St. Louis has a long history as one of the major hotbeds of soccer in the United States. During the early years of soccer, St. Louis was the western outpost of the major soccer regions, as immigrant communities brought their game to the major industrial centers of the country. Unlike other regions, St. Louis was known mostly for the major amateur clubs that achieved national distinction in the US. Open Cup and National Amateur Cup during the middle part of the 20th century. Between 1920 and 1957, six different teams won the US Open Cup. Later, as the amateur circuit faded in prominence, St. Louis enjoyed distinction as a hotbed for college soccer as St. Louis University won a string of consecutive NCAA titles during the 1960s. Success at the amateur level paid off in bigger ways, as St. Louis players had a prominent rule on the National Team. Five of the 11 players on the team that defeated England in the 1950 World Cup were from St. Louis, and every World Cup squad had at least one St. Louis player on its roster. In addition, twenty St. Louis soccer personalities are enshrined in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
When the North American Soccer League began play in 1967, the St. Louis Stars, a charter franchise, pioneered a developmental policy that emphasized recruitment and development of local American talent, bucking the league’s trend towards employing aging international stars. More recently, St. Louis has been primarily known for its indoor soccer teams, and the city’s importance in the national soccer scene has been muted as fans look for the possibility of a Major League Soccer team to bring the region back into prominence. But the city still enjoys a reputation as a key part in the development of US soccer throughout the early years of the sport in the country.
The earliest record of organized soccer in St. Louis date to 1881. In 1891, the St. Louis Soccer League was organized, and before long, amateur soccer was flourishing in the city. Unlike other cities where clubs were often associated with immigrant working communities and sponsored by ethnic social clubs, many of the major clubs in St. Louis were associated with churches and parishes, and later with manufacturing & retail companies. The catholic parishes in St. Louis, through the CYC chapters, adopted soccer as an inexpensive mass participation sport for their recreational programs, and it wasn’t long before the top teams were winning national honors. One result of this is the long history in St. Louis of developing home grown talent rather than attracting foreign players to the top level professional leagues.
The Kensingtons won the first two league championships, followed by Blue Bells and St. Teresa’s. Later, the first dynasty was established by St. Leo’s who won nine consecutive championships between 1905/06 and 1913/14. St. Leo’s was originally composed entirely of members of the St. Leo’s Sodality, a church men’s organization. After the team opened its memberships to outsiders, it began its championship run. They were also the first team to tour the East, as they played a series of New Jersey teams in tours during this time. St. Louis soccer grew very early on, and the leagues have been strong from the beginning, but the city also had a very independent tradition, and even after the local association joined the United States Soccer Federation, it remained somewhat aloof, not fully integrating itself into the national body until 1918.
The St. Louis Major League adopted a semi-professional status in 1906 and merged with the St. Louis Association Foot Ball League in 1915. They continued as the primary circuit for the region, with the St. Louis Municipal League operating as a junior circuit in a purely amateur status. By this time, Ben Millers had begun their run, winning three consecutive league championships from 1915-1918. Once the St. Louis leagues fully integrated with the USSF, they entered U. S. Open Cup competition; this happened in 1918. They made their mark fairly quickly, with Ben Millers becoming the first area soccer club to enter the US Open Cup in 1920. Their winning team was composed entirely of St. Louis based players, while their opponents, Fore River Shipyard of Quincy, MA featured 11 British born players. The Ben Millers continued to win city titles in 1925, 1926 and 1927, and also reached the US Open Cup final in 1926, losing to Bethlehem Steel 7-2.
Scullins Steel followed Ben Millers, as they made the Open Cup finals in 1921 and won it the following year, and were co-champion in 1923. Like many other industrial teams, they had a short life. Such teams were often dropped when team performance did not mesh with corporate bottom lines; this trend would be endemic throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Sometimes they were dropped when the profit margin fell, regardless of team performance. Later in the 1920s, the St. Louis League became more of a purely amateur circuit, but clubs continued to do well in the national scene. St. Leo’s and Ben Millers continued playing, folding in the early 1940s. In 1929, the St. Louis Madison Kennels lost to New York Hakoah in the Open Cup 2-0 and 3-0. The US squad at the first World Cup in 1930 featured Raphael Tracey of Ben Millers, who played in the first three games. St. Louis clubs were at a disadvantage due to the lack of stability resulting from their reliance on corporate sponsorship rather than the more stable ethnic social organizations prevalent in other metropolitan areas. This is not to say that there were no ethnic influences in St. Louis Soccer. The Carondalet region featured many Spanish-American teams, particularly in the Municipal League, St. Abrose Parish featured a number of Italian-American squads, and the St. Louis Kickers were dominated by German players.
