#MLS2STL: Is St. Louis the Next MLS City?

St. Louis FC supporters

It hasn’t been a fun last two months for us in St. Louis. First, our USL team, St. Louis FC, had their field completely flooded. Then the dagger to the heart came at the start of January. Arsenal’s owner, Stan Kroenke, finally pulled the trigger to move our beloved Rams to Los Angeles. The disappointing move leaves the Gateway to the West without an NFL team, and just two top-tier professional teams.

While the present looks a little bleak, rumors have started swirling that may brighten some outlooks here in Missouri. For the last several years, St. Louis has seemingly always been on the margins of MLS expansion talks. Looked over for the likes of Los Angeles, Atlanta and Minnesota, it looks like St. Louis might finally have a legitimate hope of joining Major League Soccer.

At this year’s draft, there was an impromptu survey conducted by Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl asking various coaches, players and GMs what city they’d like to see the league expand into. The city that came up the most: St. Louis. Legends of the game like Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Claudio Reyna (NYCFC) and Peter Vermes (Sporting KC) all told Wahl how much they respect the fandom and tradition present in the gateway city.

Wahl’s findings were echoed later on by St. Louis native, and former MLS All-Star Taylor Twellman. Twellman, who scored more than 100 goals in his eight year MLS career, responded to the survey by tweeting, “Every single one of them (coaches and GMs) came up to me over the last 48hrs saying this exact same thing #MLS2STL.” The former New England Revolution striker has even offered his help to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in order to expedite the expansion process.

In addition to the high profile support, I think the departure of the Rams makes St. Louis this the ideal time for MLS to move to Missouri. Commissioner Don Garber told reporters that the exit of the NFL from the city gives STL, “a little more momentum,” when it comes to breaking into expansion talks. The reason I think that a Rams-less St. Louis is perfect for the MLS is the amount of fans that are now searching for another team to watch on the weekend.

Granted, attendance at Rams’ games over the last several seasons hasn’t been the best (52,402 last season in a 66,000 seat stadium). However, I think a large part of that has to do with the city’s disconnect from the team. Fans didn’t feel like Kroenke really cared about the people in the stands and that he was only concerned about the dollars and cents of the business.

When the people of St. Louis feel like the owners care, and that the players care, there’s no limit to their support. Look at the Cardinals and Blues where any game has a good chance of being a sellout. In the soccer world, STLFC’s fanbase, St. Louligans, has been heralded as one of the most passionate groups in the USL.

Now the real task is finding a group of investors to pay a very pricey expansion fee that is reportedly more than $100 million. In addition to the investors, the city needs to present the league with a viable stadium option now that the new Rams stadium is a thing of the past. Currently, STLFC plays at Worldwide Technology Soccer Park (only a capacity of 5,500). These aren’t easy tasks to complete, and without viable options, St. Louis will never be a part of MLS.

In terms of a timeframe, St. Louis would likely have to wait until 2020 at the earliest to play their first MLS game. According to ESPNFC, the league already has plans to expand to 24 teams by 2018 with three of those spots taken (LAFC, Minnesota United, Atlanta United) and Miami looking the favorite for the final spot. For the 2020 expansion, St. Louis will be competing with the likes of Detroit, Sacramento, San Antonio and San Diego for a team.

With such a large timeframe, St. Louis has plenty of time to build a solid proposal and I have no doubt that they will be in the discussion until the very end. This city has passionate fans that want a team to support and it’s looking more and more like an ideal location for the league to expand to. As a St. Louisan and a soccer fan from birth, I would love nothing more than to see my city finally get a top-tier league. Only time will tell, but I’ve never been more optimistic about this dream becoming a reality.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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