By Nathan Tucker
The St. Louis area’s lone fully-professional soccer team, Saint Louis FC, is reportedly on the outs after this USL Championship season. The team that plays its home games at West Community Stadium in Fenton, MO, is currently in its sixth USL season.
The Athletic’s Jeff Reuter reported this week that Saint Louis FC has until the end of the month of August to decide the club’s fate for next season and beyond. Sources claim “players and staff alike have come to a grave assumption that this will almost certainly be the end” as Reuter reports.
The decision would leave St. Louis without professional soccer until the Major League Soccer franchise begins play, which is now slated for 2023 instead of 2022. The league pushed back St. Louis’s inaugural MLS season due to financial concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
When I spoke with Tyler Tetzlaff of Saint Louis FC earlier this year on the excitement building around MLS coming to the city, and Saint Louis FC’s potential to be an affiliate club, he gave me an answer that hinted at this unfortunate possibility.
“So to be honest, as far as affiliation and everything, that’s not 100% confirmed.” Tetzlaff said to me at West Community Stadium back in February. “We don’t know what the future is going to hold for us, whether it ends in a few years or this year.”
Rumors began to rumble among fans of Saint Louis FC and the game of soccer in the area that this was potentially the last season the team would compete. With this report coming from Jeff Reuter and The Athletic, that smoke has now bore fire, and soccer fans could be left without a pro team, again.
If Saint Louis FC folds after this current USL Championship season, that would mean an over two-year wait for area soccer fans to watch pro soccer in person again. With the MLS team not slated to play until 2023, the biggest outdoor soccer team in the area is the St. Louis Lions, which play in the semi-pro fourth level of US Soccer, USL League Two.
In this humble writer’s opinion, Saint Louis FC is the reason St. Louis won an MLS franchise, and is a big reason why many in the soccer community feel St. Louis is a “soccer city” even after years without a team to call its own.
It seemed like Saint Louis FC would be that soccer team for the city to embrace, and for years, the city did. The club brought in local soccer minds, local soccer legends, had relationships with the larger Blues and Cardinals and despite playing in Fenton, felt like a part of the city’s sports framework.
What has drawn the ire of many local soccer fans in this story is that the “MLS 4 The Lou” group originally stated on their website that Saint Louis FC was an integral part of the MLS team’s plans. Saint Louis FC, and youth soccer organization St. Louis Scott Gallagher, were always slated to provide the development of players for the MLS-level team.
Even more explicitly, the site expanded as to why keeping Saint Louis FC as part of the process was integral to the foundation of the MLS club. A paragraph from the MLS 4 The Lou site once read:
“Will Saint Louis FC, the existing USL team, be a part of this (MLS) process?
Yes, if an MLS team is awarded. Jim Kavanaugh, who is part of our #MLS4THELOU ownership group, is also CEO of Saint Louis FC and St. Louis Scott Gallagher clubs. If an MLS franchise is awarded, our plan is to integrate these clubs into the MLS structure. Saint Louis FC has established a passionate fan base and we’re excited to include them in the process.”
Somewhere down the line, that process changed.
St. Louis’s biggest soccer supporters group, the St. Louligans, have been expressing their frustrations with this move on social media since the report came out.
“We haven’t been naive in this process, the USL team would never be able to “compete” with #MLS4TheLou.” said the Louligans Twitter account. “But we expected/hoped @SaintLouisFC would carry on until MLS started at least. To bridge the gap. Change was inevitable. Just didn’t expect it like this.”
I cannot really fathom why the MLS team wants to starve the area of soccer before its launch in 2023. I suppose their theory is trying to make people hungry for soccer by taking it away. So much for growing the game.