During the 1930s, the pre-eminent club of the St. Louis Major League, reached the US Open Cup finals six straight years, from 1932-1937, but under three different names. As Stix, Baer & Fuller (the department store), they were runnerup in 1932 and champions in 1933 and 1934. As Central Breweries they took the gold in 1935, and were again runners-up as St. Louis Shamrocks in 1936 and 1937. In 1934, three of their players were on the USA Squad at World Cup 1934: Bill McLean, and hall of famers Billy Gonsalves and Werner Nilsen. This was the first major club to rely primarily on players outside of the St. Louis area. In 1933, following the demise of the first American Soccer League, they made a wholesale importation of players from the New England Whalers, including Billy Gonsalves, Alex McNab, Werner Nilsen, Bill McPherson and Bob Watson. This was fitting revenge on the team that had defeated them the previous year in the Open Cup final, and the players had a pivotal role in the club’s Open Cup triumphs over the next few years. Beyond these standouts, many St. Louis teams made good runs in the earlier rounds of the US Open Cup.
The depression eventually made its impact felt on the corporate-sponsored St. Louis teams, and they receded in the late 1930’s, with the St. Louis Major League suspending play in 1938. The War had a major impact as many players were called off to serve in the armed forces.
The amateur clubs began their return to prominence in the St. Louis Municipal League as the war was winding down; St. Louis Rafferty’s reached the finals of the National Amateur Cup, losing to Eintrach FC of New York 1-0 in 1945. St. Louis Carondelets made the finals two years later, only to lose to Fall River Ponta Delgada in 10-1. In 1949, St. Louis Zenthoefer became the third team in five years to lose in the finals, as they fell to SC Elizabeth of New Jersey under an onslaught of six goals.
St. Louis had its next foray into semi-pro soccer in 1947, when the St. Louis Raiders joined the North American Soccer League, an organization that attempted to establish professional soccer throughout the Midwest, as a complement to the American Soccer League which operated on the east coast. The league was popular, with strong teams, but financially it could not make ends meet and folded after two seasons. The Raiders finished at the bottom of the standings in their only season, and returned to the amateur ranks where they would go on to future success.
With the rebirth of the St. Louis Major League in 1948, a new golden age commenced. The Major League quickly became a regional powerhouse, with two teams standing out in particular: Simpkins-Ford and Kutis. Simpkins-Ford was originally known as Correnti Cleaners until taken over in 1947 by the Joe Simpkins Ford Auto dealership. The team quickly assembled a roster of simply amazing talent in players such as Gino Pariano, Charlie Colombo, Frank Borghi, Bob Annis, Frank Wallace, and Bill Bertani, who led the squad to U. S. Open Cup in 1948 and 1950. Of these players, Pariani, Colombo, Bertani and Annis, were on the 1948 Olympic Squad, while Anis, Borghi, Wallace, Colombo and Pariano were on the 1950 World Cup team that shocked the world by upsetting England.
St. Louis had an interesting footnote in the history of women’s soccer. The first organized women’s soccer league was established in 1951 by Father Craig of St. Matthew’s Parish of North St. Louis. The Craig Club Girls Soccer League consisted of four teams with names like the “Bobby Soxers”, and played full schedules for two seasons. Although their history was short, it was a milestone in the history of women’s soccer, although it would be over a decade before the sport began to make a true start in the colleges.
Sadly, an important era came to an end in 1953 as the St. Louis Major League folded due to a lack of sufficient playing fields. Nevertheless, the junior league continued on, picking up teams, and in 1954, Simpkins-Ford made their final national title run against Pittsburgh Beadling in the National Amateur Cup. Simpkins won the opener 5-2, but lost the 2nd leg 1-5, to lose the title on point differential. In a kind of changing of the guard, a new franchise, St. Louis Kutis, made their first appearance in the US Open Cup final, losing to the ASL’s New York Americans 1-0 and 2-0. The Municipal League folded in 1957, but was immediately succeeded by a new St. Louis Major Soccer League which continued on well into the late 1960s. During the 1940s and 1950s, a number of foreign teams touring the US played against All-Star squads in St. Louis, as well as against major St. Louis amateur clubs such as Simpkins and Kutis.
