Downtown St. Louis has seen its fair share of mesmerizing sporting events in the past decade – from the Cardinals winning their 11th World Series title to the Blues taking the NHL’s Western Conference Championship en route to their first Stanley Cup appearance since The Beatles broke up (yes, that was 1970).
One of the most meaningful sports events to St. Louis – or at the very least, to the rabid Midwest soccer fans – was the recent women’s international friendly soccer match between the United States and New Zealand on May 16 at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis is a hotbed of passion for the sport and events like these have immense implications for the region, especially as it seeks a Major League Soccer franchise.
“We’ve had a track record with U.S. Soccer including two matches with the women and the men’s World Cup qualifier in 2015,” said Vicki Bryant, the Cardinals vice president of event services and merchandising, who led the game preparations for Busch Stadium. “Both had great fan response and attendance and U.S. Soccer was pleased with their experience. So we kept in contact, had an opportunity to host venue for sendoff series before ladies go off to world cup in France.”
The scene was set: Busch Stadium, an ESPN telecast, the pitcher’s mound removed in favor of a soccer pitch, the seats packed to the brim with nearly 36,000 fans—the third-largest crowd in U.S. women’s soccer history. The pre-game festivities included fireworks and flyovers, and when it was all over, the Americans put a proverbial whooping on New Zealand by a count of 5-0 in preparation for this summer’s World Cup.
“It was a beautiful night — I’m honored to be able to play here in front of that crowd,” Ladue High School graduate and U.S. Soccer star Becky Sauerbrunn, told the Post-Dispatch. “There’s definitely a moment where I had to stop and let everything sink in for a moment. Everything really has come full circle for me. I grew up playing here, I had some of my high school friends here in the stands. It’s just kind of wild, thinking about how far I’ve come on this journey.”
It was a memorable experience for Downtown St. Louis as well as the U.S. Women’s National Team, but the event’s significance transcends that one night. After months of speculation, Major League Soccer owners decided in April to expand the league to 30 and enter into “exclusive, formal discussions” with the top two bidders — St. Louis and Sacramento.
The match was a temperature check for the Gateway City’s readiness to become a soccer city, and the results are in: the time is here.