MLS announcement set for Tuesday in St. Louis

Major League Soccer has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday morning at the Palladium Saint Louis, a St. Louis event venue where it is expected to announce that St. Louis will be the league's 28th team.

MLS commissioner Don Garber will be joined by members of the St. Louis ownership group bidding for a team as well as St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson and Lewis Reed, the president of the Board of Aldermen.

The expansion announcement was first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. And it comes less than a year after Krewson confirmed that there was local interest in putting together a revived bid.

In 2017, St. Louis began the year as the favorite for one of the two expansion teams MLS planned on awarding but by April its bid was dead.

An effort led by Boston-area businessman Paul Edgerley and a St. Louis group of business leaders collapsed when voters in cash-strapped St. Louis rejected by a vote of 53 perfect to 47 percent a proposition that would have provided $60 million in public financing for a 20,000-seat downtown soccer stadium near Union Station, two miles west of the Gateway Arch.

The new effort is led by Andy Taylor and Carolyn Kindle Betz of Enterprise Holdings, whose rental car brands include Enterprise, National and Alamo, and Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology and founder of the USL's Saint Louis FC. They came with new plans for a stadium at the same downtown plot of land -- but this time with "overwhelming" private funding covering the $250 million cost.

The MLS4TheLou group quickly emerged as the frontrunner along with Sacramento in the new expansion race for teams No. 28, No. 29 and No. 30, and the group was the first to make a formal presentation to the MLS expansion committee in July.

Soccer has a long history in St. Louis. It was one of the few cities where the sport was embraced outside immigrant communities in the first half of the 20th century. Catholic parishs promoted soccer in their youth sports programs, and Saint Louis University dominated college soccer until the mid-1970s, winning 10 of the first 16 NCAA championships and finishing second on three other occasions.

Though soccer has deep roots in St. Louis, fan support at the pro level has been fleeting at best.

The St. Louis Stars were the first team in the old NASL to rely heavily on American players, but in their 11 years in the NPSL (1967) and NASL (1968-77) they never averaged as many as 10,000 fans a game and moved to Anaheim just as the NASL was hitting its boom years.

The most popular team in St. Louis was the MISL Steamers, who at their height in 1981-82 averaged more than 17,000 fans at the St. Louis Arena. But like support for indoor soccer elsewhere, the Steamers' fan base later dwindled and the team folded after the 1987-88 season.

The baseball Cardinals average more than 40,000 fans a game, making them one of the best-supported MLB teams with a loyal fan base from all across the Midwest and south through the Mississippi Valley. The Blues are the reigning NHL champions, but the football Cardinals moved to Phoenix after the 1994 season and the Rams returned to Los Angeles after the 2015 season. In the aftermath of the Rams' departure, interest in finding a soccer team for a downtown stadium picked up steam.

St. Louis is the home to Anheuser-Busch, the longest-serving corporate partner in American soccer. Dennis Long, the former Anheuser-Busch president, was instrumental in the construction of the St. Louis Soccer Park, a facility in suburban Fenton that was the venue for key U.S. men's national team games in the late 1980s and is the home of Saint Louis FC, which averages 4,410 fans at the 5,260-seat stadium, part of a soccer complex now known as the World Wide Technology Soccer Park.

Retiring U.S. Soccer chief executive officer Dan Flynn, who played for SLU and worked at Budweiser in sports marketing, has been serving as an unpaid advisor to the current expansion group.

The St. Louis team is expected to begin play in 2022 when its soccer stadium is ready. Nashville SC and Inter Miami will join MLS in 2020 and Austin FC will become the 27th team in 2021.

1 comment about "MLS announcement set for Tuesday in St. Louis".
  1. James Madison, August 19, 2019 at 11:20 p.m.

    What about Sacramento?

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