Major League Soccer’s newest club, St.Louis City, will celebrate their first home game on Saturday, ending a 45 year wait for the return of top-flight action in America’s original soccer hotbed.
The brand new, purpose built, 22,500 Citypark stadium in downtown, could have been sold out many times over for the landmark game against Charlotte for what for most fans will be their first chance to see the new club in person.
A small group of hardcore supporters travelled to Texas last week to see the debut game against Austin FC and were treated to a thrilling win with a late winner from the club’s Brazilian striker Joao Klauss in a 3-2 victory.
St.Louis has long been known as a soccer city, claiming five members of the US national team which beat England at the 1950 World Cup and producing scores of players for the national side.
Indeed, there has been a St.Louis born or raised player on every US World Cup squad and MLS has drawn upon players from the Midwest city throughout its history.
But not since the St. Louis Stars, of the old North American Soccer League (NASL), who left town in 1978, has the city had a top-division professional team to call its own.
In the decades since, soccer-lovers have watched high-school, indoor and a variety of teams in the various lower leagues that filled the gap until the arrival of MLS this season.
Expansion teams in MLS tend to generate plenty of buzz in their first year but the excitement in St. Louis is based on much more than the novelty of a new franchise.
South African coach Bradley Carnell says it is impossible to avoid the sense of expectation in the city.
“I can go down to the grocery store and people not even involved with me, I can hear people, the chatter around the community is incredible,” he said.
“And then you see the public viewing platforms that we had while we were playing away, I mean, packed, people standing, no spots to sit down, everything was full.
“The day after, at my local bakery, people are there dressed in City gear. So it’s truly humbling and this should drive the players, this should drive us every single day,” he said.
– Pressure on Vela –
There will be a celebratory atmosphere in California too, where defending champions Los Angeles FC get their campaign underway at home to Portland Timbers on Saturday after their scheduled opening fixture, against Los Angeles Galaxy, was cancelled due to bad weather.
The pressure is on Mexican striker Carlos Vela to deliver the goals given Welsh attacker Gareth Bale has retired and the Colombian striker Cristian Arango, the team’s top scorer last season with 18 goals, was sold to Mexican club Pachuca.
The depth of Steve Cherundolo’s squad will be tested with the additional challenge of also competing in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Last year’s runners-up, Philadelphia Union, got off to a flying start with a 4-1 win over the Columbus Crew but face a tricky test at Inter Miami.
Phil Neville’s Miami began their campaign with a 2-0 win over Montreal and Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez, signed in the off-season from Atlanta, is looking to become the fastest player to get to 100 goals in MLS.
The record is held by Bradley Wright-Phillips, formerly of the New York Red Bulls, who reached the milestone in 159 games. Martinez has scored 98 goals in 135 games.