Slugger Pujols backs St. Louis expansion bid

[MLS] Landing an MLS expansion team, even in these tough economic times, requires a strong lineup of financial and political backers, heavy hitters if you will.

 St. Louis has added power and prestige to its lineup, both figuratively and literally, and its bid by adding Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols to its proposed ownership group, which until recently had been virtually nonexistent, at least publicly.

"I am very proud and excited to join the effort to bring Major League Soccer to the St. Louis area," Pujols said in a statement released by St. Louis Soccer United (SLSU), the group that submitted an expansion application to MLS last month. "This means a lot to me and my family, as we all love soccer and we believe in MLS.

"Plus, this is something that will be great for our community, especially our youth. I strongly encourage St. Louis business leaders and sports fans to join me in this effort. St. Louis is an unbelievable sports town and we'll be a great city for Major League Soccer."

Some would contend St. Louis is a great baseball town and rather tepid when it comes to other sports, despite more than four decades of National Hockey League tradition in the Blues and some successful indoor seasons by the defunct Steamers. It has lost pro basketball teams to other cities or bankruptcies and is one of the few places in America where an NFL team - the former Los Angeles Rams - doesn't dominate local media sports coverage.

The announcement came one day after the National League named Pujols as its MVP, adding a second such honor to his 2005 award.

SLSU is one of seven groups that submitted bids to MLS, which is planning to add two more teams in the next phase of expansion, slated for 2011 at the earliest.

Said attorney and SLSU chairman Jeff Cooper, who has been spearheading the St. Louis effort for the past few years, "It is frankly impossible to imagine a better partner in our effort than Albert Pujols. Albert's commitment is a testament to the strength of the league, the interest and promise of Major League Soccer in St. Louis, and the overall quality of our team, stadium and youth complex plan. In Albert Pujols, we have someone who will be terrific not only for St. Louis, but for all of MLS and the global soccer community."

Cooper has negotiated preliminary agreements with local officials to build a soccer complex and urban development with a 18,500-seat stadium as the centerpiece in suburban Collinsville, Mo. A tax increment financing (TIF) public/private partnership was approved by the City of Collinsville in January.

He plans for the new stadium to host an MLS team as well as an entry in WPS, which begins play in April. The St. Louis WPS team will play on the SIU-Edwardsville campus and move to the facility in Collinsville if it is built.

SLSU has also been active on the youth level, overseeing a program by which three large local clubs -- Metro United, Scott Gallagher, and St. Louis Soccer Club - merged to form a single club, which numbers more than 8,000 registered players.

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