Kutis went on to become the most successful amateur team in St. Louis history, and was arguably the best club in the nation during the 1950s, and is still playing today. Kutis was originally the St. Louis Raiders, who had won the National Amateur Cup in 1952. Shortly after that feat, the team was taken over by Tom Kutis, owner of the Kutis Funereal Home. The team was headed for many years by national team mainstay and hall of famer Harry Keough, a veteran of the 1950 World Cup. Frank Borghi joined the team after helping lead Simpkins-Ford to their national titles. Kutis won six consecutive National Amateur Cup titles from 1956-1961, also taking the 1957 US Open Cup, becoming only the third team to that time to win both cups in the same year. Other Kutis players of renown include hall of famers Bob Kehoe and Bill Looby, as well as Ruben Mendoza, Russ Murphy, and Herman Wecke.
So successful was Kutis that the entire squad was picked to comprise the roster for the US National Team in two 1958 World Cup Qualifying matches. Bob Kehoe went on to captain the National Team in 1965 World Cup qualifying and coached the team in 1972. Although the glory days were pretty much over after that 1961 triumph, St. Louis teams continued to have an impact in the Amateur Cup. St. Louis Ambrose played in the final in 1963 and 1965, as did Kutis in 1967, 1969 and 1971, winning the last one. In 1972, St. Louis Busch won it all in 1972, and Big Four Chevrolet lost to Philadelphia Inter in the 1974 edition.
In the 1960s, St. Louis soccer began a noted shift towards the college ranks and pro ranks. St. Louis University added soccer as a varsity sport in 1959, the same year that the NCAA established its first true national championship tournament. St. Louis U. immediately took command of the national tournament, and won national titles in 1959, 60, 62, 63, and 65, becoming the first national Dynasty. Hall of Famer Harry Keough took over the reigns in 1967, and took the team to the final his first year, where the squad played Michigan State to a 0-0 draw and was declared co-champion. Harry won undisputed NCAA titles in 1969, 1970, 1972 and 1973, and reached the finals in 1971 and 1974 in valiant losing efforts.
St. Louis finally got its first fully professional soccer team in 1967 as the St. Louis Stars were established as a charter franchise in the National Professional Soccer League. The NPSL was one of two rival leagues that were formed in the wake of the 1966 World Cup’s surprising TV success in the States. The USSF was committed to having a FIFA-sanctioned Division league, but the organizing efforts were rivalrous and edgy. The end result was two leagues, one sanctioned, and the other operating in an “outlaw” capacity - the NPSL. The Stars were headed by Bob Hermann, who would later establish the Hermann Award, given to the NCAA’s Division 1 Most Valuable Players (men and women). The two leagues merged in 1968 to form the NASL when it became clear that neither circuit would survive a bidding war. The Stars played for ten seasons before they were moved to Anaheim, California in 1978.
The team immediately stole the spotlight from the amateur clubs and attracted many mainstream sports fans to the game, people who previously would never have been distracted from the Cardinals (baseball and football) or Hawks (NBA). They led the league in attendance that first year, averaging over 7,000 fans per game.
St. Louis Stars began a unique tradition among NASL teams in that they focused much of their player development on recruiting American players, many from the St. Louis area. Although this was merely a continuation of the process among St. Louis amateur teams earlier in the century, this contrasted markedly with other NASL franchises who mostly signed aging foreign players. Although some were true superstars, many were not, and the financial overspending eventually bankrupted the league. Although the stars were stable, they were often mediocre and throughout much of their history they drew poorly and were near the bottom in the standings. The one exception was in 1972 when they led the league in attendance with nearly 8,000 per game, won the southern division title and lost to the New York Cosmos in the championship match 2-1. They won the central division in 1975, but were mediocre in other seasons, with paltry fan support. After the 1977 season, they packed their bags and moved to California.
Two players of note for the Stars were Pat McBride and Al Trost. Pat McBride was a two time All-American at St. Louis Univ., and played in the 1964 Olympics and earned 6 Caps with the National Team. He joined the Stars in 1967 and played for their entire existence in St. Louis. Al Trost was a two-time Hermann Trophy winner at St. Louis University, an Olympian and National Team member (14 caps) who played five seasons for the Stars from 1973 to 1977, and captained the National Team in 1976. Trost and McBride were easily the top midfielders ever for the Stars.
St. Louis entered the indoor age in 1979 when the St. Louis Steamers joined the Major Indoor Soccer League. St. Louis again emphasized local talent, including favorites such as Dan Counce, Steve Pecher and Tom Galanti. The Steamers also pioneered the concept of indoor soccer as a total entertainment package with elaborate theatrics including dramatic team entrances through dry ice, booming music, mascots and promotional giveaways.
