Monday, May 10, 2010

AC Saint Louis – Austin Aztex (17-04-2010)

AC Saint Louis is the newest soccer team in the US with great ambitions (i.e. MLS as soon as possible). Though founded only in 2009, the team doesn’t start in the PDL, but directly in the USSF D2 Pro League, the new Second Division created exclusively for this season after a feud between the United Soccer Leagues (USL) and the North American Soccer League (NASL). They play their home games at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park, together with the Saint Louis Athletica, which plays in the Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPSL).

The Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park is located in Fenton, Missouri, a southwestern suburb of Saint Louis. It is a soccer-specific stadium with one main stand and another long side of bleachers, which together hold 6.200 people. According to the official website, this first official home game against the Austin Aztex was a sell-out with 5,695 people. My guestimation puts it at 80% capacity. Moreover, it seems that many tickets were distributed for free. In fact, while lining up for the ticket office, a kind soul gave me his extra ticket for free (thank you kind sir!).

Whether truly sold out or not, there is no doubt that thousands of people came out to watch the AC Saint Louis and many already wore some team apparel. Moreover, the club has a hardcore fan base, the United Knights, who can already compete with some of the best ultras in US soccer. The atmosphere was at times Southern European; not accidentally, as many of the United Knights are... Bosnians!

While the infrastructure for good football is clearly present in St. Louis, the quality of the players is still lacking. The Austin Aztex are no high-fliers in US football; in their first season they finished 10th; but they were clearly better than the hosts. Overall though, the quality of play was very poor. That said, it was nice to finally watch a game surrounded by people who actually understand the game (i.e. the Bosnians).

It would take until the 37th minute for the first goal… an own goal by a St. Louis defender: 0-1. After this disappointment, the hosts started to improve their game a bit, leading to two decent shots. However, in the 43rd minute history was made, when Anthony O’Garro scored the first official goal for the AC Saint Louis; a deflected shot: 1-1. This led to flares set off by the United Knights, the smoke of which would linger over the pitch at half time.

The second half was even poorer, with the pace going down and few chances being created. The game was decided in the 55th minute by a strange swirling shot from 25 meters that was horribly missed by the goalie: 1-2.

Nothing changed after that, despite continuing loud support from the fans. I sneaked out a couple of minutes early, as I still had a 3+ hour drive ahead of me. Looking back atv the stadium, a thick cloud was still lingering over the pitch.

While the AC Saint Louis might not yet be ready for the MLS, it seems that they have found a welcoming audience in Saint Louis. Welcome to the USL!

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