Is STL ready for its own MLS team?

Many St. Louis soccer fans have been begging for a Major League Soccer team in St. Louis. Known as the birthplace of American soccer, St. Louis has become a gateway for young soccer players to become MLS standouts, including Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Brad Davis and Will Bruin.

St. Louis’ largest Italian-American neighborhood, The Hill produced four of the five St. Louisans who played on the U.S. team that beat England in the 1950 World Cup.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has mentioned St. Louis among five cities being eyed for league expansion, along with Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Antonio, and Austin. Retired soccer star David Beckham has recently started an MLS expansion team in Miami. Garber has said the league’s goal is to expand to 24 teams by 2020.

Last year, friendly matches between Chelsea and Manchester City, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Argentina sold nearly 150,000 tickets. Bosnia-Herzegovina will return to St. Louis to play a special pre-World Cup exhibition game at the Edward Jones Dome on May 30 against Ivory Coast.

There definitely will be a huge turnout at the Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Ivory Coast game, since St. Louis is home to the largest Bosnian population outside of Bosnia, and it will be Bosnia’s first ever World Cup appearance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. At the Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Argentina match, die-hard fans in blue and yellow jammed Busch Stadium to cheer them on, despite losing to Argentina 0-2.

St. Louis does not lack supporters of a professional soccer team. Instead, one major issue is the lack of funding for a new outdoor stadium.

In 2008 and 2009, Jeff Cooper, the current owner of Athletic Club St. Louis, and his investment group St. Louis Soccer United twice attempted to bring an MLS expansion team to the St. Louis metropolitan area. Both bids were turned down by the MLS in favor of other cities because of the lack of financial backing Cooper had. KC Sporting, a highly successful MLS team in Kansas City, recently built Sporting Park and cost around 200 million dollars.

Cooper instead launched a second division men’s club and a Women’s Professional Soccer franchise. AC St. Louis played only one season, averaging 2,750 fans at Anheuser-Busch Park during the 2010 season, before shutting down due to severe financial problems. AC St. Louis’ sister-club Saint Louis Athletica also shut down midway through its second season in 2010.

There is still hope for an MLS soccer team in St. Louis. Investors are now looking to fund a United Soccer Leagues team. Many cities who have created small, successful pro teams often get their own MLS team. Our international soccer exhibitions have proven that thousands of people are willing to come to St. Louis. But, there is one thing I know for certain: St. Louis is going to see many more professional soccer games to come.