Much More Than MLS: An Incomplete History of Soccer in St. Louis

Nathan Tucker
nrtucker@lc.edu

 

It’s been coming for some time now, but as of August 20th, it became officially official. St. Louis is joining Major League Soccer, and toasted the occasion with hundreds and hundreds of diehard supporters at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company in The Grove. But this is not the dawn or birth of pro soccer in St. Louis, in fact most of those celebrating the birth of an MLS team would be quick to tell you that. St. Louis has been a soccer city long before Major League Soccer existed, and has maintained a passionate soccer community for more than a century. 

Long before the acronym “MLS” came into the vernacular of an american soccer enthusiast, St. Louis was the home of an entire professional soccer league, the very first of its kind in the country. The aptly named St. Louis Soccer League first kicked a ball in 1907, a full 87 years before the first season of Major League Soccer. Clubs from the league, such as Stix Baer and Fuller Football Club, St. Leo’s, and Ben Millers found national success in the National Challenge Cup, a national tournament of soccer teams of all leagues that still exists to this day, now known as the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

With a whole league once stationed in the city, it’s no surprise that St. Louis was abound with great soccer talent in the middle 20th century. The 1950 United States World Cup team was half comprised of St. Louisans. That underdog team pulled off one of soccer’s greatest historical upsets, a 1-0 victory over the mighty England. Five of the eleven players the US fielded in that game hailed from St. Louis.

The passion for soccer isn’t just at the professional or international level here in St. Louis. College soccer success is simply part of the territory. Not even a full decade after that World Cup success, Saint Louis University went on an unprecedented title run in NCAA soccer, winning ten titles between 1959-1974. SIU-Edwardsville were no slouches at this time either, winning a share of titles themselves. Games between the collegiate powerhouses were some of the hottest tickets in soccer in North America, with multiple meetings between the two drawing over twenty thousand fans to the old Busch Stadium when pro teams were struggling to draw a few thousand at best.

I would be remiss if I overlooked Lewis & Clark’s own perennial powerhouses. Constantly ranked, constantly competitive or much more, coach Tim Rooney and company have led the Trailblazers through many, many great seasons. Last season, the men’s and women’s Trailblazer soccer teams both had excellent campaigns, with the women’s side not losing a single match and winning most games by large margins. The Trailblazers are constantly a high water mark for college soccer as a whole, not even just the junior college level.

With all this in mind, you might ask ‘Where has pro soccer been lately if St. Louis is such a soccer town?’. Well, Fenton, currently. If you’re hungry for professional soccer in St. Louis and don’t wish to wait until 2022 to see some soccer, a drive down 44 West to Fenton, Missouri will lead you to St. Louis Soccer Park Road, where you will find the home of Saint Louis Football Club. 

Saint Louis FC is currently in their 5th season in the United Soccer League, which is just the level below MLS (think AAA baseball to MLB). Despite being in a lower league than MLS, the team routinely sells out home matches, creating a great atmosphere, one which rivals many MLS franchises. STLFC will be an affiliate team for the new MLS franchise whenever they start to get things moving past all the pressers with scarves that say “#MLS4THELOU” or some similar slogan. 

The MLS franchise still needs a name, or I wouldn’t keep calling them “the MLS team/franchise”. When Major League Soccer started, teams went with mostly unique yet somewhat goofy names, such as the Dallas Burn or the Kansas City Wizards. But after backlash of these names, teams went with monikers and names that are more common in European soccer. Dallas Burn became Football Club Dallas, the Kansas City Wizards became Sporting Kansas City, Salt Lake City’s team name is “Real (pronounced re-Al) Salt Lake”. St. Louis’s current pro team, Saint Louis Football Club, is also guilty of using this nomenclature.

Those who’ve grown attached to Saint Louis FC over the past five years (myself included) now get to watch them and hope their standouts can make the jump to the St. Louis MLS team. Those who’ve passionately followed soccer in and around the city for years and years finally get to see what the city has long deserved, a packed house in downtown rooting on a soccer franchise at the highest level in the US. Those in St. Louis who are just now jumping on the soccer bandwagon may be a bit late to the party, but they’ll be welcomed with open arms, as St. Louis writes a new chapter in it’s soccer history book.

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