While merely an exhibition against the Tulsa Roughnecks, our second closest USL opponent yet not an Eastern Conference foe, tonight Saint Louis FC will have their first of two opportunities to measure the Soccer Park’s preparations for the return of professional soccer to St. Louis. The event is sold out although I’m guessing at less then maximum capacity. This is still a test after all.
On the topic of tests, what tests do you have for the new side this season? With the announcement Friday of three area lads signing (more on that below) with the squad, including Mike Roach pictured above, a photo of soccer success and a crowded stadium seemed appropriate for the day. I’ll couch that however with an admission – I’m a Cub’s fan. Winning isn’t a necessary prerequisite to earn my admiration.
Seven teams – Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur – have been members of the English Premier League from it’s inception in 1992. Forty-six have participated, only five have actually won a title – Manchester United (13), Arsenal (3), Chelsea (3), Manchester City (2) and Blackburn Rovers (1). Nine teams have won an MLS Title but two, LA Galaxy and DC United, own 9 of the 19 awarded. Winning a title is hard. Just as hard is what Aston Villa and Everton have accomplished. That is success.
Here are my criteria for success for STLFC:
1. Play attractive soccer
2. Fill the Park
3. Send Home Grown Players to Major League Soccer
PLAY ATTRACTIVE SOCCER
That’s different then asking for the team to win. Winning is fun but I don’t want the team to ‘park the bus’ for a ‘result’ the way Mourinho is prone to do. I want a flowing game, with players capable of winning the 1v1 and that moves as a unit. I don’t need tiki-taka but I do want them prepared for the moment. Play St. Louis soccer which is synonymous with US Soccer – work hard, surprise us with your skills and play for the team.
FILL THE PARK
Probably the easiest challenge. Not recognized by most is the methodical way that Alumbaugh, and his boss Pat Barry, have put together a staff that is much more experienced and prepared to deliver than the on-field squad could ever expect to be. I don’t know if that is because they are selling an MLS growth story or they’ve tapped into a St. Louis soccer culture that brought folks home but
Kevin Wygant – Dir of Corporate Partnerships with 26 years at Anheuser-Busch
Grant Finley – Merchandise Manager from the St. Louis Cardinals
Giselle Paletta – Director of Sales, a graduate of the MLS National Sales Center with experience at the LA Galaxy (under President Chris Klein) and the Chicago Fire, the teams MLS partner.
look like a team that can ensure the club is paying their bills and generate excitement in the community, developing the 12th man atmosphere that can spur on the players.
Another admission – I was uncertain of my coverage plans for the team. The description of my website identifies my focus – Club, College and High School and adding professional team coverage could distract from that. The enthusiasm in the community for the team has led me to recruit a full-time writer to cover the team.
Will Bramlett – returned home from Tulsa University where he was Sports Editor for The Collegian. Prolific on Twitter (@Ybrammer), a John Burrough’s grad. I’ll have more later but for now you’re as likely to find him in Section 8 with the St.Louligans as in the press box. Will will be aided by at least one photographer per game, myself or Danny Reise. Danny’s responsible for the iconic photo of a full Busch Stadium you see frequently on my site. He’ll also be covering Sporting KC and FC Kansas City matches throughout the Summer. Check out his pictures.
HOME GROWN PLAYERS
I was the first to report (follow links) on the area players who were training with STLFC and offered my thoughts on their likely signing. Saint Louis FC finalized details with three of them, announcing Friday the signing of three area players to their roster. Mike Roach, Chad Vandegriffe and Jack Mathis. More details on the boys below, but first, why this is important.
The three, along with Mark Pais, Sam Fink, Charles Renken and Mike Ambersley, offer a direct link from Club to Pro. When your organization has over 225 youth teams, it’s important to show the players that THEIR Club is creating opportunities to go pro. That can’t be understated. It will be great to see the stands full of youth players who will once again have a visual representation of what is possible.
The other aspect of the discussion is one of player development. In a culture obsessed with winning, what steps are necessary to send players to the first division? I think that we will quickly see the level of technical skill necessary to be successful in the USL (Third Division) and with the regular MLS and foreign game broadcasts now available to all of us, the youth players will be given the opportunity to see the difference, which is visible. But will the message be absorbed?
GM Jeremy Alumbaugh has been up front about his feelings that winning is a prerequisite for the franchise to be successful and for him to retain his job. Winning creates excitement and that sells tickets. Having local players won’t guarantee a winning record however. The Coaching staff has brought in players with professional experience – Ambersley (NASL), Roach (MLS), Vandegriff (MASL), Renken (MLS) – and several that will be getting their first taste of that competitive reality. That’s a good mix when you are balancing a roster that needs to handle possible injuries and call ups to the Chicago Fire.
Mike Roach is one of four Chaminade grads who were named Gatorade Player of the Year. Mike was recognized his senior year (2007) after helping to lead the Red Devils to the State title win over Lafayette in November 2006. You can see pictures of the game in my PHOTO GALLERY – Chaminade Captures Class 3 Missouri State Championship, 2006 November 18. My nephew was the stopper on the Lancer’s team, it was a great game as Roach completed his comeback from a major injury sustained in a car accident the year before.
Identified as a trialist at the SIUE exhibition match, I called for his signing two days later. Watching him in that early match, I think Roach brings a lot of flexibility to the club. He was the one to move back into the middle to help link with the midfield and defense, freeing Ambersley to stay up top. He can play outside or central. As the long season progresses, we’ll see him in several spots.
His High School championship teammate as well as fellow SLU Billiken alum, Chad Vandegriffe is well suited to the central defender role. Six feet, built of brick, he played smart and looked for his teammates in the first exhibition.
To wrap up, here are a few pictures of the 2006 title game, with a full stadium. As a side note, Roach’s teammate Kevin Stoll (on left) is actively involved in player development now with St. Louis Scott Gallagher, coaching the Academy teams in Illinois since graduating from SIUE in 2012.
Saint Louis FC at SIUE Cougars
Exhibition match, February 28th