Yesterday’s announcement of a breakaway league from USL-1 had a great symbolic significance. It seems after many false starts and false hopes, outdoor soccer may finally be coming home to St Louis.
November 10th, 2009 could very well be remembered for future generations as the day Soccer came home. St Louis is the traditional mecca of the sport in this country. But thanks to specifically whom the MLS investors were, and the management of USL, St Louis has not had an outdoor professional team in some time.
St Louis’ history in the game is unrivaled by any American city. From the 1920s to the 1960s, St Louis boosted the most US Open Cup winners. Perhaps the greatest player in US history, Billy Gonsalves hailed from St Louis. Raphael Tracy, one of the top American defenders of the 1920s and 1930s was also from St Louis.
The core of the 1950 US World Cup that upset England team was largely from St Louis. The names roll of the tongue today despite playing in virtual anonymity at the time. The names include, Frank Borghi, Harry Keough, and of course the manager himself, Walter Giesler. It’s no coincidence that the only American newspaper reporter who went to Brazil to cover the 1950 World Cup was from St Louis.
The city was the lynchpin behind the early survival of the NASL, which eventually grew to be a massive cross border league. During this period, St Louis’ amateur and semi professional leagues continued to thrive, ultimately providing more American players to the largely foreign player dominated NASL, than any other city.
Recent times have seen the likes of Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston and Pat Noonan suit up for the United States. Even more impressive is the contribution Vadad Ibisevic is making for Bosnia’s National Football Team and his club, Hoffenheim. Ibisevic played for the St Louis Strikers of the PDL and St Louis University before being signed by PSG and now starring as one of the best attacking players in the Bundesliga. The striker will feature this weekend as Bosnia tries to qualify for its first World Cup since independence in a UEFA playoff with Portugal.
St Louis, will play a key role in the new outdoor professional league. Jeff Cooper who owns the WPS St Louis Athletica and holds a seat on the board of Football League club Brentford (the closest football club to Heathrow Airport in London) will serve as the new leagues spokesperson. Cooper who has been thwarted in his previous attempts to bring MLS and USL to the city (and in his attempt to buy USL outright) is considered one of the best domestic minds in the sport by several people, I respect.
Cooper helped improve the already impressive youth soccer setup in St Louis and has developed a reputation abroad for his work in the game. Hats off to Jeff Cooper and the TOA for finally bringing Football back to its traditional and rightful American home: St Louis.