MLS awards expansion franchise to St. Louis for 2022 debut

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Major League Soccer has awarded the next expansion franchise to St. Louis, where a new downtown stadium will be built and the team will begin play during the 2022 season.

MLS commissioner Don Garber made the announcement Tuesday at the Palladium near Lafayette Square. The team does not yet have a name.

The team will be owned by Carolyn Kindle-Betz, president of Enterprise Holdings Foundation, local businessmen Andy Taylor and Jim Kavanaugh, and six female members of the Taylor family. That makes the St. Louis franchise the first female majority-owned clubs in MLS history.

The team will push the league to 28 clubs, including a handful beginning play in the next few years. FC Cincinnati is playing its inaugural season this year, Inter Miami FC and Nashville SC begin play next year, Austin FC begins play in 2021 and St. Louis will follow the next year.

The official announcement that St. Louis was becoming the second Missouri member of Major League Soccer was greeted with a lot of smiles at the Lake Country Soccer facility in Springfield which is celebrating its 30th year of offering youth programs to the area.

Lake Country has played a key role in Springfield's amazing growth in the sport in part because its programs have always endeavored to be competitive with teams in St. Louis, which has always been considered a hotbed of soccer.

"St. Louis was one of the first cities in the United States to ever have soccer," said John Markey, Lake Country's Executive Director.

Katie Ellsworth is Lake Country's Program Director, overseeing some 3,000 players on 240 teams that play on 20 outdoor and indoor fields.

But she was around as a young player in 1984 when Lake Country was just getting started with no indoor facility and a lot of work ahead.

"The YMCA stopped soccer in the sixth grade so a group of parents decided we needed something for the kids after sixth grade and that's how Lake Country came about," she said. "So it's come a long way."

Ellsworth, who pointed out that the Lake Country programs are now offered to players as young as three years-old, is also proud to see that the new pro franchise in St. Louis will be the first headed by a female-majority ownership group.

"It's really exciting," Ellsworth said. "And I think maybe they'll even get more girls involved in soccer."

Matthew Walton is a local coach at Lake Country for ages 9 to 13 and had a chance to turn pro as a player before injuries sidetracked his career. But he sees the new St. Louis franchise as a great teacher for area players.

"They will learn what it means to be passionate about the game," he said. "They (the pros) are showing the characteristics of the game and the style of play that they can bring and that should be an inspiration. That's what the MLS is for."

"It's going to pay dividends in ways we don't even understand," added Jon Leamy, who's been Missouri State's men's soccer coach since 1992. He compared the new franchise's ability to create new interest in soccer to how the Stanley Cup champion Blues brought new fans to hockey.

"You're going to have role models that the kids are going to associate with," Leamy said. "I go back to the Blues. You just saw what the Blues bump was like down here in Springfield."

The St. Louis soccer franchise announcement has definitely already created a bump for Missouri State players who hail from St. Louis like Evan DeGreeff.

"Ever since I was a little kid (this was) everything I dreamed of," he said. "This is what St. Louis deserves coming off a Stanley Cup championship. It couldn't get any better for the city."

The Show-Me State already has one other MLS franchise, Sporting KC in Kansas City.

So now we'll be able to have a Cards-Royals I-70-type rivalry on the pitch.