Editorial: The Case for Local Leagues in US Soccer

Whether on nightly newscasts or social media, I’m sure we’ve all seen the empty stadiums across the country. Speaking as a self-proclaimed, inexperienced armchair soccer analyst, I would argue that a dramatic reboot was needed in the American soccer landscape. Unfortunately, change has come by way of extreme tragedy with COVID-19. While the health and safety of people in this country are the top priority, this pandemic has given us all some time to think about the beautiful game.

MLS or within the USL pyramid, professional soccer in this country is full-blown dunk off of expansion fees and mediocrity. I mean, do we really need another season of watching the Houston Dynamo playing in an empty stadium against the Chicago Fire FC on a Saturday afternoon? Or, watching two USL teams playing in another empty baseball stadium? I want to argue that venue requirements are irrelevant and unnecessary. Whether a packed house of 1,500 or 15, as long as the fans are screaming, it’s game on.

All that said, let’s get back to local supported teams and leagues—I mean, really local. Take my native city of St. Louis, for example. With a quick search on a Google machine, you will find that St. Louis has several men’s and women’s soccer clubs in high quality professional and amateur leagues. Saint Louis FC, of course, in USL Championship, St. Louis Lions in USL League Two and WPSL, and Club Athletico Saint Louis in the NPSL. That’s it. That’s the league.

As cities and states slowly reopen economically in the near future, interstate travel restrictions may be the last domino to fall due to unknown health concerns. Why not create new organizational structures in sports for a new social society? That said, let me pause here and make note of the fact that I threw in a WPSL team as part of this new league. That wasn’t by accident. Here in Columbia where I live now, as it is in many other cities around the country, there are many co-ed rec leagues on college campuses and at the local gym. So, why not include women’s teams in a local league? Imagine this…

In accordance with state travel restrictions, of course, let’s say several months from now St. Louis city and county cap sports or other entertainment gatherings at, say, 150 people. How long would it take to sell out a Saint Louis FC versus St. Louis Lions match at World Wide Technology Park or a St. Louis Lions women’s match at Tony Glavin Sports Complex against Club Athletico St. Louis? I’d give it an hour. Not only is St. Louis, like all other cities, begging for sports to return, but St. Louis is well-known for its soccer history with soccer and passionate soccer fan base.

On the issue of sanctions, I guess my question would be what’s the point under this model— at least in the interim? Teams and fans must first feel comfortable with taking a 20-minute drive down Highway 40 before getting on an airplane for a scheduled international friendly or US Open Cup match. Or, can a new governing body be created? What’s there to stop new leagues from forming, other than the lobbying arm of Soccer United Marketing? Get a league going, sell tickets, and, for the away fans, throw the game on YouTube with a couple of local sports announcers calling the game. People say change is slow, but it doesn’t have to be. It just takes imagination and, unfortunately, a bit of desperation. We all talk about getting back to some sort of normalcy. Let local soccer teams and their supporters take part in that conversation.