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Kevin Kalish, SLU soccer

St. Louis University soccer coach Kevin Kalish (courtesy SLU athletics)

During the five-year gap between his coaching jobs at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and St. Louis University, Kevin Kalish was immersed in the local youth soccer scene as vice president for the Scott Gallagher Soccer Club.

By the time he became the seventh coach in SLU history in January 2018, Kalish had developed a strong knowledge of the players in the area. It’s one that has served him well and could for many more years.

“I would say that from 10 years old and up, I have a pretty good idea of the player profile of each age group,” he said.

Kalish has reversed a trend that saw the SLU roster move away from local talent for several years. The 2019 Billikens have 12 St. Louis-area players on the roster and others with local ties. From 2012 to ’16, SLU had as few as three local players and no more than seven.

The newly loaded Billikens have added enough of the right players that the team has received votes in the preseason national rankings. Kalish wants to continue the upward trend by tapping into the St. Louis talent pool.

“There are cycles, but a good way of describing it is consistently medium to high level,” he said of the annual batch of Division I talent here. “St. Louis has been producing national-level players over the last five decades, really. It’s been that way forever in my mind. I don’t see that changing.”

Kalish added four freshmen from the area for the upcoming season, which starts with an exhibition game against Wisconsin on Sunday at Hermann Stadium. He previously nabbed four transfers, who moved to SLU after starting their college careers elsewhere.

Kipp Keller, who spent the summer training with STLFC, was highly rated coming out of Principia and considered Indiana, Michigan State and Akron, among others.

“Choosing SLU was a very easy decision for me,” he said in a statement on the team’s recruiting class. “Playing for St. Louis University and being local has so many different rewards.”

Additionally, the Scott Gallagher connection is undeniable: the roster has nine players who are listed as having played with the club.

Seniors in the group are goalkeeper Ty Frederking from St. Louis University High, David Viox (SLUH), who transferred from Tulsa, and Devin Boyce (CBC), who transferred from New Mexico.

Other schools represented include Francis Howell, Kirkwood, Holt, Principia, Waterloo and Chaminade.

Kalish believes the Billikens can compete on the national level with those players.

“There’s no question about it,” he said. “Whether you can do it solely with St. Louis talent is a little bit of a stretch, but with the core you can.”

The number of area players at SLU began decreasing in 2012 and remained on the low end for five seasons. Although the number has increased, some top players do get away.

Althoff grad Jack Maher is at Indiana and on the Hermann Trophy watch list. Fellow defender Aedan Stanley (Columbia, Ill.) was on the all-rookie team in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season for Duke.

But Kalish has done a good job luring players back to St. Louis. Besides Viox and Boyce, Chase Niece (Kirkwood) transferred after starting at Tulsa and Brandon Santel (CBC) transferred from Lipscomb.

Kalish’s background has provided a mental database of players and where they are attending school. And although he doesn’t keep in touch with those players, he’s aware when someone of interest ends up in the transfer portal.

“There’s a strong affinity for playing for your community,” Kalish said. “Even guys who choose other institutions, there’s a strong bond toward St. Louis and soccer. We’re lucky enough to reap the rewards.”

Kalish also notes that the Billikens have players who aren’t from St. Louis but have ties to the city.

Sophomore John Klein is from Columbia, Mo., but his father and grandfather played at SLU. Klein led the team with nine goals and 19 points last season. Transfer Simon Becher is from Connecticut but his parents are from this area.

“People want to see a good product and a team that can embrace the demographic of St. Louis,” Kalish said. “We all have an affinity to watch players we know or families we’re friends with. It’s an added value.”