I have a question for anyone that lives or has lived outside the St. Louis Metropolitan area. Has anyone ever heard anything about any other city being the soccer capital of the U.S.? I have understood, from an early age, that the title of Soccertown, USA belonged to the Gateway City. Now, as I am older and more well-travelled, I find this disturbing to believe this is all a lie, made up by some civic group and spread underground to make St. Louisians feel good about their city.
They were very smart about it, though. Similar to the way they claim to be the birthplace of toasted ravioli (nobody outside the St. Louis area has ever heard of toasted ravioli, therefore who cares where it comes from), they didn't dare pick something really popular to be the capital of– like baseball, football or even hockey. We'll keep it low key with soccer because most people in this country only discuss the sport for a brief moment, every four years, when the US Team gets booted from the World Cup.
This tactic would, probably, also work for similar small to medium sized cities because in the rare instance that someone leaves a place like St. Louis for a long enough time to realize the media hype is not true they, usually, don't come back to warn the other brainwashed citizens. It is very sad if my theory is correct as growing up believing the myth has left me many fond memories of the sport.
Some of my earliest memories is going along to my Dad's soccer games when I was a small boy. I can remember specific times and places while watching him play goal– going to Steak 'n Shake after a game in the rain, blowing my first bubble through a chain link fence (I know– weird memory) and watching the US hockey team beating the Russians in the Olympics on a small TV set up on the sidelines during an indoor game at Twillman's Just for Kicks.
I remember going to see Pele, the greatest player of all time, play at Busch Stadium with the New York Cosmos. I also saw Pat Lahey, a kicker for the New York Jets and local high school soccer star, put a hole in the boards behind the goal in an indoor game with a rocket shot that was high and wide.
I have seen four professional teams play in this town. The Stars played outdoors. Then, when indoor soccer became popular, we had the Steamers, Ambush, and the Storm... and then the Steamers again. I could name off a ton of players that I remember, but you probably aren't interested (and I have trouble spelling all those European names).
For several years, my friends and I ate, drank, and slept soccer. We wore our Sambas wherever we went and at least one of had to have a beat-up old ball. We must have seen Victory at the drive-in five times during it's two-week showing.
I have a lot of fond memories of playing too. I can still remember most of my goals (there were that few) in the big games when I was older. I remember breaking my ankle and wearing the cast and when Matt dislocated his knee. I remember the Strikers TDK– we were just a rag-tag bunch of kids but we gave some darn good, organized teams with sponsors a hell of a fight. I also remember a lot of good times coaching. I had a team of Junior High boys for a few years that were a ton of fun and a couple of girls teams over the years.
The memories are good but I am anxiously looking forward to when I can get involved with my son playing in the next couple of years. I hope that he can have his own good memories of his dad and soccer– or whatever he decides to do. He can even believe the hype if he wants.
Note: Soccer has been a huge part of my life over the years and I hope I find the time to write more about it in the future. What is important in my life right now, however, is MLW (and the baby in her tummy) and selling T-shirts to support her sugar cravings. Check out the cool new "Future Soccer Mom" T-shirt as well as the rest of the maternity collection at: http://www.cafepress.com/skeetzteez/5711936