Courtesy of Dave Lange
St Louis Soccer in the Snow
High school teams McBride (dark jerseys) and St. Mary’s, play a soccer game in the snow, which wasn't unusual when this image was taken in 1969-70. High school boys played soccer in the winter until switching to the fall in 1975. The state playoffs for Missouri high school girls began a decade later.
By Wade Livingston
When it comes to World Cup soccer, playing The Beautiful Game on the grandest stage is old hat for Missourians.
Here’s a quick rundown of a few Show-Me Staters’ stand-out moments in soccer.
1930: Frank Vaughn and Ralph Tracey—both from St. Louis—helped the United States to its best ever third-place finish in the World Cup. Ralph played a portion of the Argentina game with a broken leg. There were no substitutions back then.
1994: Florrisant’s Mike Sorber played so well during the American-hosted World Cup that his coach called him the team’s most valuable player, according St. Louis soccer historian Dave Lange.
2002: Brian McBride, who played his college soccer at St. Louis University, scored one of the most important goals in US history in their 2002 World Cup win over Mexico. The victory put America into the quarterfinals.
And now, 2014: Sporting Kansas City has two players—Graham Zusi and Matt Besler—on the national roster. To boot, Besler hails from just-over-the-state-line Overland Park, Kan. And don’t forget about St. Charles native Brad Davis.
But those are just the highlights. Talk to Dave Lange and Denny Vaninger—Director of Coaching and Education for the Missouri Youth Soccer Association—and they’ll tell you that easily a hundred-plus players with St. Louis ties have played for various men’s and women’s US national teams. Missouri—St. Louis in particular—has been a consistent presence on the patriotic pitch since the early twentieth century.
As the late David Wangerin notes in his book Soccer in a Football World, “No US city embraced soccer more unreservedly than St. Louis.” That passion, coupled with a strong Catholic Youth Council, allowed for the formation of various leagues and teams.
As Dave Lange says, “If you were a boy growing up in St. Louis, you played baseball in the summer and soccer in the winter.” And in inclement weather, you found a gym and played “hoc-soc,” an early version of indoor soccer.
Organized soccer was so strong in St. Louis that it allowed the city to develop native talent. Other cities began to copy the St. Louis model, Dave says. Amateur teams won national championships. College teams won national championships. There was a string of Junior Cups from 1960-1979—St. Louis teams won fifteen of twenty over the two decades.
Need a visual? Pick up Dave’s book, Soccer Made in St. Louis, and flip to page 187. There are many teams over many years. The font is small. It’s tough to fit all of those championships in.
While St. Louis has been the historic epicenter of Missouri soccer, other places are catching up. Kansas City has its own Major League Soccer team and a strong youth scene. Springfield and Columbia have formidable youth programs. Denny says it’s not uncommon for him to venture into other towns and find kids sporting soccer jerseys. All told, statewide, Denny says there are over 31,000 players and coaches registered with the Missouri Youth Soccer Association.
Soccer in the Show-Me State seems alive and well. The only question: Which of these kids will build upon Missouri’s soccer foundation? Who will be the next Brad Davis, Mike Sorber, or Ralph Tracey?
Where to watch the United States vs. Ghana
Odds are you’re not making the trip to Brazil for this year’s World Cup.
Don’t fret — you can still watch the games in the company of football fans. Check out the TV schedule and you’ll notice several of the early round games start around happy hour. That said, some of the games have earlier start times — you might consider knocking off early from work.
If you’re close to one of Missouri’s larger cities, you might be able to join the American Outlaws for a watch party.
Don’t be thrown off by the group’s menacing-sounding name; the Outlaws is a national organization whose mission is to unite US fans and drum up support for the national teams. The organization has even come up with its own chants and cheers, which you might be able to hear if you venture out to the right bar. Singing is also encouraged.
Columbia, Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Louis all have a local chapter of the Outlaws, and each chapter has its favorite watering hole. If you’re in Columbia, you can find the Outlaws at McNally’s Irish Pub. Johnny’s Tavern is the bar of choice for the Kansas City chapter, and the Springfield folks frequent Skinny Slim’s Public House. Finally, soccer supporters in St. Louis can find the Outlaws at Amsterdam Tavern.
The cities of Kansas City and St. Louis have other, larger watch parties, too. Check out Summer in the Soccer Capital in Kansas City, and be on the lookout for World Cup screenings in St. Louis’s Ballpark Village. You can also check online at Soccer America’s “World Cup Watch” list—which continues to be frequently updated and expanded—and which recommends venues in Ballwin, Chesterfield, Clayton, Ellisville, and Jefferson City.
So, if you can’t make it to Rio for the June 12 opener, here’s hoping this list will help you get your football fix.