson believes that St. Louis is ready for an MLS team, but lack a good ownership group that is willing to pay the price. According to this New York Times article, two new clubs will enter the league in the 2015, a Miami team owned by David Beckham who paid $25 million for the team. The second team, New York City F.C ownership group, Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees, paid $100 million for the team.

“I’d like to think that we are (a good candidate for an MLS team). I don’t believe there is a lack of belief in our willingness or ability to support a team within Major League Soccer. The real hurdle is finding an ownership group that believes that is the case.” Olson said. “We need an owner with deep pockets. We need to attract an owner with deep pockets.”

The St. Louligans, a group of hardcore soccer fans, have tried to do their part in getting a professional team to St. Louis by supporting teams like the St. Louis Lions, Fire and Ice Soccer Club, and the Illinois Piasa.

“The St. Louligans started at AC St. Louis (North American Soccer League team) in 2010,” Bradley Demunbrun said, the leader of the St. Louligans. “When AC St. Louis folded (later that season) some of us stayed together and started going to St. Louis Lions games. Now we go to Illinois Piasa and Fire & Ice SC games too.”

Demunbrun believes that St. Louis isn’t ready to receive an MLS team just yet. He thinks that we need a team to start out, and successfully compete in a lower level division to get a shot at a team.

“Realistically we need to prove ourselves at a lower level first. USL-Pro (United Soccer League) or NASL is the way to go.” Said Demunbrun. “The last several MLS teams (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal and now Orlando City) have had a successful run in a lower division.”

Many of the players on the 1950 United States World Cup team were amateur players, holding other daytime jobs. The United States faced England in the Group Stages of the World Cup. England was and still is considered one of the best national teams in the world, and against all odds, the United States defeated England 1-0. Six of the United States players were from St. Louis. A movie was made about this game, called The Game of Their Lives (later renamed The Miracle Match.)

St. Louis got its first professional soccer team in 1967 as the St. Louis Stars were established in the NASL. The Stars focused on developing American born players, in particular drawing players from the local St. Louis area, instead of recruiting foreign players. The Stars never won the NASL’s Soccer Bowl, but were the runners-up in 1972 and reached the semi-finals in 1975. The Stars eventually left St. Louis and became the California Surf.

The St. Louis Ambush warm up before their game against the Missouri Comets at the Family Arena on November 23rd
The St. Louis Ambush warm up before their game against the Missouri Comets at the Family Arena on Nov. 23.

That owner may have just come. Mr. Andrew Haines, the owner of the St. Louis Ambush (Major Indoor Soccer League team) and Mr. Tony Glavin, the owner and coach of the St. Louis Lions and former Steamers player, created St. Louis Soccer Partners, a group trying to bring a USL-Pro soccer team to St. Louis by 2015, according to Glavin in a radio interview on 590 am The Man on Feb 15.

St. Louis began their indoor era in 1979 when the St. Louis Steamers joined the MISL. The Steamers, like the Stars, put their emphasis on local talent. Although the team remained popular with the fans, they never did that well financially or in the standings, and in 1988 they folded.

St. Louis returned to the MISL in 1989 with the Storm, but this team folded with the league in 1992. In the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), the Ambush moved from Tulsa to St. Louis, and gave the exciting soccer that St. Louis wanted until 2000 when the team folded. The World Indoor Soccer League (WISL) stepped in, and revived the Steamers franchise.

In 2001, the WISL would merge with the MISL II (formerly the NPSL). St. Louis was not able to join the MISL until the 2003-04 season, and finances were weak so they folded shortly after taking the league title in 2006. St. Louis would again see a MISL team return to them in 2013, bringing back the Ambush name.

“I’d love to see professional outdoor soccer in St. Louis. I’m working with a group to try and make that happen. Its a long process, and not easy, but hopefully we’ll see professional outdoor soccer in St. Louis for the 2015 season,” Haines said. “I can’t get into too much detail. St. Louis Soccer Partners was formed to bring outdoor professional soccer to St. Louis. There are a handful of people part of that and more details will be coming soon.”

Glavin wants to bring a professional team to St. Louis because there is no outdoor professional team in St. Louis. Glavin would be both a coach and investor in the team.

“It has always been a goal of mine to bring professional outdoor soccer to St. Louis,” said Glavin. “We’re in the process of putting together an investment group to bring a team.”

The St. Louis Ambush, although an indoor team, was a good first test run for a professional team. After seven years of no indoor soccer team, The Ambush finally returned to St. Louis in 2013 under the ownership of Haines.

“Being that I owned the arena football team in St. Louis I was looking at other potential ventures to invest in,” said Haines. “The MISL approached me about owning a soccer team. When we first started down the path to bring a team to St. Louis we hadn’t decided on the team name. After lots of research and suggestions we decided to bring the Ambush name back.”

Even though the Ambush haven’t been very successful in winning games, they are third in the league in attendance averaging 5,636 people per game, according to the MISL website.

“There really are a lot of great things about owning a MISL team,” Haines said. “I think one thing we are doing is creating memories for people; we have a lot of families attend our games. I hear all the time about how people remember going to Ambush games when they were kids, and how they want to have that same experience with their kids nows.”

Soccer has always had its place in St. Louis, and the hope of getting a professional team is looking more and more like a reality.

USL PRO soccer is coming to St. Louis in 2015

We are one step closer to bringing professional soccer back to St. Louis with St. Louis Scott Gallagher buying a team in the USL PRO league.

On May 1, St. Louis Scott Gallagher soccer club announced that they have bought a professional soccer team in the USL PRO division, the third tier of professional soccer in the United States, and the team is to start competing in the 2015 season.

“The USL PRO offers us the best opportunity to grow the franchise in the direction we want to go,” said General Manager Jeremy Alumbaugh. “The model that USL PRO has developed over the last few years leads to franchises having the best opportunity for stability. Bottom line is the USL PRO model fit better for us than another league.”

In 2013, the USL PRO league entered into a multi-year partnership with the MLS that has affiliations and interleague play, which was another reason why the USL PRO league was chosen.

“Obviously, their relationship with MLS is another thing that lead us to them,” Alumbaugh said. “We have plans to affiliate with an MLS team and look forward to making that affiliation formal here in the next few weeks.”

The partnership between the leagues especially helps the lower league teams succeed.

“The MLS affiliation is critical to the decision. It adds stability to the league with the implied endorsement, it offers access to coaching resources as well as players which should improve the quality of play while not requiring the same financial investment if the team had to find and sign them themselves,” said Steve Olson, the owner of soccerstl.net. “The (Chicago) Fire will happen.  Every MLS team has to have a USL PRO team by 2015, either via affiliation or their own, like Los Angeles Galaxy II. I fully expect that there will be an announcement within a month, maybe a week.”

St. Louis had a try with professional soccer in 2009 with AC St. Louis, but the club folded in 2011 due to finances. Olson believes that this team will be better equipped than AC St. Louis, and have a good chance of succeeding.

“The management team is damn good. Jim Kavanaugh (the president of St. Louis Scott Gallagher) has grown a multi-billion dollar firm in Worldwide Technologies,” said Olson. “He’s taken a slow growth build model. They bought the facility, then they added the new pitch and fancy billboard. Then they upgraded the facilities and concessions, making it a separate profit center that has improved service and quality. They are taking it slowly and step by step.”

All of this comes after The St. Louis Soccer Partners failed to raise the funds needed to get a team here.

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