Although soccer purists derided the intrusion of music and live announcers during game play, the spectacle caught on with fans and the Steamers averaged 13,000 fans per game despite 12-20 for the season. Next season the fans were rewarded, as St. Louis won their division and made it to the championship game, losing 6-5 to New York. These two teams met the following year, only this time they went the distance in a best of five series that featured to overtime decisions. Alas, this was the peak for the Steamers. Although they remained popular with the fans, the team never did finish much above .500, and in 1988 the team folded, mired as were several other teams, in substantial red link. Despite their premature end, the Steamers put on a show which has never been equaled by indoor teams to this day. On the amateur front, St. Louis again won the US Open Cup in 1986.
St. Louis returned to the MISL in 1989 with the Storm. This team had one good year and two bad ones and the folded with the league in 1992. But the city was not bereft for long. In the National Professional Soccer League, the Tulsa franchise moved to St. Louis, and the Ambush went on to provide exciting soccer for the local crowd until 2000. Although the NPSL was never as big as the MISL, it was the top indoor league at the time, and St. Louis was in several championship series during their eight year run, winning it all in 1994-95.
The Ambush folded in 2000, due to leasing problems at the Kiel Arena, but the World Indoor Soccer League stepped in, awarding a franchise which revived the Steamer moniker. The Steamer finished third in their first season. Days before the end of the playoffs, it was announced that the WISL would merge with the MISL II (formerly the NPSL), and once again St. Louis had a team named the Steamers in the MISL, and fans again had hope that the glory days might be revived.
On the outdoor front, St. Louis soccer has kept a fairly low profile since the NASL days. St. Louis Busch won the National Amateur Cup in 1980 and 1981, and placed second in 1986, and St. Louis Kutis made two return trips to the US Open Cup in 1983 and 1985, losing to New York Pancyprian Freedoms and San Francisco Greek-Americans respectively. Most recently, St. Louis Scott-Gallagher made two Amateur Cup finals, winning in 1991 and losing in 1994. The most recent attempt at an outdoor team was the St. Louis Knights who played in 1994 and 1995. Since then, St. Louis fans not already involved in the municipal leagues or college squads have turned their eyes to Kansas City as the Wizards have struggled for fan attention despite winning MLS Cup 2000. Clearly, a region with so much soccer history should be represented at the highest level. But a lack of suitable stadia with grass fields and a spotty record at the top professional level has worked against attempts to first division soccer back to St. Louis.
The following are some of the more notable players (and a few administrators) in St. Louis soccer history. All but the two NASL players are currently enshrined in the U. S. Soccer Hall of Fame.
Robert Annis played fullback for the St. Louis Simpkins-Ford in the late 1940s, including their appearances in the 1948 and 1950 US Open Cup finals.
Frank Borghi, goalkeeper with St. Louis Simpkins during their 1948 and 1950 US Open Cup titles. Also played for the National Team in the 1948 Olympics and 1950 World Cup. Shut out England in the famous World Cup upset.
Joseph Carenza Sr., a center-half, played for numerous teams in the St. Louis Major League in the 1940s and 1950s, including Steamfitters, Patterson-Ford, and Zenthoefers, before winning acclaim with Kutis in the late 1950s, and coaching college teams.
Fernando Clavijo , popular player for the St. Louis Storm indoor team, Clavijo played for the National Team throughout the early 1990’s and in the 1994 world cup before landing a role as head coach of Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution.
Charlie Colombo, a center-halfback, had a long career with Simpkins-Ford, helping them win the 1948 and 1950 titles, before coaching at St. Ambrose.
Jimmy Dunn, Forward with Ben Millers throughout their glory years from 1916-1927, and remained active in St. Louis area soccer through the 1970s.
Billy Gonsalves, Inside Right. One of the all-time top forwards in US history, Billy had several successful years with Boston Wonder Workers, Fall River Marksmen and New Bedford Whalers in the first American Soccer League. When the Whalers folded in 1932, he was signed with several other players by Stix, Baer & Fuller, leading the team to six consecutive Open Cup finals. In 1939, he was off to Chicago, playing for the Manhattan Breweries, before finishing his career with Brooklyn Hispano in the 2nd American Soccer League.
Bob Guelker - Hall of Fame coach who founded highly successful soccer programs at St. Louis University and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Bob won NCAA titles at SLY in 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1965, and coached at SIU-Edwardsville from 1966-1983. In 27 years, he had a career record of 311-76-26 with 22 tournament bids. Also coached the Pan-American team in 1971 and the 1972 Olympic team, and was the first USA Youth coach in CONCACAF, for the U-19 team. Also secretary of the CYC Youth council, where he was actively involved in soccer programs from 1946 to 1969.
