ST. LOUIS – Exuberant crowds poured into Urban Chestnut, a microbrewery, Tuesday afternoon for a happy hour hosted by St. Louis’ MLS investors for local soccer fans.
The mood couldn’t be further removed from the one that pervaded in April of 2017 after a vote failed to approve partial public funding of a soccer stadium.
“It’s a much different feeling in the room now,” said Bradley DeMunbrun of the St. Louligans, the city’s chief supporters’ group. “MLS in St. Louis seemed to be dead after the vote failed. Today, everybody’s happy.”
That’s because St. Louis is now the 28th team in MLS, with the announcement coming earlier Tuesday at the Palladium. Elated VIPs, media and fans packed both levels as MLS Commissioner Don Garber made rumored news reality.
“This is a game-changer,” said Tom Schwarz, host of STL United FC Soccer Sunday, a long-running local radio show.
No one was happier than those who helped put St. Louis soccer on the map decades ago, but who watched in frustration as the city faded from the game’s limelight.
“We’re back on the national soccer map,” said Bill McDermott, who has broadcast soccer at every level during the last 47 years on local and national TV and radio. “St. Louis is the birthplace of soccer in this country, and today’s announcement was built on the shoulders of tens of thousands of players born and bred in St. Louis over the last 140 years.”
Jim Leeker, the NASL Rookie of the Year in 1970 with the St. Louis Stars and an ever-present figure at local soccer events as president of the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame, talked of dreams coming true.
“As somebody who’s responsible for the history of St. Louis soccer, and who played in the NASL, I couldn’t be happier,” Leeker said.
The sense of anticipation was also expressed by Dale Schilly, who has coached at the youth, collegiate and professional levels in St. Louis for 35 years.
“It’s a moment we’ve been waiting for since the old St. Louis Stars left (in 1977),” Schilly said.
Same goes for Patrick Barry, president of USL Championship side St. Louis FC: “St. Louis is back at the top where it belongs.”
As he watched the Palladium overflow with supporters on hand to witness the rebirth of professional outdoor soccer in St. Louis, DeMunbrun reflected on innumerable hot afternoons and nights as he and the St. Louligans supported local lower-division soccer. Now their efforts, come 2022, can turn to MLS.
“We feel validated as supporters of local soccer,” DeMunbrun said. “Today is surreal.”