Exactly one year ago I was a lot like you, seeking out and consuming every bit of soccer-related news about Saint Louis. But I wasn’t finding stories about our hopes of being part of a future Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion. The news back then was about our local side’s inaugural season in the United Soccer League (USL).
We’re all familiar with the tale of Stan Kroenke taking his American football franchise and skipping town. The move left a hole in the hearts of many sports fans around town, and more than a few of those fans seem to think that hole is the size of a soccer ball. This Rams move has resulted in an undertow of sudden support for a new soccer-specific stadium that would house a shiny new MLS franchise. We’ve seen this sort of support for the idea before, but never from so many – at so many levels – at the same time. There’s a palpable feeling that this time it COULD be real, and that has the potential to be very exciting.
But before you rush out to put your down payment on MLS season tickets, read this article by St. Louis Magazine’s Lindsay Toler. Remember MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s words at Ballpark Village last year. Listen to the soccer fan that probably sent you this article. They’ll all tell you the same thing: if you want to grow soccer in Saint Louis, go to Soccer Park and support Saint Louis Football Club (STLFC).
This isn’t a trap or a pyramid scheme. Nobody is trying to sell you liquid herb droppers or stomach wraps… it’s just soccer. But this isn’t the same soccer you wake up at 6am for on a Saturday, this is YOUR team. When the Saint Louis area was in the midst of riots and chaos, under intense national media scrutiny, STLFC GM Jeremy Alumbaugh was eager to plant the city’s flag on the sleeve of his club’s kit, saying: “Saint Louis has been through some tough shit this last year… we really think this club will be a great source of pride for the community.”
And that’s what it’s all about. Cheer for your favorite European club all you’d like, but let me know when they plant our city’s flag on their sleeve in solidarity for our community. Every great club you’ve ever heard of started with the same grassroots support STLFC enjoyed in its first season on the field. This is YOUR local club, with local ownership, local talent on the roster, and real, local, grassroots support in the bleachers. We’re not talking about a hashtag and a Facebook page, we’re talking about 5,000 Saint Louisans going positively apeshit and storming the pitch after an extra time winner.
But let’s get back to a year ago, those cold winter months. I was interested, but I wasn’t sold. “When MLS comes” I said, “I’ll be the first to buy season tickets,” which is something I’ve heard countless times out of the mouths of others in recent weeks. But I wasn’t so sure about supporting a brand new team in a league I’d never heard of. But then I started reading quotes from Jeremy, CFO Tom Strunk, and CEO Jim Kavanaugh. Their passion for the sport and this city was, and is, unmistakable. I checked the price of a season ticket: $150 for general admission.
This is where I’m going to get preachy: if you believe in something, vote with your wallet. Put your money where your mouth is, be vocal about that support, and you just may get more of it. If you believe in soccer in Saint Louis and you’re not willing to put down a $150 investment on that, why would anyone expect you to show up when MLS arrives? If USL isn’t good enough because it’s not MLS, will MLS not be good enough because it’s not European quality? And if you can’t swing $150, just make it out to one match. Any match. If you love this sport and this city, you’ll be hooked.
I’ll tell you this: I’d be absolutely pissed at myself today if I would’ve spent my 2015 waiting for MLS. If I was sitting at home, wearing my EPL shirt, and dreaming about MLS while my hometown team was making noise in the US Open Cup, beating Des Moines and Minnesota United FC in dramatic fashion at Soccer Park… knowing what I now know, I’d be heartbroken.
I understand the appeal of MLS – it’s the biggest professional soccer our country has to offer. When STLFC advanced to Sporting Park in Kansas City in last season’s Open Cup run, I was lucky to be among hundreds of fans that marched into that stadium to announce Saint Louis as a new local rival. Our upstart third-division club went toe-to-toe for 90 minutes with the likes of US National Teammates Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber, and Graham Zusi. We pushed the eventual Cup champions to a 1-0 match, but when I say “we” I don’t use that term lightly. The fans in the stands were STLFC’s 12th man on that summer night, and there isn’t a Sporting fan in attendance who will forget us anytime soon. Hell, we were so loud Graham Zusi turned to our corner and “shushed” us after scoring the game winner… but we kept going anyway. When an international goes out of his way to tell you to fuck off, you’ve made it!
If I could put a price on the fun I had last season it would be somewhere well north of $150. I could wax poetic about the tailgates, the road trips, and all the highs and lows, but our token Englishman Matt Bird already did that in his book. Read it, drink a pallet of beer, and you’ll be all caught up on the 2015 season. Knowing what I do now I’d be upset if I missed that first season, but I’d be damned if I would ever miss another.
We may or may not see an MLS team land in St. Louis by 2020, 2024, or 2028 – I have no clue, and neither does anyone else who has been talking about it in the past few weeks. But I do know that we have Saint Louis FC, we have them now, and all they want to do is represent my city as best as they can. I hope you’ll join me and the rest of the Louligans for everything the 2016 season will have in store.
Join the revolution.
Dance with somebody.
It’s going to get siLLy all over again when our team kicks off in a couple of months.