St. Louis' rich soccer history, from Harry Keough to Tim Ream and now Simpkins-Ford to St. Louis City

St. Louis City SC will host its first MLS game on Saturday when it plays Charlotte FC at 22,500-seat CityPark in the city’s Downtown West neighborhood.

Few cities have the soccer history St. Louis has, dating back to 1920 when Ben Millers (sponsored by the Ben W. Miller Hat Company) won the National Challenge Cup, becoming the first team from outside the East Coast to be crowned national champion. In the 1940s, soccer took off in the city's many Catholic parishes.

St. Louis was a pioneer in the college game, where Saint Louis University won or shared 10 of the first 15 NCAA men's soccer titles and drew big crowds at for the annual Bronze Boot match against SIU-Edwardsville at Busch Stadium. In the MISL's heyday, the Steamers packed the Checkerdome (St. Louis Arena).

Support for the Stars, one of only two teams to play in the NASL's first 10 seasons, was underwhelming, but interest in the new MLS team is high. St. Louis City SC received more than 60,000 deposits for the 19,000 available season tickets at CityPark, and the remaining tickets for Saturday's home opener sold out in five minutes.

St. Louis has a soccer stadium of its own, built at a cost of about $460 million, something the city's first attempt at pro soccer -- the Major Soccer League -- didn't have, leading to that league's demise in the early 1950s.

Five St. Louis natives started for the USA when it beat England, 1-0, at 1950 World Cup in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

• Frank Borghi (photo below). Borghi played in the Cardinals’ minor-league baseball system but his calling was as a goalkeeper thanks to his huge hands. After he returned home from World War II, where he was awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts as a medic, he played for Simpkins-Ford (sponsored by a local car dealership) and won the U.S. Open Cup in 1948 and 1950. Borghi took time off from his job as a hearse driver to go to Brazil and was later a funeral home director, burying two of his teammates.

• Charlie Colombo. Colombo, a carpenter by profession, played center half for the USA and made a head-long dive to tackle Stanley Mortenson like an American football player would and stopped the English star just outside the penalty area to prevent a sure tying goal. Everyone thought Colombo would get ejected, but the match's Italian referee, Generoso Dattilo, shook his finger at Colombo and repeated, "Buono! Buono! Buono!", meaning good. (Borghi stopped the ensuing free kick.) Colombo's nickname was Gloves Colombo — he always wore light boxing gloves when he played, regardless of the weather conditions. A display at the National Soccer Hall of Fame included what were labeled a pair of Borghi's goalkeeper gloves. They were actually Colombo's boxing gloves.

• Harry Keough (top photo). The most famous of the 1950 St. Louisans grew up in the Carondelet neighborhood on the Mississippi River, a melting pot of Spanish, Italian, Irish and Hungarian immigrants. (He learned some Spanish growing up and became fluent  after meeting and marrying Alma Flores, who was born in St. Louis but grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico.) He learned soccer from his older brother, Willy, later a trampolinist in the circus and a Soccer America columnist, and played for the Schumacher Juniors, the first National Junior Challenge Cup winners from St. Louis, before enlisting in the Navy and playing soccer in California. By day, Keough worked for the post office — 38 years as a carrier and supervisor — but he was also a soccer coach, first as the player-coach of the Kutis Soccer Club (winner of seven U.S. Amateur Cups in a decade), then at Florissant Valley, Harris Stowe Teachers College and finally Saint Louis University, where he led the Billikens to five national championships.

• Gino Pariani. The inside right was born to Italian immigrants and grew up on the same street -- Daggett Street -- as Borghi did on The Hill, the Italian neighborhood that also produced Frank “Pee Wee” Wallace and Colombo as well as baseball legends Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. He scored for the USA in its opening game at the 1950 World Cup against Spain, which needed three goals in the last 12 minutes to win 3-1.

