Soccer fans now know what the name is for Major League Soccer (MLS)’s expansion team in St. Louis. The announcement came Thursday, one week shy of the one-year anniversary than MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced St. Louis as the 28th team in the league.
The franchise, now known as St. Louis City SC, is the first MLS franchise in league history with majority female ownership. The ownership is led by two heirs of the Enterprise Holdings car rental empire which has a majority woman ownership spearheaded the heirs to the Enterprise Holdings empire, Carolyn Kindle Betz and Jo Ann Taylor Kindle. The minority owner is Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, Inc.
St. Louis received the announcement from Commissioner Garber on August 20, 2019. Their inaugural season in MLS was supposed to be in 2022, but complications relating to the novel coronavirus pandemic has delayed that kickoff to 2023.
St. Louis has a history, steeped deep in soccer history dating back to 1907, making them the unofficial soccer capital in the nation.
St. Louis Soccer League
From 1907 to 1939, the first professional league launched in St. Louis, the St. Louis Soccer League. At the time, it was the only professional soccer league in the nation. Its founding was to compete against the Association Foot Ball League, which was founded four years prior.
During its history, two teams had a streak of dominance leading to league championships: St. Leo’s and Ben Millers. St. Leo’s would win league championships from 1909 to 1915. Ben Millers would win championships on several different occasions: three consecutive from 1916 to 1918, another in 1920, and another three-year championship streak from 1925 to 1927.
The league would fold at the end of the 1938-39 season with the final champion being the Chicago Sparta.
St. Louis Stars
After a 28-year hiatus, soccer would return to the Gateway City. The North American Soccer League granted St. Louis a franchise as part of its founding in 1967. While the Stars would finish their inaugural season as runner-up for the NASL Commissioner’s Cup, the team would never return to the championship round, even despite indoor seasons in 1971, 1975, and 1976.
The Stars would lose the franchise to relocation at the end of the 1977 season. It would relocate to Anaheim, Calif. to become the California Surf. The NASL would dissolve its operations in 1985.
St. Louis Steamers
It did not take long for St. Louis to regain a soccer team, as St. Louis was able to secure a team with the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) in 1979. MISL was founded two years prior.
For four consecutive seasons from 1980-81 through 1983-84, the Steamers outdrew the St. Louis Blues of the NHL and set attendance records of their own.
From 1980 to 1983, the franchise was under the ownership by a group led by St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan “The Man” Musial.
The Steamers would make appearances in the championship game in 1981, 1982 and 1984, but would lose in close matches.
While the team would dissolve in 1985, this would not be their final foray in the MISL.
WISL revival and MISL transfer
In 1998, the Steamers made a resurgence, returning to soccer action in the World Indoor Soccer League for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. After a year hiatus, the Steamers would join the revived MISL for the 2003-04 season until their operational suspension in 2006.
Although the Steamers suspended operations in 2006, the team ended their season with an impressive 23-7 record and an appearance in the championship game, losing 2-1 to the Baltimore Blast.
The MISL would dissolve in 2008.
St. Louis Storm
St. Louis would return to the MISL in 1989 as the St. Louis Storm. Don Popovic, who coached opposite the Steamers as coach of the New York Arrows in the 1981 and 1982 championship games, would take the helm as the team coach.
The team would play until the league dissolution in 1992.
St. Louis Ambush
Following the dissolution of the MISL in 1992, St. Louis would join the National Professional Soccer League. The league had been in existence since 1984.
The story behind the franchise was that the Ambush was relocated from Tulsa, Okla. to St. Louis at the end of the 1991-92 season. Ownership had switched hands to two St. Louis area physicians.
During the Ambush’s existence until its dissolution in 2000, the team was a championship runner-up in 1994, 1998, and 1999. The Ambush would win the NPSL league championship in 1995.
MISL revival and MASL transfer
The team would make a resurgence as part of the MISL for the 2013-14 season, but would make the jump to the Major Arena Soccer League in 2014.
In the MASL, the Ambush has yet to have a winning record, the best record being a 10-14 record in the 2018-19 season.
Their current ownership as of 2020 is Shelly and Will Clark, as well as Jeff and Heather Locker.
A brief picture of women’s professional soccer: Saint Louis Athletica
Women’s soccer became part of the picture in St. Louis in 2008 as part of the Women’s Professional Soccer League with the Saint Louis Athletica.
The Athletica was not exactly horrible either. Until its sudden, abrupt operational suspension in 2010, the team was 12-8-7 in 27 matches.
The league as a whole would dissolve in 2012.
AC St. Louis
In 2009, an area businessman by the name of Jeff Cooper launched a franchise in the USSF’s Division 2, AC St. Louis, as an attempt to get the ball moving for a MLS franchise to come to the city.
Unfortunately, their only season of action was in 2010, before Cooper was forced to dissolve operations in 2011.
St. Louis FC
In May 2014, St. Louis would once again rejoin the soccer world in the USL Championship League, part of the United Soccer League.
In five seasons, the team has a 50-60-48 record, but a 14-9-11 record got them into the Western Conference playoffs in 2018.
Development of a MLS farm system in St. Louis?
With two active professional franchises still active in the region, the development of a farm system much similar to what is currently being implemented in 13 USL clubs, whether they are in ownership by a franchise or simply by affiliation.
Here’s where Kavanaugh enters the picture. Not only is he a co-owner of St. Louis City SC, but he is also the CEO of St. Louis FC. That almost assumes the development of a farm system in and around the Gateway City.
There is also the option of implementing the St. Louis Ambush in some manner as well. A recently-launched team in the American Soccer League, the St. Louis Steelers, could possibly be part of the equation.
Combine those teams with the Saint Louis University Billikens in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Cougars of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the Mid-American Conference and various NAIA and NCAA Division II and Division III schools, things could get interesting.
The Billikens are ten-time NCAA soccer champions and appeared in the championship game three additional times, for a total of 13 championship game appearances. The Billikens have yet to make an appearance in the championship game since 1974. Kavanaugh is among the Billikens soccer alumni.
The Cougars are two-time NCAA soccer champions, one as a Division II school and another as a Division I school. The team has made a total of four NCAA championship appearances. What’s more impressive is the drive of their coaches.
From 1967 to 1985, coach Bob Guelker led the Cougars to a .745 winning percentage rate with a 216-67-21 record. That tenure includes two national championships, two runner-up honors and two third-place honors.
The second most successful coach in Cougars soccer history was Ed Huneke, who was coach from 1986 to 2007. His career record was 251-155-34 with a .609 winning percentage.
The Bronze Boot Game as a recruitment tool?
On three occasions, the Billikens and Cougars would compete in the Bronze Boot Game as part of their ongoing rivalry.
The teams first met in 1969. To date, the Billikens hold a 26-9-2 record against the Cougars. Their 2018 meeting resulted in a 1-1 tie, snapping a 13-year winning streak. Without consideration of the tie, the Billikens are currently on a 14-game winning streak.
In 1972, 1973 and 1980, the rivalry went big by holding their rivalry game inside the second-generation Busch Stadium. The game attendance was roughly 15,000 in 1972, rising to 20,112 the following year. The 1980 game brought in an attendance of 22,512.
With the rivalry game potentially being played inside the new MLS stadium in 2023, could we see recruiters from all over MLS and the national soccer team?