St. Louis has a stronger soccer history than any other city in America. That’s a fact akin to “the Cardinals have the best fans in baseball” when it comes to this city. Despite this, we of course do not have a top-tier professional team in St. Louis. St. Louis is usually thrown in the mix when Major League Soccer (MLS) talks expansion, but for a variety of reasons, the rumors don’t translate to plans.
High-quality soccer is being played within the city limits of St. Louis, however. The Saint Louis University Billikens men’s and women’s soccer teams recently started their respective 2013 campaigns. The teams play their home matches at Robert R. Hermann Stadium on the SLU campus in the Midtown area of St. Louis.
The Billikens have been playing in Midtown since before Hermann opened in 1999. So, this isn’t entirely new. It is, however, something that St. Louisans have taken advantage of less and less in recent years. From 1999-2003, the Billiken men led the nation in attendance, reaching a peak of 3,037 fans per game in 1999. In the last four years, Saint Louis is listed anywhere between 12th and 21st in the country in attendance. In 2011, the team averaged 1,885 fans per game but dropped to 1,454 last season. Considering this is an outdoor event in St. Louis with a schedule running from August to November, it’s a safe bet to say that weather plays a huge part in the attendance figures. Saint Louis University actually holds the record for the all-time largest soccer crowd in NCAA history for its October 20, 1980 game against SIU-Edwardsville. 22,512 people packed Busch Stadium to see that match. If you exclude NCAA tournament games, those two teams also hold second place as well for the 1973 contest with 20,112.
The soccer tradition at Saint Louis University stretches back to 1959. That year was the first year SLU fielded a team and also the first year the NCAA awarded a National Championship in men’s soccer. SLU beat the University of Bridgeport 5-2 in the final match. It was the first of their 10 National Championships between ’59 and 1973. The Billikens nearly had an eleventh in 1974, but lost to Howard in four overtimes. SLU also lost to Howard in the 1971 Championship. No school has won more National Championships than Saint Louis. Indiana comes closest with eight.
Saint Louis University has a long history of turning out professional-caliber players. Former Billikens Brandon Barklage, Brad Davis and Jack Jewsbury are currently on the rosters of MLS teams whereas Vedad Ibisevic, Tim Ream and Dipsy Selowane are all playing professional soccer overseas. On the women’s side, Meghann Burke played for several professional clubs here in the States and played professionally in England.
The 6,050 -seat Robert R. Hermann Stadium’s namesake established the Hermann Trophy in 1967 to be given to the nation’s top college soccer player. From 1969-1973, the award went to a Billiken each year. Al Trost (2), Mike Seerey (2) and Dan Counce were the recipients. International clubs Real Madrid and Chelsea both trained at Hermann Stadium this year before playing matches in St. Louis. Need proof?
— SLU Women’s Soccer (@SLUWSoccer) August 9, 2013
The Billiken women are in their first season under head coach Katie Shields. She takes over for Kat Mertz, who moved on to take over the Oregon program. We wrote about the Harvard graduate taking over the program back in January. The team returns eight starters from last season and brings in seven new faces. Among those new faces is Cristina Rodriquez, who won two Class 2 State Championships while at St. Dominic and was twice named the Missouri Class 2 Player of the Year. She started off her college career quite well, earning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors after notching a goal and an assist in the season opener. Overall, the squad features 13 players from the St. Louis metro area. The Billiken women opened their season last weekend at home, beating Western Michigan 3-2 on Friday and falling to Depaul 4-0 on Sunday.
Tickets to men’s and women’s soccer games are $10 each for adults and $5 for children 3-12 years of age. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate. Significant discounts are available to groups of 20 or more.
Cover photo background courtesy of @SluMensSoccer
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