• Frank “Pee Wee” Wallace. The fourth starter who grew up in The Hill — his Italian name was Valecenti — spent 16 months in a German POW camp during World War II before returning to St. Louis, where he worked as a mailman, like Keough. Wallace starred for the St. Louis Raiders and then Simpkins-Ford in the St. Louis Major Soccer League, a short-lived attempt at pro soccer in St. Louis with games at Sportsman’s Park. (The league failed in part because it no longer had access to Sportsman's Park after the baseball Browns' move to Baltimore after the 1953 American League season.) 

A sixth St. Louis player, Robert Annis, went to the 1950 World Cup but did not play.

St. Louis area teams dominated the National Junior Challenge Cup (later renamed the McGuire Cup, U.S. Youth Soccer's U-19 boys championship), winning 22 titles in the first five decades after World Cup II.

Most of the early winners represented St. Louis' 70 Catholic parishes, where soccer flourished under the auspices of the Catholic Youth Council with boys teams in four age groups, but other St. Louis champions were sponsored by local businesses like Seco Juniors (Southern St. Louis Equipment Company), Kutis (funeral home) and Imo's Pizza (chain of pizza restaurants).

The last three McGuire Cup championships were won by Scott Gallagher. (Its founder, Jim Scott, owned Scott Gallagher, a sheet-metal company.) Saint Louis FC/Saint Louis Scott Gallagher has six teams entered in MLS Next.

1946 Schumacher Juniors
1951 Seco Juniors
1956 St. Singelbert
1958 St. Paul
1960 St. Paul
1962 Schumacher Juniors
1963 Kutis
1964 Kutis
1965 Immaculate Heart of Mary
1966 St. Williams
1968 St. Philip Dr. Neri
1969 St. Philip Dr. Neri
1970 St. Bart's
1971 Seco Juniors
1972 Seco Juniors
1974 Florissant Celtics
1975 Imo's Pizza
1978 Imo's Pizza
1979 Imo's Pizza
1981 Scott Gallagher
1984 Scott Gallagher
1996 Scott Gallagher

All those St. Louis parishes were a feeding ground for Saint Louis University, which won or shared 10 of the first 15 NCAA Division men's soccer championships. The Billikens' 10 national titles -- five under Bob Guelker, who started the program with a budget of $200 in 1958, and five under Keough -- are still a Division I men's soccer record.

1959 St. Louis 5 Bridgeport 2
1960 Saint Louis 3 Maryland 2
1962 Saint Louis 4 Maryland 3
1963 Saint Louis 3 Navy 0
1965 Saint Louis 1 Michigan State 0
1967 Saint Louis 0 Michigan State 0
1969 Saint Louis 4 San Francisco 0
1970 Saint Louis 1 UCLA 0
1972 Saint Louis 4 UCLA 2
1973 Saint Louis 3 UCLA 2

Soccer America's first edition of 1974 highlighted the unprecedented year St. Louis area colleges had in men's soccer in 1973. Saint Louis University won its 10th NCAA Division I title in 15 years, Missouri-St. Louis gave St. Louis back-to-back championships in the NCAA's newly created Division II, Quincy won the fourth of its record 11 NAIA titles, while Florissant Valley (coached by Pete Sorber, Mike Sorber's father) won the NJCAA title for the fifth time in seven years. SA columnist Willy Keo, Harry's older brother and a renowned circus performer, points out the success of these teams with St. Louis-born players in an era when "soccer is a game alien to the American boy" was 50 years in the making.

* * * * *

For the first time since 1950, St. Louis was represented by more than one player on the USMNT's World Cup team when Tim Ream (every minute of all four games) and Josh Sargent (starts in the first and third games) played in Qatar. Ream and Sargent, who both attended St. Dominic High School, are among six St. Louis area youth products on men's World Cup teams in the modern era.

