Tuesday’s announcement of St. Louis being awarded an MLS expansion team was cause for celebration in a market with a rich history and large role in the landscape of American soccer history.
Some 250 miles to the west, Sporting Kansas City also celebrated the inclusion of St. Louis, albeit for a different reason: rivalry.
“I’m excited for them to be in the league,” said Sporting KC captain Matt Besler. “I think for us, it’s going to be a great rivalry. Kansas City and St. Louis have always been close rivals.”
Besler, the Kansas City hometown hero, understands more than most on his squad, recalling the rivalry between the two cities when he was in youth soccer.
“For me it always felt like Kansas City gets looked down upon from people from St. Louis in terms of soccer,” Besler said. “I don’t know if that’s right or not. But I know St. Louis has a rich soccer tradition and so yeah, I think it’s going to be great for the league, great for the Midwest, and I think it’s going to be great for Kansas City, too.”
The addition of St. Louis to MLS makes it now the second Kansas City-St. Louis matchup in pro sports. While the long-standing I-70 series between the Royals and Cardinals has continued for years, the departure of the NFL Rams from St. Louis, and the Mizzou Tigers' move to the SEC has put a dent in the longtime rivalry between the two cities.
Now that St. Louis enters MLS, it gives this rivalry a chance to jump to the forefront in the two cities.
One other aspect that Sporting KC are happy about is expansion within the Midwest with Sporting Manager Peter Vermes calling it “long overdue.”
“I think we need more teams in the middle of the country. Our league has been expanding more on the east and the west coast moreso than anywhere else,” Vermes said. “The fact that now we’re getting more teams in the middle of the country, it’s great for travel and movement and all that, but it’s also great for rivalries.”
Proximity tends to breed sporting rivalries, and when cultural differences are added to an already-rooted dislike between the two cities, its the perfect recipe for a true rivalry.
“It’s good for sports,” Vermes said. “I think it’s going to be a great rivalry for us and our league.”