Bob Hermann, longtime administrator, he was owner of the St. Louis Stars of the NASL from 1967-1981, and inaugurated the NCAA’s first MVP award.
Bob Kehoe - a longtime star for St. Louis Kutis, he later captained the US National Team in 1965 qualifying, and was the first NASL American-Born coach, running the Stars from 1969-1970. Bob Kehoe pioneered the use of American players in the NASL. While other teams recruited foreign players almost exclusively, Bob had rosters of over 75% American heritage, even fielding all-American lineups at times. He was willing to put up with poor won-loss records because he believed in providing American players a place to perfect their game. Later coached several local high schools and was color commentator for St. Louis Steamer (MISL) indoor games during the 1980s.
Harry Keough, His first team, the St. Louis Schumachers, won the U. S. Junior Cup in 1946. Had a long career with St. Louis Kutis, winning numerous National Amateur and US Open Cup titles from 1956 - 1962. Was selected to the world cup qualifying squad in 1949, playing all three games at the 1950 World Cup. After retiring, he won five NCAA titles during his 15 year tenure as head coach at St. Louis University (1967-1982). At SLY, he had a 213-50-23 record.
Ty Keough -- Son of Harry Keough. Played four seasons with the San Diego Sockers of the North American Soccer League, and eight seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League, primarily with the St. Louis Steamers. He also played 8 full internationals for the US National Team from 1979-1980, including three World Cup Qualifiers. Is currently a well known US soccer broadcaster.
Bill Looby, forward who played for Kutis during their run at the Nationals in the 1950s. Also played in the 1959 Pan-American games for the US, the 1956 Olympics and 1960 Olympic qualifying.
John Marre, longtime manager and organizer of regional amateur teams, who played a major role in keeping the sport alive during the depression years.
Pat McBride, A two-time all-American midfielder at St. Louis University in 1965 and 1967, McBride played for the St. Louis Stars in the NASL for the team’s entire ten year existence. McBride played in the 1964 Olympics and made his full international Debut in 1969, eventually earning 6 caps for the National Team.
Dent McSkimming, longtime sports writer for various St. Louis newspapers, including the Star and the Post-Dispatch. His writing career extended from 1913-1961.
James Moore, played for many amateur teams through the 1930s, including St. Thomases, Marske Produce, Gebken Undertakers, South Side Smoke Shop, Anderson’s and Eugene A. C. After retiring in 1939, became a referee for 17 years and ultimately president of the Referee’s Association. Formed the new St. Louis Major Soccer League in 1948, and was later chairman of the Missouri Soccer Commission.
Gino Pariani, Forward who played for the USA in the 1948 Olympics and 1950 World Cup. During his career with Simpkins-Ford, he helped them win the 1948 and 1950 US Open Cup.
Jimmy Roe, Played inside left for Stix, Baer & Fuller during their successful Open Cup campaigns of the 1930s. Played for the USA National team in 1937 at the Castilla Najera Cup in Mexico, where an injury ended his playing career.
Raphael Tracey, Center Halfback who played for Ben Millers throughout the 1920s, including their 1926 Open cup final, and on the 1930 USA World Cup squad.
Al Trost, One of the best midfielders ever produced in the United States, Trost was a two-time winner of the Hermann award while with St. Louis University (1969, 1970). After playing for the National Team in the 1972 Olympics, he starred for five seasons with the St. Louis Stars in the NASL, before moving with the franchise to Anaheim, California. Was captain of the National Team in 1976.
Frank Vaughn, Full Back and longtime teammate of Raphael Tracey on the Ben Millers team. He was also named to the 1930 World Cup squad although he did not play.
Frank “Pee-wee” Wallace, Forward who played on several St. Louis area teams, including Wildcats, Rafferty’s and Simpkins-Ford where he helped them win the 1948 and 1950 Open Cups.
Prudencio “Pete” Garcia, Played for Garcia F. C. of East St. Louis before becoming a long time referee for St. Louis leagues as well as in 1950 World Cup qualifying matches.
Walter Giesler, a longtime force in St. Louis soccer, he played for Ben Millers before moving to coaching and refereeing. Coached the 1948 US Olympic Team and managed the 1950 World Cup squad. Later he become an administrator, serving as chair of the Missouri Soccer Commission, president of the US Soccer Federation and chair of the 1952 USSF Olympic Committee.
The USA Soccer History Archives are maintained by Dave Littererspectrum@sover.net
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