By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 26, 2020) US Soccer Players - American soccer is addicted to beginnings. There's really nothing American soccer does better, so it makes sense. The history of the sport in the United States is a series of new things. Leagues, clubs, brands, cups, stadiums" launching" or "opening" or "debuting" that goes back to the earliest days of the sport in the New World. American soccer doesn't let the grass grow under its feet. It never goes very long without starting something new.
The problem with beginnings is that they don't exist with their matching pair, endings. Beginnings are thrilling, hopeful events that make us forget the fact that nothing lasts forever. Even when we're conscious of the inevitable end, we're talented at convincing ourselves that failure is a long way off into the future. Perhaps, if we're lucky, we're not even around to experience it.
Endings are unavoidable and American soccer has never been very good at longevity. If you've followed the game in the United States for even a handful of years, you've lived through the last days of leagues, clubs, and stadiums probably many times over.
Is there anywhere else in the world where a team can win a championship one day and shut down the next? That kind of thing is hardly surprising in American soccer. There have been so many different leagues using so many different letters in the alphabet in that special initialism-first American way that picking three letters at random might land you on the moniker of some long-dead soccer competition.
The latest American soccer ending isn't quite here yet, but we do know when it will come. Ironically, it will come in large part because of a beginning.
Saint Louis FC, a club that is currently winding its way through its sixth campaign as a member of the league now called the USL Championship, announced on Tuesday that it will cease operations after the season. The USL's deadline for declaring for the next campaign is upon us, and St Louis FC decided it did not want to continue in 2021.
It doesn't take much in the way of deduction to realize Saint Louis FC's demise it directly tied to the 2023 launch of the new MLS entry, St Louis City SC. That club will draw most of the soccer attention in the city when it hits the field in a brand new, soccer-specific stadium in 2023. Rather than try and compete with an operation multiple times its size, Saint Louis FC is stepping out of the way.
The COVID-19 pandemic played a part as well, especially with the timing of the club's decision. It meant the loss of gameday revenue. That's the lifeblood of every American soccer club, and it's particularly important in the lower divisions. With a regular schedule and fans in the seats, Saint Louis FC might have been able to play a season or two ahead of the MLS club's arrival.
Why Saintt Louis FC can't remain in place as part of the buildup to St Louis City, perhaps even as a USL affiliate that can help develop talent ahead of the MLS team's arrival, isn't clear. The clubs share an ownership interest, but there's no public statements one way or the other.
The end for Saint Louis FC brings up uncomfortable questions for American soccer, even if they're familiar ones. It's not as simple as "A replaces B," even though Saint Louis FC's history is relatively short. The club might only be six years old, but that's plenty of time to develop a unique soccer community that identifies specifically as Saint Louis FC supporters. It's presumptuous and dismissive to expect those fans to convert just because MLS is the "major" league. Bigger isn't always better, though American soccer has always operated on that principle.
The long view is that their might be room for more than one team in a metro area, especially given the difference between leagues. MLS teams were regularly adding USL teams, after all. The bigger issue are those connections between supporters and their clubs. Breaking those links runs counter to the spirit of the game. It treats clubs as little more than soccer outposts rather than meaningful parts of their communities.
Hence, an end to match a beginning. Saint Louis FC will join the hundreds of other American soccer teams that have come and gone over the past 100 years, including a handful from St Louis itself. Most of its fans will adopt the new MLS team, but some will hold onto their memories from six years in the second division and reject the new team on principled grounds.
It's easy to empathize with those fans. What's harder is imagining a world where Saint Louis FC doesn't have to make way for the bigger, richer team. Without a history of club-first sports in America, soccer here is well past the era where building a community-based club in a large market seems possible.
Saint Louis FC is at the end. Though St Louis City won't play for a few years, you can already say hello to the new beginning.
More From Jason Davis:
- The Vancouver Whitecaps, Alphonso Davies, and the search for success
- St Louis City begins to build
- The new MLS transfer window
- Quantity replaces experience in a summer of soccer
Logo courtesy of Saint Louis FC