The match between Chelsea and Manchester City on Thursday at Busch Stadium was the first high-level international match in St. Louis in years. With the way the city reacted, it probably won’t be the last.
“We’d come back here every day if we could,” said Charlie Stillitano of Relevent Sports, which put on the game. “St. Louis has been a great find for us.”
The game sold out more than 40,000 tickets in a little more than a day, and more than 10,000 fans came out to Busch on Wednesday for a Chelsea training session. “This is extraordinary,” Stillitano said.
“The way the teams were treated,” he said, “the teams have said they would come back in a second. They love it. The one thing that struck everyone was how nice everyone was in St. Louis. Everywhere we went, it was thank you for bringing the game here. That was really gratifying.”
The demand for tickets may have been enhanced by the absence of top-level soccer in St. Louis in recent years, but Stillitano said he didn’t think it would be necessary to wait a few years.
“We’d love to come back every year to St. Louis,” he said. “But our season is short, the end of the year like this and then in July and August in the preseason and can’t coincide with the Cardinals. But you can almost always find a game at the beginning or end of a tour that will fit in with the Cardinals schedule.”
Big week for Billikens
The St. Louis U. soccer team got to enjoy every part of the friendly match except for the game itself.
They were among the few people on hand on Tuesday when Chelsea worked out at Hermann Stadium – SLU players drove Chelsea players from the locker rooms at SLU to the stadium in golf carts – and they watched Wednesday’s practice from the Cardinals dugout, escorted by former SLU basketball player Kyle Cassity, who now works for the Cardinals. But by game time on Thursday, the team was on its way to Spain for a 10-day tour there.
“Pretty cool week,” said SLU coach Mike McGinty. “Missing the game is not ideal, but going to Madrid will be a lot of fun as well.”
SLU will play two and possibly a third game against fourth division Spanish teams and also attend practice sessions of first division Spanish clubs, including Atletico Madrid. SLU will also attend Atletico Madrid’s match on Sunday.
“It’s fun for these guys to see the best in the world up close,” McGinty said. “That’s as important as anything.”
As for McGinty, was he picking up anything by watching Chelsea practice? “They do the same stuff we do,” he said. “It just looks a lot different when they do it.”
Three Chelsea players will be heading back to England after the game, missing the second match between the clubs in New York on Saturday. Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole are heading home to join England’s national team for a pair of friendly matches against Ireland and Brazil. Cahill and Cole were both in the starting lineup on Thursday, while Lampard was a scratch.
The cost of business
By acquiring Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team, Manchester City put a big dent in the hopes of a team coming to St. Louis.
Man City is owned by members of the Abu Dhabi royal family – advertising boards at the game touted visitabudhabi.ae, an Abu Dhabi tourism site – and they didn’t flinch at paying a $100 million expansion fee. But that sets the price for future expansion teams to pay, and in a market the size of St. Louis, that’s a lot of money to pay out. And anyone acquiring a team would face the added expense of building a stadium.
To a certain extent, though, the question is moot. No one from St. Louis is actively pursuing a team, and if the league moves beyond 20 teams, it will likely be looking at cities in Florida.