Steve Trittschuh, Granite City, IL (Granite City HS)
1994 Mike Sorber, Florissant, MO (St. Thomas Aquinas-Mercy HS)
2014 Brad Davis, St. Charles, MO (Chaminade Prep)
2014 *Vedad Ibisevic, St. Louis, MO (Roosevelt HS)
2022 Tim Ream, St. Louis, MO (St. Dominic HS)
2022 Josh Sargent, O'Fallon, MO (St. Dominic HS, IMG Academy)
*Played for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

(Brian McBride, who grew up in the Chicago area and attended SLU, played for the USA at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups.)

Mike Sorber, who grew up in Florissant, Missouri, in the St. Louis area and is the son of legendary Flo Valley community college coach Pete Sorber, holds the record as the most-capped St. Louis player on the men's national team with 67 international appearances.

Becky Sauerbrunn is the most capped player from the St. Louis area with 214 international appearances and two world championships and one Olympic gold medal. With 106 caps, Lori Chalupny is the other St. Louis product with more than 100 caps for the USWNT.

The St. Louis Stars played 10 seasons in the NASL (1968-77) but never topped 10,000 a game in average attendance. Soccer took off as a spectator sport in St. Louis with the indoor Steamers, though.

The Steamers arrived in 1979, two years after the Stars left for California, and hold the MISL attendance record with an average of 17,107 fans a game in 1981-82, higher than all but one NBA team and one NHL team that season.

They reached the league final in 1982 with a team dominated by local stars, including such players as Ty Keough, Harry's son, Steve Pecher, Greg Villa, Don Ebert and Larry Hulcer, all U.S. internationals.

Harry Keough/Borghi Photos:  Andy Mead/Icon Sportswire, Photo: Sargent/Ream Photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos

13 comments about "St. Louis' rich soccer history, from Harry Keough to Tim Ream and now Simpkins-Ford to St. Louis City".
  1. Bob Ashpole, March 3, 2023 at 5:37 a.m.

    I have waited a long time for a St. Louis club to join MLS. Somehow it never seemed right without them.

  2. frank schoon, March 3, 2023 at 8:57 a.m.

    Never Understood why St.Louis wasn't in the MLS. I just wish St.Louis Univ would become the powerhouse they were at one time. I wish SA would do a real indepth story on what made the St.Louis area such a National powerhouse at one time and what is different about it today....

  3. Santiago 1314 replied, March 3, 2023 at 10:52 a.m.

    Catholics Frank, Catholics.!!!  (jajaja)

  4. Thom Meredith, March 3, 2023 at 10:32 a.m.

    Add to Paul Kennedy's excellent retrospective about St Louis area soccer, its teams and its enduring personalities is the fact that the US Men played a bunch of World Cup and Olympic Qualfying matches along with several friendly matches at the AB Soccer Park in the St Louis suburb of Fenton. For several years it was THE go to venue for the US in part due to the off the field connection between the Federation and Anheiser- Busch. (Note: you actually risked being fired as one unknowing intern almost found out the hard way when he ordered a Miller beer in ex president Werner Fricker's presence)..finally, let's us not forget the impact the WUSA team St Louis Athletica had during its short run playing both at SIU-Edwardsville and the Soccer Park. 

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, March 3, 2023 at 10:51 a.m.

    Thank God for that guy at A-B who "Siphoned" off enough Funds, to get the Facility Up and Running...
    It is a vague to me now, do you recall the "Deal".???
    Was Quite a Nice little Facility... A Real Home Field.!!! 

  6. Bill Dooley, March 3, 2023 at 11:26 a.m.

    Love that photo of the two guys at The Soccer Park.  As kids in Sty. Louis, we used to go run those hills as part of our training.

  7. Thom Meredith, March 3, 2023 at 12:38 p.m.

    Santiago 1314. Don't remember anything about the 'deal' as you reference. That kind of stuff was way above my pay grade but the AB leader who was instrumental in getting the Soccer Park built and kept it going was AB President ( l think that was his title)Denny Long, a fan of soccer. It could be Urban Legend but l was told at the time that the Park was used on a regular basis by Long as a place he and his friends could play cards. 

