Many point to the city of St. Louis as the origin of soccer in the United States. While many cities only had teams that involved immigrant communities that were sponsored by their like social groups, St. Louis began the St. Louis Soccer League in 1891, ten years after the city had already dabbled in various forms of organized leagues.
Many consider St. Louis to be a “hotbed” of soccer tradition, players and general fandom. With professional soccer beginning to take off the way the MLS had envisioned it, one question is nagging to be asked. Why is there no MLS team in St. Louis? Better still, why is there not even any talk of it?
Before 2008, Jeff Cooper had his ducks in a row, ready to bring a team to the sports-rich town. He had financial backing from one of the most recognizable names in sports in Albert Pujols, as well as a pre-approved stadium plan in the St. Louis suburb of Collinsville, Illinois. With the MLS looking to expand, and not a lot of teams on board that looked serious about it, the chances for bringing in a team were sky high.
But expansion to The Gateway City was denied by MLS Commissioner Don Garber in favor of the northwest expansion. It’s hard to argue that the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps haven’t completely shifted the image of the MLS from one of quarter-filled stadiums, to rocking centers of sports energy captured wonderfully in the high-definition era.
What’s troubling however, is the fashion in which everything unfolded. Despite having backing from Pujols and a team of four other investors, Cooper was told that he needed to expand his investment team. Not only that, but the MLS raised the price for expansion immediately after denying Cooper, forcing him to rethink the move and ultimately leading to the dissolving of the investment team, with not so much as a cricket chirp about it since.
The argument can be made all day that MLS needed all of the northwest teams right then, and only be establishing them immediately and forming the television-friendly rivalries has the league really taken off.
I beg to differ.
A St. Louis team would have done so many positive things. For starters, the Chicago Fire are trying desperately to pin another team as a “rival.” The current campaign to tag the New York Red Bulls as the rival of a team in Chicago is laughable. You’re not going to be able to replace U.S. cities’ natural rivalries with artificial MLS ones. Sure if they Fire and Red Bulls are near the top of the table it will be an entertaining watch, but that goes for any two decent squads. Having a team in St. Louis creates an instant rival for Chicago.
And speaking of natural rivalries, did anyone notice that the team on the other side of Missouri is packing their stadium out to “standing room only” for every game? Sporting Kansas City has become an absolute model for how to succeed in a small market in the MLS. Cooper’s plan for a soccer specific stadium and a group of investors is nearly identical to how Kansas City made a transformation out of the cavernous Arrowhead stadium into the vibrant Livestrong Sporting Park. Put a St. Louis team four hours down I-70 from Kansas City, and you have yet another winner my friend.
Now, sadly, Cooper and his team are gone. The stadium plan in Collinsville is gone. What still remains are fans who are dying to welcome an MLS team, but the feeling doesn’t seem to be reciprocated by anyone else.
Talk of putting another team in New York is insulting to anyone who watches nearly half the stadium empty when Thiery Henry plays at home for the Red Bulls. What are the other future expansion plans for the MLS? Garber said that Atlanta is “one of three intriguing markets” for future MLS expansion, as it’s the largest television market without an MLS franchise.
I can start a flea circus and take it to the most populated city in America, but if no one wants to watch the flea circus, it’s a dud. The south is an American football mecca. Putting an MLS team in Atlanta to watch the interest die out completely after two years would be even more painful than the return of the New York Cosmos.
Well all know what a wonderful city Las Vegas is for sports, and a new 22,000 seat soccer-specific stadium is expected to be completed there by 2014. Real Salt Lake has already formed a good rivalry with the L.A. Galaxy, so who is going to be the nemesis of Las Vegas, the dying Colorado Rapids? MLS has made some tough expansion decisions over the past few years, but they’ve snubbed St. Louis long enough. Continuing to ignore one of the most tradition-rich and well supported cities in America only hurts them, and the fans they don’t have yet.
Dan Irwin is a soccer writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ danirwin_rant