Why doesn’t St. Louis have a Major League Soccer team?
That seemed to be the burning question surrounding last Thursday’s friendly between Manchester City and Chelsea at Busch Stadium.
The two top English sides, who finished second and third in the Barclay’s Premier League this season, sold out in less than a half hour after tickets went on sale. An estimated 19,000 fans showed up there Thursday to watch Chelsea practice.
Whether it was seeing two of the world’s premier club teams play, seeing professional soccer in St. Louis or just the curiosity of seeing what the fuss was about was moot. The people came in droves and were treated to a 4-3 Manchester City comeback victory.
I would compare the match to the annual NFL games at Wembley Stadium in London. Those games usually bring a huge European crowd as they’re curious in seeing what all the hype of American football is about.
It’s nice that the two teams brought most of their top players. Many times on these tours, the teams bring a watered-down version of what they field during league play. You usually see a number of youth team players and reserves who are fighting to move up their team’s pecking order. In other words, it has all of the excitement of an NFL preseason game. But, for most of the game, Manchester City and Chelsea fielded their top players. These are players you see on a weekly basis if you watch the Premier League or European matches. A number of them starred in the World Cup.
Defensively, Chelsea looked a bit lost after first choice goalkeeper Peter Cech was subbed out for Jamal Blackman. The England Under-19 International struggled later in the game.
Those who couldn’t get tickets had the chance of watching the game on ESPN 2, where St. Louis native and former MLS standout Taylor Twellman lamented the fact there is no team in St. Louis. Twellman then discussed that St. Louis would be a perfect spot to place a franchise.
Twellman is far from the only St. Louis product to have played in the league since it’s foundation. Heck, we even have Franklin County ties to MLS. Borgia graduate Matt Pickens is a seasoned veteran in the league and has won a championship with the Colorado Rapids.
Former East Central College All-American Nickardo Blake was drafted by Toronto and is playing in the North American Soccer League’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
And MLS has recently announced it’s going to be adding a 20th team . . . in New York City.
Manchester City is partnering with the New York Yankees to start New York FC, a team which is set to start playing in 2015.
It’s not that St. Louis hasn’t had investors interested in starting an MLS team here. In fact, if any major league expanded here, it would be MLS.
You’re not going to see an NBA team in St. Louis in our lifetime. League leadership has made that perfectly plain. We rarely even get exhibition games here. Professional basketball teams have foundered in the Gateway City since the Hawks fled for Atlanta after the 1967-68 season.
So what would be the best bet for St. Louis adding an MLS team?
My thought is that it would have to be a partnership like the New York FC deal. And we’ve got the right one here right now.
Stan Kroenke, who owns the St. Louis Rams, also is the majority shareholder of Arsenal, which finished fourth in the Barclay’s Premier League, could forge that partnership.
Kroenke has a history with MLS and currently owns the Colorado Rapids. If Kroenke isn’t the person to step up and start a St. Louis team, he does know many others with big bucks who could do that.
It would have to be an expansion team. In MLS history, clubs haven’t really moved around. The original San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston, but that’s been about it. Teams tend to fold rather than move.
At this point, the venue seems to be the biggest issue. Playing indoors at the Edward Jones Dome is not a possibility, nor is playing at Busch Stadium. That’s nice for an exhibition, but trying to host 81 baseball games during the summer, plus a professional soccer schedule would be a bit impossible.
And the league has outgrown venues such as the St. Louis Soccer Park, which lacks the stand capacity and parking to make it a viable option. Also, the Meramec River tends to annex that area every once in a while.
As I see it, there would be a few options to make St. Louis a potential home for a MLS team.
First, someone builds a soccer-only facility in the St. Louis area, preferably in one of the hotbed areas. This facility would be like the stadiums many of the clubs have built in recent years, such as FC Dallas, Sporting KC, etc. It would have a main match field and satellite fields for youth teams for practice and play.
This facility could host youth tournaments and be another way to expand tourism.
Second would be if the Rams decided to build an outdoor stadium and expand it to a full complex. The soccer team could play in the main stadium as there’s little runover between the MLS and NFL seasons.
Or, there could be a hybrid facility built which includes a football stadium and the soccer complex. That would be the most expensive option, but would answer a variety of problems.
Put a retractable roof on the football field and make it the best one in the league. Also, have it seat at least 70,000 so that the region could attract a Super Bowl or other huge events to enrich the area economy.
In that way, you keep the Rams in St. Louis past the end of their stadium lease downtown.
The old Chrysler plant location in Fenton would be perfect for any of the options. I know that’s been discussed many times. There’s plenty of room and they could add all the parking they need. It’s close to major roads (Interstates 44 and 270).
Such economic expansion in that area would help to bolster things there after Chrysler’s exit. That would create a lot of new jobs and promote hotel and restaurant growth around there.
I’m sure there are other locations which could be utilized. You know the city of St. Louis wants the team to stay there. But is there another location which would have the room for such a project? There would have to be some major clearing for that to work.
Soccer in St. Louis is viable and someone is going to recognize it.
I believe we’ll see an MLS team in St. Louis at some point and Thursday’s match at Busch Stadium probably will speed up the process.
Somebody’s got to take the lead though.