MLS, At Soccer’s Expense

By Nathan Tucker
nrtucker@lc.edu

As the St. Louis MLS team awaits their big unveiling this week, news has come out about the city’s current and only pro soccer team, Saint Louis FC, who will likely be packing up shop after this season. While Saint Louis FC plays in the second level of pro soccer in the US, the USL Championship, they’ve been a home for soccer fans in the area for the past six seasons.

With this week’s report on Saint Louis FC’s fate laying bare the fears of many footy faithful in the area, Major League Soccer’s plans and ideas for the sport of soccer are also revealed. Those plans and ideas, you may ask? Stripping out any semblance of soccer culture and support and replacing it with their own.

Major League Soccer does not care if their teams foster relationships with existing soccer clubs, organizations and fans. The league only wants their own identity to be recognized and sees any other soccer organization in an area of an MLS team as a competitor, and not a compatriot.

The decision for Saint Louis FC to fold seems all but a foregone conclusion at this point, with players, coaches and staff aware that this is “almost certainly the end” of the USL franchise. The move to fold the team completely contradicts what the “MLS 4 The Lou” ownership group’s website said at its launch before the MLS franchise was awarded.

The MLS ownership group’s plan on the site outlined Saint Louis FC as an affiliate to the MLS club. In full, here’s what was once the official plan for STLFC:

“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.”

Kavanaugh is now weeks and days away from pulling the plug on the team he’s run for the past 7 years, for the benefit of a future MLS club, and to the detriment of St. Louis soccer fans. After this USL season, the city goes back to where they were in 2013, without pro soccer.

Instead of being excited to include Saint Louis FC’s “passionate fan base”, Kavanaugh and the MLS ownership group have decided it’s a better move to starve the region of pro soccer for years before the MLS team ever kicks a ball.

The move, to them, is a way to create a hunger for the game, I assume. To the MLS group, Saint Louis FC is a competitor that a member of the ownership group controls, and simply getting rid of Saint Louis FC gives MLS more of a soccer market share in the city.

That’s how MLS, and the US Soccer Federation as a whole, look at the sport of soccer. To these bodies, soccer exists as nothing but a business opportunity to create profit for a select few.

While this model is similar to other US sports leagues, like the NFL and Major League Baseball, it is a drastically different approach than soccer leagues around the world have taken over the past century of pro soccer’s development.

Big and small soccer teams coexist globally. Hell, it’s one of the reasons why soccer is so special around the world. A city’s smaller, lower-league club hosting a local rival from a higher league is often the biggest day on the calendar for fans, and these “derbies” are a part of many cities’ cultures.

Instead of fostering a soccer culture where many teams can coexist and compete, MLS wants clear divisions from its teams and the rest of the soccer teams in the country. The only “derbies” that can happen in MLS are ones that involve MLS expansion teams, and all others are somewhat clearly frowned upon.

When MLS first announced St. Louis making the league, my mind immediately went to the possibility of Saint Louis FC playing a US Open Cup derby against the St. Louis MLS team in the new stadium currently being built downtown. A supporter’s section on both ends of a packed stadium as the city’s two teams showcased what soccer in this country had been missing, St. Louis’s soccer culture.

Instead, the MLS ownership has decided to kill that possibility and decided to (temporarily) kill pro soccer in the city until the MLS team arrives.

And this is supposed to make fans excited for soccer?

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