The Chicago-St. Louis sports rivalry has been on display in recent days with the Blackhawks-Blues playoff series and the Cubs making the first trip to Busch Stadium earlier this week.
Cubs-Cardinals is one of the better rivalries in baseball and when both teams are competitive, as they are now, it has even more fire. Blackhawks-Blues has been rejuvenated with recent playoff meetings.
Meanwhile, on the soccer side there is no Major League Soccer team in St. Louis to provide the Chicago Fire with that same marquee matchup, but that could be changing.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said that the league wants to expand to 28 teams. The league currently sits at 20 teams. Atlanta and Minnesota plan to join next season and Los Angeles FC and the Miami franchise headed by David Beckham aren’t much further behind. That brings the league to 24 teams and Garber’s comments reopened expansion competition with four new spots in the league available.
Hawks-Blues and Cubs-Cards over the last few days has shown that the Chicago-St. Louis sports rivalry is strong and MLS needs to be a part of that. The Fire need a true rival and St. Louis’ introduction to MLS would be an instant rival for the Fire given the heated rivalries in other sports.
The closest MLS teams to Chicago are Columbus, which is over five hours away, and Kansas City, which is an eight-hour drive away and no longer in the same conference as the Fire. Minnesota’s addition to the league will add another Midwestern team which Chicago sports fans will be familiar seeing as a divisional rival, but odds are that team will head to the Western Conference, limiting meetings with the Fire to just once a year.
St. Louis has played a massive role in the history of soccer in this country. A glimpse of that was shown in the movie “The Game of Their Lives,” where a group of players from The Hill neighborhood in St. Louis featured on the 1950 U.S. World Cup team which beat England. On the collegiate level, St. Louis University has won 10 national championships in men’s soccer.
So what are the chances of St. Louis getting a team?
SI.com’s Brian Straus broke down the current expansion candidates. Straus said Sacramento is practically a lock, but referred to St. Louis as the best bet for team No. 26. There has been talk of MLS in St. Louis for years, but the Rams’ departure seems to have sparked interest a bit more. Garber admitted Thursday that Sacramento and St. Louis are the frontrunners.
Currently Saint Louis FC, which plays in suburban Fenton, is the top soccer team in the market. They play in the USL and are the Fire’s affiliate. Good crowds for that minor league team and for international games, either European summer friendlies or U.S. National Team games, have shown the interest for soccer is there.
It’s always a matter of finding an ownership group and a stadium deal when it comes to MLS expansion. If those two things come together, St. Louis will have a team because both the league and the city appear interested.
If and when it happens, it could give Fire fans a home game or two to circle on the calendar every year, which is something currently lacking.