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BenFred: MLS is on board. Now St. Louis needs to run through the expansion finish line.

BenFred: MLS is on board. Now St. Louis needs to run through the expansion finish line.

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MLS commissioner Garber with ownership representative Carolyn Kindle Betz

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber stands with Carolyn Kindle Betz, senior vice president and executive director of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation, in March 2019. Betz is part of the ownership group bringing an MLS team to St. Louis. Photo by David Carson,

You can celebrate, St. Louis.

Raise a glass.

In fact, it's encouraged.

After Major League Soccer officially announces St. Louis as an expansion city during Tuesday's festivities at The Palladium, fans can toast the effort that made it happen during a happy hour with the MLS4TheLou ownership group at Urban Chestnut in The Grove. The attendance of "special guests" are emphasized for both events. Beer won't be required to catch a buzz.

The ownership group's Thursday announcement of the Tuesday morning event and subsequent happy hour confirmed what the Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday. MLS is coming to town to plant its expansion flag beneath The Arch. More than 10 months of the ownership group's dogged work paid off. Cheers are in order.

This city's effort to secure an MLS expansion team has experienced ups and downs for years. They always ended on a down. But none of the previous attempts were better prepared to finally pull it off than this ownership group. In multiple meetings and presentations to MLS decision-makers, the group presented a plan that offered a primarily privately funded stadium in the downtown setting MLS desires, a locally-sourced ownership group with deep pockets and a refreshing, progressive approach that offered the league its first female majority owned team, and a prime opportunity to capture the soccer-rich St. Louis market after the NFL left town.

If MLS was serious about adding St. Louis to its roster, it was not going to find a better team than Carolyn Kindle Betz, Jim Kavanaugh and their crew. MLS commissioner Don Garber took his time. He did his due diligence. His questions and concerns were answered, one after another.

Fans did their part, too. They clamored for a team. They bought scarves and hats to show their support, raising an impressive amount of money for inner-city soccer programs in the process.

The St. Louis business community wowed Garber during his visit, calming any uncertainty he had about sponsorship with a show of force. If he was impressed then, wait until the energy he feels Tuesday. Wait until he feels the rush of game No. 1 in 2022.

Tuesday is another step toward it.  A big one. It's a milestone worth celebrating.

Just don't mistake it for a finish line.

There are some items on the agenda that will need to be finalized before the St. Louis MLS team — no word yet on the name — begins play.

• Stadium financing. This is the big one. The city Board of Aldermen passed a Major League Soccer tax incentive plan in November 2018. That was an important hurdle cleared for the ownership group, especially when the proposal passed by vote of 26-2. The resolution set a framework of expectations for the agreements that would need to be finalized if MLS awarded an expansion team.

Now that MLS is awarding that team, the finalization of a financial package must occur. Alderman Joseph Vollmer said in November that St. Louis had to "woo" MLS before it does anything else. You might remember his quote. “Once you get married, things change," said Vollmer, who represents the 10th Ward. "Let’s get married, then the fighting starts." Avoiding fighting during the completion of the stadium financing's fine details will be a goal of the ownership group moving forward.

The positive reaction to the previous proposal and the comfort MLS has in announcing the expansion team now points toward a prediction of relatively smooth sailing. Laws required to secure tax incentives for the ownership group would require the board to vote, Mayor Lyda Krewson said in November. Mayor Krewson and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed have both been outspoken supporters of the ownership group. Both are schedule to attend Tuesday's announcement.

• Stadium details. So far, the public has only viewed the stadium renderings released in April. Those images of the 22,000-seat venue were described by the ownership group as conceptual. It's natural for conceptual designs to go through certain tweaks before plans become construction. Before the cranes get to work, the land has to pass through the right hoops to make building possible. The stadium and team uniform also need sponsors. The ownership group has fish on those lines. Time to reel them in.

• Team details. This is the fun one. Name. Colors. (I don't mind St. Louis United, but I would not put money on that option.) Branding is just the beginning. Now that the ownership group has a commitment from MLS, it can begin to move forward on the soccer operations side. President, general manager, coach. All of the above.

It will be interesting to see if retiring United States Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn takes on some sort of role. He has been advising the ownership group in an unofficial capacity.

And what happens to St. Louis' United Soccer League team? Kavanaugh is an owner of St. Louis FC. Sometimes, MLS expansion teams treat their new team like a graduation of their USL team. Sometimes not. The answer does not need to cater to the established St. Louis FC fan base, but alienating it should be avoided if possible.

More will become known Tuesday. It's a party. Then, it's time to finish.

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