Already boasting a long, proud soccer history, St. Louis added another milestone on Tuesday when it was officially awarded Major League Soccer's 28th franchise.
The midwestern city has long hoped to be granted an MLS club, with plans to now join the league in 2022. Some notable St. Louisans who have previously starred in MLS believe the fit is perfect.
“The city of St. Louis, since I’ve known it, since my dad’s known it, since my uncles and grandpas have known it – soccer has been the heartbeat and fabric of the city," St. Louis native Taylor Twellman told MLSsoccer.com. "I’m very happy for my city. The city deserves it. The city is going to represent itself on a national and international scale that I think is going to surprise some people.”
St. Louis' MLS franchise will join the Cardinals, the city's storied MLB franchise, and the Blues, who just won NHL's Stanley Cup this summer.
“It’s going to be a town that supports its soccer team like it has for the Cardinals and the Blues," St. Louis native Pat Noonan said. "A loyal fan base, one win or lose they’ll be out there to support their team. The hope is to gain real momentum to make it one of the premier soccer clubs and communities.”
Twellman attended Saint Louis University High School, where he excelled across several sports before ultimately pursuing soccer. He made his MLS debut in 2002 after two seasons in Germany. While with the New England Revolution, he enjoyed a hugely successful career both in MLS and with the US national team, only for head injuries to force an early retirement in 2010. He's one of 11 players in MLS history to score 100 goals and is currently ESPN's lead MLS analyst.
Noonan was born in St. Louis and grew up in nearby Ballwin, Miss. Currently an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Union, Noonan spent 10 seasons in MLS and made 15 appearances for the USMNT.
“You’re going to turn on sports talk radio in St. Louis and they’re going to talk about the team," Twellman said. "They’re going to criticize the team, applaud the team and root for the team. There’s always been soccer rivalries within this city, now for all of them to come together and support one team, I think you’re going to be surprised. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of non-soccer people in St. Louis, just how big and competitive it is. It’s difficult to describe. A state high school final gets over 5,000 people, you know what I mean? It’s a sport that resonates.”
All cities and clubs are unique and idiosyncratic, but Twellman points to a few MLS communities that St. Louis might look a little bit like.
“When you look at the history of the sport, you’re going to look at the Portlands and Seattles of the world," Twellman said. "To compare it, I’m not so sure, because they’ll be a little unique. Everyone in that city has a soccer story. How many teams in MLS can say that? No matter the level, where it was, generational. That’s unique.”
St. Louis has produced the likes of Twellman, Noonan, Steve Ralston, Will Bruin, Tim Ream and rising USMNT striker Josh Sargent. The city's track record of professional talent offers a glimpse into what their academy might produce for the first team one day.
“If that team was announced before today, Josh Sargent would have been in that program," Twellman said. "There’s always going to be players coming out of St. Louis. That’s not a concern. But making sure everyone from Belleville, Illinois to O'Fallon, Missouri and in between is covered, that’s where the MLS franchise will have to establish some roots. Everyone within 100 miles of St. Louis will be aspiring to play for that team.”
“It takes time," Noonan added. "With the players that have come through and had strong professional careers, there’s no question that the community knows how to develop and bring players along. It takes time to get it right, but with the right people, I imagine fairly quickly the local talent will be represented in the first team.”