Professional soccer makes a short visit back to St. Louis

Professional soccer makes a short visit back to St. Louis

Credit: UPI

St. Louis Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III (R) and other team officials look at the freshly laid sod where the pitching mound once was as Busch Stadium has been transformed from a baseball field to a soccer field on May 22, 2013, as preperations are being made for a soccer game between Chelsea and Manchester City in St. Louis on May 23, 2013. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

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by Scott Bierman / KMOV.com Sports

KMOV.com

Posted on May 22, 2013 at 2:29 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 3 at 4:42 PM

(KMOV.com Sports) -- For nearly 26 years of my life, I have never understood why St. Louis doesn’t have a professional outdoor soccer team -- there’s a rich history and a surprising amount of soccer fans in the Gateway City.

The excitement surrounding this week’s friendly match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Busch Stadium is a reminder of what soccer could become once again in a city most known for baseball.

Every kid, at least in south St. Louis County where I grew up, seemed to play soccer at one time or another. I started in kindergarten and took a hiatus from the sport after eighth grade. Let’s face it, I wasn’t good enough to play in high school.

I enjoyed the sport so much that I picked it back up and joined a coed indoor soccer team, dubbed Hooligans, when I was 19 years old. On a weekly basis, I channel my inner self to think I am like Ambush greats Daryl Doran and Mark Moser. My actual skill tells me otherwise though.

The Hooligans, a team not defined by age, are still together nearly seven years later. There has been little roster change to our team, but more importantly, there has been little change to any of the teams that play against us on Sunday nights at Vetta-Concord.

The players are all the same. The complex’s employees are the same. The love of the game is still the same. The only thing that has changed is the price to play, and even in difficult economic times people still come to play.

I’ve been a part of many beer league softball teams, tried my hand in the bowling circuit and had a quick career as a feared (exaggerated) sand volleyball player. All of those leagues or teams are now non-existent. The passion to play was fun, but the interest never lasted.

That’s the mind-boggling issue with soccer in St. Louis. Although people love to play soccer and continue to play well past their prime, the interest in a professional soccer team is short lived.

I’ve only attended one professional outdoor soccer game. It was to see the St. Louis Athletica, the women’s team that made Soccer Park in Fenton its home. Before I could think about attending another game, the club dissolved after two seasons due to financial troubles.

It would be the same story for AC St. Louis after one season in 2010.

As these teams crumbled faster than they were formed, St. Louis has lost out on obtaining an MLS team. It has been the only professional league in the United States to keep its head afloat since being formed in 1993. The league will have its 20th team, New York City FC, join in 2015.

There are two main reasons the MLS has not made St. Louis a destination for a team: inconsistent fan support and no sufficient stadium.

If these other professional clubs in St. Louis haven’t been able to stick around for at least three seasons, what makes people think an MLS club would be able to?

Where would this MLS team play? Soccer Park is too small, and the St. Louis Cardinals probably wouldn’t want to share Busch Stadium full-time with another team. There is always the large abandoned Chrysler plant lot next to Soccer Park, but that would require a lot of money. Would the taxpayers be willing to pay for a stadium to house a team that isn’t established already?

It’s a mystery as to why professional soccer, once thriving in St. Louis in the 20th century, can’t make its home here. At least for a couple of nights this week St. Louis will be entertained by some of the greatest athletes who will take the field at Busch Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday.

St. Louis may never become the home of a team like Chelsea or Manchester City, but it’s time the soccer revival sweeps the city into obtaining and, most importantly, keeping a professional team where the sport’s history might be the richest in the United States.

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