By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jan 16, 2023) US Soccer Players – MLS expansion side St Louis City’s first training session happened last week at the club’s downtown facility. St Louis represents Major League Soccer’s 29th team and will play in the Western Conference, the latest example of the league’s ongoing commitment to grow in new markets across North America. It was just under a decade ago that the league introduced New York City FC as its 20th team and Orlando City as its 21st team, both of which began play in 2015.
St Louis City, which MLS approved as a new franchise four years ago, will play its first MLS game on February 25 on the road against Austin FC. The team’s home opener will take place March 4 against Charlotte FC at Citypark, a new 22,500-seat soccer-specific stadium. “We have had a full year to put our footprint into the soccer community of St Louis and at various levels of the US soccer landscape,” said head coach Bradley Carnell. “Now is the time to implement our philosophy and style of play.”
Like any expansion team, St Louis City has made several big announcements over the past few months as part of what it takes to build a squad. Carnell, 45, a former defender and South Africa international, has MLS experience as an assistant coach with the New York Red Bulls between 2017 and 2021. He was the Red Bulls interim coach during the final stretch of the 2020 season.
Aside from attempting to instill a playing style, Carnell needs the right players in order to be competitive this season. From last year’s Expansion Draft to the recent raft of signings, perhaps no team has been busier this winter than St Louis.
It was this past November that St Louis City made five selections in the Expansion Draft, and two trades, in an effort to grab some cornerstone players. The team chose Orlando City’s Nicholas Gioacchini, Inter Miami midfielder Indiana Vassilev, FC Cincinnati left back John Nelson, New England Revolution center back Jonathan Bell, and New York Red Bulls striker Jake La Cava. The team then made two trades, acquiring Houston Dynamo center back Tim Parker in exchange for $500,000 in General Allocation Money and traded La Cava to Inter Miami for $150,000 in GAM. The players, a mix of youth and MLS vets, made sense for a team building a roster.
Gioacchini, the biggest name on the list, is a Missouri native and has played for the USMNT. In another signing that got lots of attention, the team announced on January 9 that it had given a Homegrown Player contract to 15-year-old striker Caden Glover. The teen featured at last year’s MLS NEXT Fest tournament, scoring a goal and an assist with St Louis City Under-17 Academy team.
From its youngest player to its rich past, St Louis has been seeking an MLS franchise as far back as 2007. St Louis has long been this country’s soccer capital with a rich tradition for the game. Soccer’s roots date back in St Louis to the 1870s. Founded in 1907, the St Louis Soccer League was the country’s only pro league at the time. As recently as the 1980s, the city rallied around the St Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League with high attendance numbers at St Louis Arena.
St Louis City hopes to once again see large crowds come out to watch and support the local soccer club, with season-ticket holders already accounting for more than 80% of the new stadium’s capacity. In terms of schedule, it’s easy to circle May 20 against Sporting Kansas City as a highlight. The game is being billed as the start of a rivalry given the geographic proximity between the two cities.
It’s difficult to gauge expectations for St Louis City. Expansion sides have been all over the place over the years in terms of on-field success. The Chicago Fire remain the gold standard, winning the MLS Cup and US Open Cup double during their expansion season in 1998. In 2020, a season hampered by the pandemic, Nashville and Inter Miami both finished in the bottom half of the standings in their debut season. But Nashville made the MLS Cup Playoffs after beating Inter in a play-in round game. The previous year, Cincinnati FC finished in the Eastern Conference cellar in their 2019 expansion season.
Making the playoffs is certainly a priority for every team heading into this season, and St Louis City isn’t any different in that regard. What is different is that St Louis has to build a team from scratch while maintaining the type of enthusiasm that got the city a franchise in the first place. There will be plenty of growing pains, like at any expansion side, but having a team playing in St Louis again is one of the biggest talking points for the league heading into a new season, even before a ball is officially kicked.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of the new book “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.”
More from Clemente Lisi:
- What the World Cup showed club teams about the 5-3-2 formation
- Five USMNT players at new clubs for 2023
- The 2023 American soccer calendar
- 2022 World Cup: Goalkeeping, upsets, MLS players, and USMNT TV ratings
Photo by Bill Barrett – ISIPhotos.com