Bill McDermott: St. Louis' 'Mr. Soccer' celebrates 50 years of broadcasting the sport

Even in 1974, Bob Costas’ voice was distinctive.

The broadcaster was just starting his career, calling Spirits of St. Louis American Basketball Association games and hosting a sports call-in show on KMOX radio. An equally young Bill McDermott recognized his voice as they shared an elevator. McDermott asked Costas to critique tapes of himself announcing St. Louis University soccer matches.

Costas said he knew nothing about the sport. But he knew the craft of announcing. He gave McDermott a few tips, and became a mentor.

Costas’ advice paid off. McDermott went on to call ESPN’s first-ever college soccer game, in 1979 (SLU vs. UCLA); the first five years of MLS, and the 1998 World Cup, on ABC and ESPN. He’s covered every World Cup since 1970, on radio or television.

He’s been the voice of St. Louis University soccer since 1972, on radio, TV and the public address system. Of the Billikens’ 400 or so home matches in that span, McDermott has missed only about 15.

Unlike Costas, who calls everything from football and golf to boxing and horse racing, McDermott is a soccer-only announcer. That’s not surprising, given his St. Louis roots. The city was a soccer hotbed throughout the early and mid-20th century, home to immigrant clubs and a thriving Catholic Youth Council program, where McDermott began in first grade.

He played three years of varsity soccer at SLU (freshmen were not allowed to compete). He helped the Billikens win national championships in 1967 and ’69, and was already eying the announcer’s booth. In 1967, his U-19 club team won the Missouri state cup. Preparing for the McGuire Cup national championship, they watched “Goal,” the official film of the ’66 World Cup. Nigel Patrick’s narration captivated him. McDermott told friends: “I want to announce World Cup games.”

Five years later, after earning a degree in communication design from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, he returned to SLU as associate athletic director. St. Louis television station KPLR planned to televise a North American Soccer League match between the Stars and Dallas Tornado, at Texas Stadium. They asked athletic director Larry Albus to recommend a color commentator to work alongside noted play-by-play announcer Frank Glieber.

“He knew nothing about soccer. I knew nothing about TV. We were perfect together,” McDermott recalls.

That opened the door to being hired as public address announcer for Stars home games. (They moved to Anaheim, and became the California Surf, in  1978.) He added PA duties for his alma mater that year too.

The 1969 NCAA Division I champion Saint Louis University Billikens. Bill McDermott is front row, fourth from left.

Fifty years later, McDermott’s enthusiasm is undimmed. “I love all of it,” he says. “The ability to see games outdoor and indoor, college and pro; to travel ... it never gets old.”

Among the highlights: serving as sideline announcer for the inaugural MLS game in 1996. The scene was San Jose’s Spartan Stadium, where as a college senior McDermott had won a NCAA national championship. “I never imagined I’d be back,” he says. “And certainly not in that role.”

His World Cup experience extends beyond the broadcast booth. In 2006, he hosted XM Satellite "World Cup Today" morning show, leading up to the matches. “Our producers let us talk about whatever we wanted,” he says. “We did a lot of history, and had a lot of fun.”

McDermott spent 10 years doing Columbus Crew matches. He’s worked for other MLS clubs too, including Houston and Kansas City. Watching the league grow has been “very gratifying.”

That growth extends to McDermott’s hometown. Next year, the top tier of American soccer returns to the city that was once synonymous with the U.S. game.

The other day he visited Centene Stadium, the $458 million soccer-specific park minutes from downtown that will be the home of MLS expansion franchise St. Louis City SC. “My God!” he says. “There’s no other soccer venue in the country like it.”

He plans to continue covering soccer as long as he can. “I’ll know if I’ve lost my fastball,” he says, mixing metaphors. “If I can’t recall facts, I’ll hang it up.”

But – many years after growing up in one of America’s few soccer hotbeds — McDermott still enjoys watching the game grow nationally. “There’s a staggering number of players. Soccer is embraced everywhere in this immense country. People demand to see more and more of it. There’s no end in sight.”

6 comments about "Bill McDermott: St. Louis' 'Mr. Soccer' celebrates 50 years of broadcasting the sport".
  1. humble 1, September 16, 2022 at 10:55 a.m.

    Thank you.  Perfect timing. Just started to watch College Soccer, mostly on ESPN+ and replays, so not entire games, catching goals, style of play, formations, etc.  SLU is one of the teams I follow.  I have noticed there is tremendous variation in the quality of calls, most are better just left off, but, there are the exceptions.  Hard to predict, like U of Dayton, who knew?  SLU, I am not surprised with the soccer tradition at that school in the city, which I knew nothing of when I lived and worked there back in the day, even though I did enjoy the fine American-Italian dining on the Hill frequently, I would not have recognized the calcio parafinalia that surely decorated a few of those joints.  I was not aware of McDermott's leg. status, next time I will listen closer.  Thank you!  

  2. Roy Curtiss, September 16, 2022 at 1:58 p.m.

    I think Al Trost was on the '69 squad also and is in the team picture. Roy Curtiss

  3. Wooden Ships, September 16, 2022 at 4:59 p.m.

    Frank Schoon went up against that team. Soccer in the Lou goes back before the turn of the 19th century. I missed last weeks game, or maybe this week, between SLU and SIU-Edwardsville-always a mammoth match amongst St. Louis area players. 

  4. humble 1 replied, September 19, 2022 at 9:39 a.m.

    I watched part of the replay of SLU - SIUE game on ESPN+ as SLU is on my son's recruiting list. 1-4 for SLU.  Did not know that SIUE had a NCAA Tournament win.  Used to live in area, owned home in Edwardsville.  This was long before my soccer playing son came along.  Had no idea of the soccer history of St. Louis region.  I drove by the SIUE soccer fields every day on way to 18 hour shifts at the office, they sit just on rich soil just below the bluffs that follow the Mississippi River.  Spectacular fields they are, hardly ever saw anyone on them, did not even know SIUE had a team back then. Thanks! 

  5. Craig Cummings, September 17, 2022 at 8:39 p.m.

    W S are you friends with Bill or did I miss it?

  6. Wooden Ships replied, September 18, 2022 at 11:19 a.m.

    No I'm not Craig, we've crossed paths in the 70's, maybe 60's, but I was aware of him as a player and later part of the large metro soccer family. 

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