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
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.
1990 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