The MLS4TheLou brand was finally announced on August 13, revealing the new franchise to be named St. Louis City SC. The brand name isn’t the issue at hand, though many find the name to be rather boring. The main issue here is the fact that the American soccer pyramid is fundamentally broken.
It’s not ‘Welcome Back’ for St. Louis
The St. Louis City SC announcement filled the room with the cry of “welcoming the world’s game back to America’s first soccer capital”. While there isn’t currently an MLS side at play in the Gateway City, there is still soccer there. Professional soccer at that. St. Louis FC, whose owner, Jim Kavanaugh, is a minority owner of the new MLS franchise, and the club has been playing professional soccer in the area for more than five years in the USL. “Welcoming back” soccer to St. Louis simply doesn’t fit, especially when considering the semi-professional St. Louis Lions, FC Maritsa and Club Atletico STL.
There is also a present and thriving women’s soccer presence in the area, with national champions Fire and Ice SC having a local rivalry with the Lions women’s side.
The announcement should’ve revolved around top division soccer coming to St. Louis for the first time since the St. Louis Stars dissolved in 1977. Soccer has never and will never leave St. Louis, so it certainly doesn’t need a “welcome back” party. The “welcome back” feeling around the announcement does nothing more than show MLS’ inability to see anything other than themselves.
The Future of STLFC
There also is the gaping issue of what happens to St. Louis FC. The widely-loved USL team has been a staple in the area for years. However, as according to reports from The Athletic’s Jeff Reuter, a fold of the club looks likely now that MLS has come to town. Speculation of that was accelerated after a tweet from the STLFC account said that the new team would “inherit the best fans in the country”. However, per a source at the club via email, the tweet was “meant to be welcoming,” though they “understand some sentiment that it looks like we’re saying goodbye”.
However, even with the tweet not indicating a farewell, there are still major issues that need addressing. As per Reuter’s report, STLFC has until August 31 to tell USL whether or not they will continue play for next season. The same source at STLFC said that “we truly don’t know what the future holds for the club. All of us are hopeful for another season, but the decision is out of our control”.
The future of STLFC has been up in the air since the announcement of MLS coming to St. Louis. Some indications pointed to the club sticking around, others that the club would fold. With uncertainty still clouding the waters around the club, the feel is that its days are coming to an end.
The sad reality is that it doesn’t have to be like this. This is simply a symptom of the American soccer environment.
MLS’ Business Model
The MLS business model is essentially about snuffing out competition and making sure that they are the only option for soccer in town. It’s happening in Austin, Minneapolis, Charlotte, St. Louis and more. The idea that “every soccer dollar not put into MLS is a wasted dollar” is one that MLS thrives on at the expense of other clubs and grassroots soccer in the US and Canada. The toxic environment that MLS creates makes lower league soccer sharing a market with an MLS franchise nearly impossible.
The initiation of the idea that only top division soccer is worth watching is one that is not present in most other countries, yet thrives here. The fact of the matter is that this is due to the MLS model. This model thrives off driving rival clubs out of business, and without promotion and relegation, there is no way that the fans of those clubs who don’t want to follow the new corporate ways have very few places to turn.
There is also the discussion of the insanely high MLS expansion fee. The St. Louis City SC group forked over an estimated $200 million to play in MLS. This fee doesn’t include the cost of players, coaches, staff, stadium or advertising. That’s just the cost to play ‘top division’ soccer in the US. In an organic system, the ownership group could be using that money on player development, an academy, facilities, marketing, scouting, and a whole host of other, more beneficial things for the team and community. But in the US, that’s just the cover to be let into the bar.
This article isn’t a knock on those excited for the MLS side. People have been waiting for this for their whole lives. Hell, the stadium renderings look beautiful and the city of St. Louis is going to benefit massively from this. Carolyn Kindle Betz and the rest of the ownership team can take great pride in the work that they have done.
However, this is an indictment of the American top-flight soccer system. There is no reason for degradation of current sides, the possible folding of another and hundreds of millions to be spent only to ‘earn’ a team. This isn’t organic and isn’t the way that the game was supposed to be. Until something changes, though, this will be the US soccer norm.