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Benjamin Hochman is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

MLS coming to St. Louis

MLS banners decorate the exterior of the Palladium St. Louis event center on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, where the league is anticipating a Tuesday announcement of St. Louis being awarded a professional soccer team. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com.

Possession. It’s the lifeblood of soccer: Possess the ball to create offense.

And it’s the lifeblood of a soccer team: The team belongs to its fans, its supporters, its city. It is our team. The our is powerful. Empowering, even. Especially for a town that had a team yanked away and moved to Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, the announcement from Major League Soccer will make it official. We’ll have our new team. It is a team without players or coaches or even an announced name. But it’s unmistakably ours.

“It’s emotional,” said Taylor Twellman, the St. Louis native who was once an MLS star, even winning the Most Valuable Player award, and is now an MLS broadcaster. “And with the ownership being homegrown, the ownership being in-house? I mean, you really can’t come up with a better situation. You just can’t.”

The Taylor family and the Kavanaugh family recognized the importance of our city galvanizing and rising. Soccer could do just that. Soccer was an investment in our city, an investment in our future and, really, an investment in ourselves. The Rams’ move hurt. And other news stories have shaken the confidence and optimism of St. Louisans.

Well, here’s some good news. Historically good news. It’s the genesis of generations of joy.

And from a business standpoint, it’s just really, really good for the city. Here’s essentially a major corporation moving to downtown St. Louis … and the company soccer games will be pretty entertaining.

On a sunny Monday afternoon, just past the site of the new soccer stadium, and Union Station, and the new aquarium and Ferris wheel, and the home of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, Yadier Molina stood on the grass at Busch Stadium and talked soccer. The Cardinals’ catcher loves St. Louis and loves soccer, occasionally wearing jerseys of FC Barcelona.

“It’s going to be good for the city,” Molina said before Monday’s baseball game. “Any type of professional team that comes here is going to be good for the fans. It’s just a real fast game, and it’s fun to watch.”

Yes, soccer is fun to watch. Some people might say soccer is as boring as … well, soccer. But for those folks, the game deserves a second chance, especially in a modern context.

“The best part about the sport is that a game takes two hours, and the ball is always in play,” Twellman said. “And it’s an atmosphere unlike any other sport in our country.

“Those fans that are pro-Cardinals and pro-Blues and haven’t really seen a game in this league, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised at the energy and the potential of where this place is going to go. And especially when they walk into that stadium in downtown St. Louis. The game-day experience is going to be hard to put into words. When that stadium is up and running — and I’ve seen the pictures and the plans — it’s what very few cities in this country have, and I think there are going to be a ton of Blues and Cardinals fans, who are not soccer fans, who are going to be begging to go to these games. It’s a different atmosphere.”

The coolest aspect of MLS is the culture it creates. Talk about a feeling of belonging. The soccer community is energetic and welcoming. It’s going to be a whole bunch of fun for a whole bunch of St. Louisans.

When Twellman first joined MLS, in the early aughts, there were 10 teams. When St. Louis joins in 2022, there should be 30.

“It’s young, it’s vibrant, it’s on the precipice of explosion,” Twellman said. “And you see the likes of Miguel Almirón, Alphonso Davies, Tyler Adams, three key names over the last 12 to 18 months that have been sold for multimillion dollars. … (Atlanta owner) Arthur Blank, on the MLS All-Star Game broadcast, I asked him the question — did you ever think the (defending champions) Atlanta United ticket would be more important and cooler than the Atlanta Falcons ticket? He said, ‘No, but that’s true.’ So you have an NFL season ticket holder begging to get MLS season tickets in Atlanta. St. Louis is going to be something else.”

Look at it this way: If Nashville can become a hockey town, and Atlanta can become a soccer town, surely our town can become a soccer town — because, really, we are one already.

“Soccer’s always been part of the city,” Twellman said, “whether you go from the 1950 World Cup team, through the Stars, Steamers, Ambush, AC St. Louis, St. Louis FC, there has always been something in the city regarding the sport of soccer. And then you throw in high school soccer and the club soccer and all the history? …

“And when you see the way soccer is growing in North America, to think that St. Louis wouldn’t be part of that is almost sacrilegious to me. And there are just few cities in our country where soccer is at the heartbeat and the fabric of the city. So my first thought is for the game — and I’m wearing my ‘ESPN hat’ and the ‘ex-player hat’ and looking at the game and how it’s growing. St. Louis has to be part of the future. And the fact that it is now only means good things for the game.”

St. Louis' soccer history

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