How St. Louis City SC scores a fan base months before the start of its first MLS season

Anticipation among area soccer fans is building towards early next year, when St. Louis City SC will play their first Major League Soccer game after the ownership group received an expansion squad . three years ago this month. The team was supposed to debut this year, but the pandemic pushed it back to 2023.

The delay does not exhaust the enthusiasm of the group of supporters of St. Louligans. Many had come out Saturday night in Edwardsville to watch the development team, City2, take on Chicago, armed with a steady beat and chants echoing all over the field.

Superfan Mitch Morice has featured in some City2 matches and jokingly describes himself as the ‘Louligan Extraordinaire’. He wasn’t convinced a few years ago that St. Louis would host an MLS team.

“Once the stadium started happening, I think it really became real,” he said as he stood in front of the brand new 22,500-seat football venue that stands in the Downtown West neighborhood of the city. He says the stadium is helping some who might have been skeptical of another professional sports franchise coming to St. Louis.

brent jones

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St. Louis Public Radio

Construction surrounds St. Louis City SC’s Centene Field Aug. 5 in Downtown West. The team is expected to play its first game in 2023.

“You see people who maybe weren’t interested a year or two years ago and had hurt feelings about the way things went, they come and say, no, that’s something to be part of.” An earlier plan for a taxpayer-funded stadium was rejected in 2017. After that, some deep-pocketed private investors finally came forward to secure an expansion stadium and franchise.

While waiting for the first game, the club is busy reaching out to communities to be part of the city’s rich football culture and spreading that passion to other parts of St. Louis.

“We’re building those relationships and entering the community in an organic, authentic way that makes St. Louisans more than just City SC fans,” said Khalia Collier, vice president of community relations. She’s been a part of the St. Louis sports scene for years — she owns the women’s basketball team, the St. Louis Surge — and is a longtime football fan.

“I was born and raised here in Saint-Louis. My first sport was football. My first introduction to football was the little YMCA ball,” she said.

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Brian Munoz

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St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis City 2 midfielder Célio Antonio Pompeu Pinheiro Martins (11) flies off trying to keep control of the ball from Chicago Fire 2 defender Kyle Bebej during a Saturday game at Ralph Korte Stadium in Edwardsville.

City SC has partnered with the Gateway Region YMCA to give kids from pre-K through 6 the chance to play football. Those who qualify for free or discounted lunches in Missouri get a discount.

The team also has a free initiative to teach children sports and life skills.

“We especially want to reach children where parents cannot, or [don’t have] the financial power to help kids get on the big travel teams,” said Regional Director for Training and Education Sascha Bauer.

The club wants to create a pipeline of players in the region ranging from youth football all the way up to the MLS big team. Most of the kids who go through the programs won’t be playing high performance soccer in North America. But another goal is to connect them to something bigger – “to see the club as part of their family and where they have been able to grow in various areas, have great experiences and make lifelong friendships,” said Bauer.

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Brian Munoz

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St. Louis Public Radio

Ethan Akenbrandt, 20, of St. Charles, center, cheers St. Louis City 2 alongside Em Brunson, 22, of Warrenton, left, Saturday during a clash against Chicago Fire 2 at Ralph Korte Stadium of Edwardsville.

Along with creating programs for young people, City SC supported women-owned businesses, hosted a COVID-19 vaccination event and helped set up a futsal pitch in Marquette Park. Futsal is a football-based game played outdoors on a hard surface.

He also selected local rapper Mvstermind to be the club’s director of music experience. He will be responsible for finding music from local artists for games and events in another effort to develop strong community ties.

“It allows us to build the real platform that this city needs for artists, for our budding talent, to be able to display it not just in our city but around the world,” Mvstermind told Chad Davis of St. Louis Public Radio earlier this year.

Community support will be an essential part of City SC’s success. The team’s performance on the pitch will also be vital, especially against what could be City SC’s biggest rivals.

“Personally, I have to go to Kansas City. They have very unpleasant fans and create a hostile environment,” Louligan Morice said, imagining what the first game at the new stadium could be like, although the club’s 2023 schedule doesn’t has not yet been announced.

“We want them to come here and see what we can do on our stage.”

City SC’s inaugural season will begin in late February or early March.

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