This is a tough time for everybody, including sports fans. A few weeks ago, the President was calling coronavirus a nothing burger, and now it’s a national emergency. The U.S. is literally shutting down, and so are American sports.
You know it’s serious when the NCAA cancels March Madness. Basketball programs all over the country have nixed hoops because of “an evolving COVID-19 public health threat.”
In a single day last week, MLB, the NHL and MLS joined the NBA in suspending professional sports play. So, just how long can St. Louis survive without crowds at Busch Stadium cheering another Baseball Cardinals season?
St. Louis MLS Team
Things look pretty dire right now, but there is a bright light on the St. Louis sports horizon. That new light comes from the St. Louis Downtown West Neighborhood, where a Major League Soccer stadium is to be built north of Market Street at 20th and 22nd streets.
The St. Louis MLS team is an expansion franchise set to begin play in 2022. Hopefully, this pandemic will be in our rear view mirror by then. Let us hope we will be better prepared for future health emergencies, so we will never again see a wholesale shutdown of our country.
St. Louis has an established soccer history of more than a century at both the professional and amateur levels in Greater St. Louis. I will make claim to a very tiny piece of the amateur history when I played in high school on a club soccer team on the East Side.
Most of the players on my team were from Althoff and Assumption high schools. We were a ragtag bunch with a patient coach from the Netherlands, whose name was Leendert Kroesen.
Coach Kroesen had one heck of a time trying to teach us “to play the ball, not the man.” Our boys played rough. More than a few fractures and concussions occurred during our seasons. We also had an inglorious history of prepping for soccer games the night before with Mogen David and A-B products.
We played all St. Louis teams. It was a thrill crossing over the bridge, past the new St. Louis Arch, to play soccer in Forest Park. I do recall having to stop on the Eads Bridge a few times so a player could let loose with a hearty puke.
Coach Kroesen was always told that this was a consequence of pre-game butterflies, not noxious combinations of Busch Bavarian and blackberry fruit wine consumed the night before.
One year we played a Missouri soccer tournament in Sedalia. We each packed a gym bag full of clothes and a suitcase full of Busch for the trip. Somehow we took home a second place trophy, even after a horrifying night of getting caught by Coach Kroesen in the act of prepping for the games — with our cache of brews.
We blamed it all on Tommy and he was benched for the final games. Coach Kroesen counted more than 80 empty beer cans in our hotel rooms. He did not exactly buy into our story that it was all just Tommy drinking solo.
Soccer Made in St. Louis
I write about our times with Coach Kroesen for a needed break from all the bad news. For more edifying stories of soccer in St. Louis, I recommend Dave Lange’s, “Soccer Made in St. Louis: A History of the Game in America’s First Soccer Capital.”
From a seemingly inconsequential soccer game in 1875, Lange tells stories of sandlot competition, college contests, World Cup history and Olympic Gold. Lange’s chronicle captures the great accomplishments of so many of the Gateway City’s best kickers.
Other big names in Lange’s soccer tome are: Harry Keough, Pat McBride, Denny Long, Al Trost, Jimmy Roe, Gino Pariani, Bob Guelker, Jimmy Dunn, Bob Hermann, Vince Forst and more.
Also covered is the amiable Lori Chalupny of recent soccer team vintage. She grew up in Crestwood and played for Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. She is noted as the best women’s player ever produced in St. Louis — and one of the best ever in the world.