New Soccer Era for Historic Soccer Town
Correspondent Matt Bird ponders the history of the beautiful game in STL as Saint Louis FC ups the quality with local talent and Chicago Fire reinforcements.
We’ve waited a long while, me, personally for nine months since the team was announced back in May 2014. Others will say they’ve been waiting for a team for five years since the one-year wonder AC Saint Louis folded in 2010.
Saint Louis is a soccer town, make no mistake about it. What kind of soccer town has yet to be determined. Back in the ’50s and ’60s was the heyday with Simpkins Ford and Kutis winning US Open Cups, and all too fondly remembered. The ’80s and ’90s were all about the indoor game with the Steamers and Ambush plying their trades around the tough MISL circuit. Now with MLS having exploded since the 1994 World Cup, the professional game has seemingly passed us by.
Swift forays into NASL, NPSL and a rotten indoor team have not sated our appetite for a quality professional team that we can all get behind. Heck even Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City playing here haven’t quelled our desire. The city can only dine out on fly-by-night friendlies for so long.
So in May 2014 the USL announced Saint Louis as a new franchise in the growing league, We have been ever so fortunate in having an absolutely first rate front office staff who seem to understand what supporter culture brings to the gameday atmosphere.
The GM, Jeremy Alumbaugh and his staff have bent over backwards to involve us in his plans to make Saint Louis FC the hottest ticket in town this summer. Simple gestures like coming on the fans podcast three times and providing a bus to take us to and from an Indy 11 game have endeared the team to the fans before a ball has been kicked.
The team Alumbaugh and coach Dale Schilly have been putting together looks top notch. Players whom have been in the Bundesliga system, like Illinois natives Charles Renken and Oskar Gasecki, plus Olympian James Musa are on the roster.
This both excites me and concerns me.
It excites me obviously because these players are legit. For the first time in a long time we have quality players to call our own. With the Fire taking two local prospects from SLU and SIUe in the draft, we hope the affiliation deal will allow them to play with us for awhile, along with Mark Pais (SLU) and Jacob Bushue (Indiana and Fire PDL) who have standout college careers.
However, it also concerns me. This team is good, the league is good…
Will Saint Louis even notice?
With the city being held in the death grip of indoor league championships past, and the awful Ambush reincarnation, will Saint Louis understand the level of competition that they are watching?
Someone told me recently “I don’t think people will watch this team if there isn’t local talent on the field.”
Just what kind of thinking is that? I’ve lived in Saint Louis for three years and have yet to see a team of local talent have a winning season. The best local talent don’t stay here. Like Renken and Mike Roach (recently SLU and NE Revolution) they go off to and play at the best opportunity they can. The rest stay here and falter.
Our indoor team, the Ambush, charge upwards of $10 to park and $20 (plus $4 fee) to watch an indoor product that hasn’t had a winning season in two years, and is made up of players you can see for free in rec leagues around town. In short; the city is used to paying top dollar to watch bad football, and some sections of the city seem perfectly ok with that. I, and my fellow St Louligans supporters group are not.
We’re ready for a new chapter. We’re frankly sick of being remembered here for what five lads did in Brazil 65 years ago. It’s time to turn the page.
It was quite and understated start really. Our first preseason game was on a winters day in brutal cold at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. The stadium was closed to the public, but that didn’t stop around 300 hardy souls from braving the elements (more than most fortified with alcohol), and stand atop a “berm” to watch the game outside the gates.
Obviously, having only trained together for two weeks and switching out the entire team at half time, we looked pretty rusty. However Naperville native Bryan Gaul scored the 2-1 winner with three minutes to go. Undefeated! And it was fun. the weather didn’t matter. The stadium being closed didn’t matter. The fact that the team looked kind of disjointed didn’t matter. We have a team again, an emotional investment in the US soccer pyramid.
The next game is soon and I can’t wait.
OTF Contributor Matt Bird is a native of Manchester England, but has lived in St. Louis 3 years. Denouncing the myth that United fans don’t come from Manchester one country at a time. He podcasts and writes for StLouligans.com and can be followed at @matthewb76.