Notes from a Conflicted Soccer Fan

Truth is, I can check off most of the boxes: I grew up watching Soccer Made in Germany on Channel 9. I played ball in the CYC. I “enjoyed” a brief, unsuccessful college career in the sport, played locally. I spent dozens of nights competing in rec leagues at the Soccer Dome, through smothering heat and teeth-rattling cold. I broke bones, many of them. I coached the game for seven years, coming all the way back ‘round to the CYC. I’ve watched soccer matches on every broadcast medium in St. Louis venues, from closed-circuit TV in theaters in the ‘70s to HD splendor in packed soccer bars today.

In theory, all of this make me “a soccer guy.”

In reality, I’m also a guy that frets about public funding mechanisms for stadia.

So I wasn’t sure how I’d vote, if an MLS proposal were put before the voters this spring. As it stands today, that vote won’t happen, squashed in Aldermanic committee. Because I didn’t know how I’d vote — but, in my secret heart-of-hearts, wanted to vote for Major League Soccer’s years-overdue arrival here — I sent a note to a super-connected soccer supporter in town, suggesting that I could put together some well-attended meetings in South City. He, in turn, passed that info to an information rainmaker with the preferred MLS expansion group, SC STL.

In my note, sent not quite a month ago, I spoke of: my wanting to find out answers for my own questions; of my ability to bring together both supporters and (yes) opponents of public funding; and of the fact that I wasn’t looking for any money in this, that it was purely my attempt to pull people together in a few suitable spaces, to talk about the stadium in an organized, public fashion.

I’ll give one guess as to how many calls I got back. (And it’s a number less than that one guess.)

In a piece by Mike Faulk and Koran Addo, published on stltoday.com, Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia (D-6) notes this:

Ingrassia also said the ownership group didn’t spend enough time reaching out to the community as their plan developed.

“It’s not just that they didn’t include me in the process early enough, but the public in general,” Ingrassia said. “There should’ve been community hearings and an ability formed at the Board of Aldermen to digest the details, but for the public to as well.”

As a quick moment of honesty, I’m slightly irritated by this on a personal level, that my experience in local journalism, civic, political and even soccer circles didn’t merit so much as a call back, or a “no thanks, we have other approaches for public engagement that we want to pursue.” I honestly feel that the informational meetings could’ve been a small, but well-intentioned asset in the stadium effort; it would’ve at least hinted at smaller, cheaper, organic ways of spreading information as a part of the overall plan.

My real annoyance, then, lies in the idea that yet another project has fallen into the classic St. Louis pattern of top-down construction. The folks with the plan presented the plan. The plan didn’t go as expected. (Hello, Governor Greitens!) And now the plan will be pulled back and worked on in some handsome, wood-paneled meeting room at the MAC, well away from public input. Again. As always.

Not being in the prediction business, I’m unsure if the vote will be renewed this year, or going forward. Until then, I’ll read whatever stories I find and I’ll try to keep an open mind. When-and-if a vote comes, I’m not even sure how I’ll cast a ballot; my brain and heart might have some consensus building of their own to do.

What I’m pretty sure about is that I won’t spend too much time caring one way of the other. Like a referee at kickoff, my vote may just come down to a coin flip.