  8. Kevin Sims, March 3, 2023 at 2:33 p.m.

    Welcome, St. Louis! We have missed you. Your storied history in the game is wonderful. We celebrate this long overdue development. In 1956, Bob Sims of Atlanta, GA became coach of the state's first high school soccer team. He sought books to chase knowledge of the game and coaching. When the Atlanta public library system was unable to produce any soccer books, a wider search found several ... from St. Louis!

  9. Betty Lisec, March 3, 2023 at 8:28 p.m.

    Did I just overlook it, or did you overlook Steve Ralston?!

  10. Mike Lynch, March 5, 2023 at 8:05 p.m.

    Great article Paul on the impact St Louis provided for soccer here, past and present. Their immigrant legacy, Catholic school feeders, SLU/SIU/UMSL/Flo Valley, Steamers/Stars, Soccer Park, Scott Gallagher SC, the Kearney (NJ)-San Francisco (CA)- ... of the midwest! And a great start (2-0) to the long overdue MLS team, St Louis CITY SC!    

  11. Paula Bunde, March 6, 2023 at 11:16 a.m.

    Cannot wait to bring my daughter to City Park on April 11 to watch Becky in her hometown.  The drive from Bloomington, IN is pretty easy, must be why all the IU men's teams have plucked St. Louis kids!  That and the details in this story showing what a history the city has.  But, being a Milwaukee kid, nothing wrong with ordering a Miller High Life in St. Louis!  Just kidding.  Great article.  The history of the game in our US cities should be front and center leading into 2026 and hopefully 2027 if FIFA gets its old white men to vote on the next women's world cup.  Guess the super models are more important...

  12. humble 1, March 7, 2023 at 10:43 a.m.

    SIUE (Southern Illinois University at Edwardville), just across the Mississippi river has two more NCAA Men's Championships.  A D1 and D2, and a rich soccer history with several more D1,2 finals appearances and many tournament entries.  Amazing fields on Mississippi flood plains just beneath the bluffs.  Unfortunately they play their games on their lighted synthetic turf field, otherwise, spectacular setup on the east side.  St. Louis also has D1 Men's Lindenwood - in St. Charles, which is on the rise, and, down the road in state capital Springfield they have D1 men's at Missouri State Bears.  Add in the D1 men's program at U of Missouri in Kansas City, and you have the same number of men's programs as all of Texas, throw in SIEU, one more.  Not bad.  Keep it going!

  13. Sandi Collins, March 17, 2023 at 1:34 p.m.

    What a great, and timely, reminder of the contributions of St. Lous players to our soccer history.  Timely, because I was just reminiscing with a family member, last week, about the priceless memories I have of sitting in the main hall of the NSHOF at Oneonta with Harry Keough, Ty, Gino, "Clarkie" Sousa, Colin Jose, Walter Bahr. Being able to just be a "fly on the wall" as these heroes of mine told story after story of a very different era in soccer than what we know today - including growing up on "The Hill" for Harry & Gino. Harry was a gentle soul who adored his dear Alma.  The showing of the Trailer of "The Game of their Lives " ( which became the "Miracle Game"?) was another goosebump moment. It was during the NSCAA Convention in Charlotte.  The Hall had flown in the 5 surviving members of the team - Harry, Walter, Clarkie, Gino & Frank Borghi.  The Trailer was shown on a huge screen in front of over a thousand soccer people at the closing banquet.  Very few knew what was to come.  As the huge screen was raised, after the Trailer, those 5 gentlemen proudly stood on the stage.  The 8 minute long standing ovation they received will always live in my heart and in my memory. Living historyQ  That was, most likely, the most recognition from fellow soccer folk that those gentlemen had ever received!  Thanks for rekindling fond memories, Paul.
    Sandi Collins - Ex-Board Member NSHOF

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