It was a given heading into Saturday’s USA-New Zealand match at Busch Stadium that St. Louis, Mo., fans were going to turn out in force. Pre-sold tickets hovered around 30,000 weeks in advance.
The crowd lived up to the hype as 35,817 fans turned out for what U.S. Soccer says is the largest stand-alone friendly-match crowd in women’s national team history. All other big crowds have been part of doubleheaders.
Naturally, that led to U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn getting asked a lot of questions about future matches in St. Louis, to which he (again) explained that a lot goes into planning matches, from the scheduling, travel, team needs and the cost and availability of the venue. Busch Stadium is particularly challenging, since it’s used for baseball from April through October (Cardinals fans hope).
And locals want to know about MLS and the National Women’s Soccer League alike: When will there be a team?
“They don’t have an NWSL team here,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “In my opinion, they might consider it.”
There was of course Saint Louis Athletica, which along with magicJack left in WPS left one of the ominous women’s soccer legacies in the old WPS league. Athletica found success on the field in 2009 and had an encouraging core of fans, but shady financing led to the team folding mid-season in 2010, the first real sign that the second go-around for a women’s professional league was in trouble.
NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush told The Equalizer in March that six serious NWSL expansion candidates have emerged, two of which are Atlanta and Salt Lake City. The Equalizer’s Dan Lauletta has also confirmed the interest of groups in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.
It’s unclear — and it seems unlikely, given potential MLS interest in the NWSL — if St. Louis is one of those six cities. A word of caution, though: As great as recent one-off crowds have been in St. Louis for the U.S. women and international friendlies — over 48,000 for Manchester City-Chelsea in 2013 and 54,000-plus for Real Madrid-Inter Milan the same year — that does not immediately equate to the foundation of a franchise. Owners, facilities and plans are all needed. And there’s the fact that league home matches come in the form of 10 or 12 per season and don’t feature the aura brought by the collective group of U.S. women. A day in, day out club team isn’t as easy to sell as a big event.
But St. Louis had a great showing on Saturday, and local fans should take pride in both that and the recent comments of Plush, which could certainly appeal to St. Louis or other potentially independently owned franchises in mid-major markets.
“I think there’s value in being tremendously important in the market in which you play,” Plush said in March.
It’s clear that soccer is tremendously important to St. Louis.
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