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BenFred: No reason for MLS to keep St. Louis waiting

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St. Louis soccer stadium wins approval by aldermanic committee

Aldermanic President Lewis Reed high fives Carolyn Kindle Betz after a proposed soccer stadium in St. Louis was approved by an aldermanic committee. Betz will be part of the ownership group if Major League Soccer awards a team to St. Louis. Photo by David Carson,

Time is of the essence.

The phrase became the staccato drumbeat of the latest quest to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to St. Louis.

No minute could be wasted. The stakes were too high. The competition from other cities was too intense. Miss this chance, and it would be the last.

St. Louis hurried up. Now, it must wait. Is anyone else wondering why?

A memo to MLS Commissioner Don Garber: The best bid for what is likely to be your league’s final expansion team is ready for your approval. Its final big box was checked before the first day of December. If MLS wants to be in St. Louis as bad as St. Louis has been led to believe, there should be no reason to delay. Show us some love.

A whole lot of public enthusiasm. An appealing ownership group. Available land. And, perhaps most important, approving lawmakers.

These were the must-haves MLS asked the Taylor and Kavanaugh families to secure to land a team. Let’s check in on the progress made.

The soccer fans in St. Louis have flooded the zone, from social media posts to town-hall attendance.

The one-two punch of the Taylor and Kavanugh families offers MLS one of the most appealing ownership groups imaginable. The group is tight-knit. Finances are flush. That the franchise would be majority-owned by women is more than just a feather in the cap.

The Missouri Department of Transportation Commission approved a resolution that allows an option for the city to purchase the land at the potential stadium site. The downtown space, which was already appealing to MLS, is moving toward making the jump from renderings to real-life construction.

And on Friday morning, the city Board of Aldermen offered a resounding endorsement of the resolution that outlines tax incentives and financial details for the stadium. The proposal passed 26 to 2, and both dissenting votes were prefaced by compliments. Aldermanic President Lewis Reed was the resolution’s chief sponsor. Mayor Lyda Krewson has been an outspoken advocate. Gov. Mike Parson is on board. Every meaningful light is green.

St. Louis is ready to throw its trust behind this ownership group. But can it trust MLS? There are more reasons to question the staying power and commitment of MLS than there are to question the commitment of the Taylors and Kavanaughs to the Lou. Some public assurance from MLS would mean a lot right now.

There is a tentative timeline, of course. A formal expansion proposal must be submitted. A visit from Garber and fellow MLS decision-makers is in the works. As always, expansion will be on the agenda at the upcoming MLS Board of Governor’s meetings. Ownership group leader Carolyn Kindle Betz has said she hopes the league could officially declare St. Louis as an expansion winner in the first quarter of 2019.

A simple question: Why wait?

For years, we have heard how the league is itching to call our soccer-rich community home. Finally, the perfect opportunity exists. It took an impressive display of leadership, cooperation and private investment to turn past failures into a chance that should be impossible to slow-play. The ownership group and lawmakers pressed hard to get ahead of the current competition. It worked. The league has granted expansion teams to cities that lack a pitch as appealing as this one. If this really is where MLS wants to be, and this is the deal it wanted, should the same urgency not be shown by the league?

It’s hard to imagine the pot getting sweeter than this. Certain wheels cannot turn until MLS plants its flag. Every day it doesn’t makes you wonder why it won’t.

Sharon Tyus, one of two dissenting votes Friday morning, spent a large chunk of time imploring aldermen to hammer down on the details of the stadium lease when — no, if — it comes time to turn the passed resolution into laws.

“You try to keep the people away from the table who actually are the biggest critics,” she warned. “Those should be the people who are at the table, helping cut the deals. Because when you have got cheerleaders at the table, they give everything away. The most critical people should be there to make sure we get the best deal for the city of St. Louis.”

MLS should hear this message loud and clear. St. Louis wants in, and it has worked to get here, but this remains a region scarred by the NFL’s departure. We are more skeptical, and we should be. We read fine print, and question intent.

Nothing is more appealing to our area than a league that wants to help us turn the page. Nothing is less appealing to our area than a league that comes across as standoffish.

“MLS is going to be making this decision in the next month or so,” said Alderman Jack Coatar on Friday. “This is by no means a done deal. Even by passing this today, the ownership group still has to go make the pitch to MLS to say, give us the team.”

What else needs to be pitched? If the league walks its talk, the competition cannot compare. It would mean a lot hearing it from Garber. The sooner, the better.

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