(St. Louis Public Radio) - St. Louis soon will be home to a top-tier professional soccer team. Major League Soccer officially awarded St. Louis an expansion team on Tuesday. 

The team will begin play in 2022 in a new stadium to be built just west of Union Station. A team name has not been announced. 

“It is with great pride that we welcome St. Louis to Major League Soccer,” league Commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday morning.

Garber’s announcement ends months of speculation about whether a local ownership group could secure a spot in the MLS plan to expand from 24 teams to 28 teams by 2022. The successful campaign follows years of failed efforts in St. Louis to join the top professional soccer league in the U.S. and Canada. 

“Our MLS team and stadium will only add to St. Louis’ renaissance currently underway,” said Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Carolyn Kindle Betz, who leads the ownership group. She said the team will provide “a great opportunity to bring together many different segments of the community, uniting people in their love for the game.” 

Betz heads the league’s first majority-woman ownership group. She is joined in the group by six other female members of the Taylor family, who own St. Louis-based Enterprise Holdings, one of the largest car rental companies in the world. 

The company’s executive chairman, Andy Taylor, also has an ownership stake in the new team, along with Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of local tech giant World Wide Technology.

Kavanaugh’s soccer roots run deep. He was a member of the St. Louis University soccer team and the U.S. Olympic squad before turning pro. Kavanaugh is CEO of St. Louis FC, which plays in a second-division professional soccer league.

Anticipation for St. Louis getting an MLS team has been building for weeks among the St. Louis FC fan base. Its official supporter group, the St. Louligans, has formed a tight-knit community around the team and sport.

Mitch Morice, one of the fan club’s leaders, hopes that continues with the MLS team.

“I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure it does,” he said during pre-game festivities at a recent St. Louis FC game at the team’s home field in Fenton.

“That is the important thing, that the supporters group starts the foundation of a successful soccer team in MLS.”

New stadium in St. Louis

Another St. Louligan, Sarah Robertson, said she thinks the MLS team’s new stadium in the Downtown West neighborhood has the potential to be an economic development tool by attracting more events to the city.

“Concerts. There'll be chances for national team games possibly. Friendlies. I think it will be amazing, honestly.”

Construction of that stadium is the next step for the MLS ownership group.

The ownership group has stressed that direct public money will not be needed for the stadium, but tax breaks have been discussed.

One plan has called for the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to approve creating three special taxing districts. The ownership group is also expected to ask for a partial break on the city’s 1% amusement tax, as well as an exemption on the sales tax on materials purchased to build the stadium. That could save $5 million in construction costs.

Aldermen last year passed a non-binding resolution throwing their support behind the ownership group and pledging to pass the needed legislation. They return from their summer break on Sept. 13.

Robertson with the St. Louligans is convinced the investment will pay off for the owners, the region and those who love the sport.

“It's fast-paced. It's not like baseball where you're sitting 2-3 hours for a game,” she said.

“And when you get a group like the Louligans around — it's constant. It's 90 minutes of chanting. It's 90 minutes of caring what goes on the field, and we've created a family out of it.”

The yet-to-be-named St. Louis squad is expected to have rivalries with teams including Kansas City, Chicago, and Nashville once it starts play in three years.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Republished with permission of St. Louis Public Radio: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/st-louis-scores-major-league-soccer-expansion-team-2022-season

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