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Zuhosky’s Take #20: St Louis City SC Best Story in MLS So Far in ’23

13 days ago


By definition, the expansion season for an American sports team is one with its trials and tribulations. Think about it: You’ve spent the entire year beforehand putting together a new roster in a new city.

We’re about three months into the MLS season, and Wednesday marks the first round of midweek matches this year. Much like Charlotte FC did last season, a newcomer has entered the top-flight organization, and they’re doing well in the early going.

To best understand how St. Louis City SC’s gotten to this point, we first have to go back in time.

Enter St. Louis City SC

For a number of years, St. Louis, MO has been a soccer hotbed inside the United States. It wasn’t until 2007, however, that the city became a blip on MLS’ radar.

Prior to 2007, the league was considering St. Louis as a charter city upon MLS’ 1993 launch. St. Louis did not make a bid for the league’s inaugural season, however.

Fast-forward 14 years later. Western Conference side Real Salt Lake faced a potential move to Missouri if a new home stadium wasn’t constructed.

Expansion Effort Slowed

Then-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who would later serve as the United States Ambassador to China and Russia, advocated for a new venue to be built, saving the team in Salt Lake.

Upon a pair of failed expansion bids in 2008, the effort was stalled until 2017, when funding was approved for what would eventually become Citypark by both the St. Louis Aldermanic Ways and Means Committee and Board of Alderman. It would come down to a vote in a special election that April, however.

The expansion effort failed to win over those who came out to stuff the ballot box, leaving a bleak future for MLS in the community, until the fall of 2018.

Bid Finally Succeeds

In October of 2018, a new fleet of investors reactivated the plans to bring an expansion team to St. Louis. As the old adage goes, “The third time is the charm.” Thanks to approval by the board of alderman, the CityPark stadium plan was unanimously approved after Thanksgiving.

Less than a year later, MLS granted St. Louis an expansion slot as the league’s 28th team. Initially slated to begin operations in 2022, the expansion season was deferred to 2023 due to Charlotte’s inaugural year.

City SC Trades Away Top Selection in SuperDraft

In December of 2022, just three days after the final of the Qatar World Cup, MLS held its annual SuperDraft. When the selection order for the Dec. 21 meeting was finalized, St. Louis City SC was scheduled to hold the No. 1 overall pick.

Under MLS SuperDraft rules, if an expansion team enters the league, that club acquires the first selection. In years where there are two expansion teams, the rights to the No. 1 pick are decided by a coin toss.

At the start of the draft, St. Louis elected to trade the rights to the top selection away to Charlotte FC. Last year’s expansion side utilized the No. 1 selection on Clemson defender Hamady Diop.

City SC Get Off to Hot Start

The decision to trade away the top selection has proven to be a fruitful one. On Feb. 25, City SC kicked off its tenure in MLS with a narrow 3-2 win over Western Conference runners-up, Austin FC.

That night, St. Louis was led by midfielder Jared Stroud, who scored what would prove to be the winning tally in the the 78th minute of the match. An 86th-minute goal by midfielder Joao Klauss iced the victory.

The Reaction Seen ‘Round the World

Taylor Twellman, Apple TV’s lead match analyst  for MLS Season Pass, as well as a partial owner of City SC, was an unscheduled studio guest on the service’s MLS 360 wraparound show that night after the LAFC/ LA Galaxy El Trafico match he was to have worked was postponed due to inclement weather.  He had a .GIF-worthy reaction.

A Rough Patch

All told, City won its first five matches in league play before dropping an April 1 game at CityPark versus Minnesota United. It would take until the middle of the month until St. Louis got back in the win column with a 5-1 victory against FC Cincinnati.

Including a US Open Cup win at the end of April versus Union Omaha of USL League One, City have posted a record of 2-2-4 over the last eight games across all competitions. This stretch includes two successive losses to Chicago Fire FC (no relation to the NBC drama) last week.

It’s a 34-game regular season in MLS. Not every match will result in a win. There’s a song lyric that applies to City’s current stretch, and it comes from 1960’s pop group The Shirelles:

“Mama said there’ll be days like this. There’ll be days like this, Mama said.”

Final Thoughts

At the same time, however, there’s hope for St. Louis City SC as the MLS season continues. As it currently stands heading into the midweek fixtures on Wednesday night, the team would be the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

City won’t play midweek, so the next time you’ll get to watch this team in action is on Saturday night versus Sporting Kansas City at home. Yes, it’s only the middle of May as you read this, but it’s important to note that a team winning MLS Cup in its expansion season is by no means unprecedented.

Back in 1998, Chicago completed a double in their expansion season, earning MLS Cup before winning a rescheduled US Open Cup Final the following Friday. Can City win the cup in 2023? Only time will tell.

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