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MLS commissioner Garber with ownership representative Carolyn Kindle Betz

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber stands with Carolyn Kindle Betz at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown St. Louis. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in more than a decade, professional outdoor soccer is returning to St. Louis.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced Tuesday that St. Louis has been chosen as an expansion franchise and will begin play in 2022.

The formal announcement, which included leadership from the #MLS4TheLou ownership group and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, came at the Palladium in St. Louis.

"It is with tremendous pride that we welcome St. Louis into Major league Soccer," Garber said as he opened the press conference for the official announcement. "St. Louis is a city so rich soccer tradition and on that we (MLS) have coveted since the league's inception.

"St. Louis not only deserves an MLS franchise. It has earned one.' We are excited about our soccer future in this great city... The soccer community in St. Louis and the surrounding area has proven how much it enjoys and will support this great sport."

The prospects of a Major League Soccer franchise ever calling St. Louis home appeared to have died two years ago when voters turned down the use of a business tax to finance a new downtown stadium.

Then a new potential ownership group came along.

New ownership

Led by members of the founding family of car rental giant Enterprise, the city began to work anew last fall on its pitch for a professional soccer team. On Tuesday, the league officially announced that St. Louis would become its 28th club when it begins play for the 2022 season.

"Our ownership group has come a long way since we first announced our bid last October at Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club, and it's an incredible feeling to now be able to say, 'St. Louis is home to the first official majority female-led ownership group in MLS,'" said Carolyn Kindle Betz, granddaughter of Enterprise founder Jack Taylor and the president of Enterprise Holdings Foundation.

"Our MLS team and stadium will only add to St. Louis' renaissance currently under way," Kindle Betz said, "and will provide us with a great opportunity to bring together many different segments of the community, uniting people in their love for the game."

Six other female members of the Taylor are part of the ownership group, along with businessmen Andy Taylor and Jim Kavanaugh, a soccer insider who was part of the first failed ownership team.

St. Louis will become the MLS's 28th franchise. The league currently has 24 teams with Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC set to begin play in 2020 and Austin FC to join the league in 2021.

The new soccer stadium, which is planned for Market Street just west of Union Station, will be the centerpiece of a major development project in the city's Downtown West district. It will include mixed-used retail, restaurants and gathering spaces open year-round to the public, and is expected to continue a downtown revitalization effort that includes Busch Stadium -- home of the St. Louis Cardinals -- and the Enterprise Center, the home of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

As proof the city is all-in on the project, the St. Louis Board of Alderman easily approved a resolution last November to provide tax exemptions and other incentives to help with the construction.

"St. Louis is a city with a rich soccer tradition,"Garber said, "and it is a market we have considered since the league's inception. Our league becomes stronger with the addition of the city's deeply dedicated soccer fans and the committed and innovative local ownership group."

Soccer hotbed

St. Louis has long been a hotbed for youth soccer. In 1950, five immigrants from "The Hill" neighborhood helped the U.S. upset England in the World Cup. Saint Louis University has won 10 national titles in men's soccer, and the Hermann Trophy given to the top college player in the country is awarded annually at the Missouri Athletic Club.

The U.S. women's national team drew more than 35,000 fans to exhibition games at Busch Stadium in preparation for the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, and 43,000 fans packed the stadium to watch the U.S. men beat St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a World Cup qualifier in 2015.

The men's national team has a friendly against Uruguay scheduled for Sept. 10 at Busch Stadium.

"St. Louis has always been and will continue to be one of the great historic soccer cities throughout the United States," Garber said at a news conference attended by Blues legends Bernie Federko and Chris Pronger and Cardinals star Ozzie Smith. "After two decades of discussions about St. Louis being a part of our league, today the moment has arrived."

A growing league

The new St. Louis franchise continues explosive growth for MLS that has seen 15 new clubs join the league since 2005. That includes a handful that have recently been awarded: FC Cincinnati is playing its inaugural season this year, David Beckham's Inter Miami FC and Nashville SC will begin play next season, Austin FC begins play in 2021 and the St. Louis club will follow the next year.

Its location also means a more natural rival for cross-state Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire -- just think of the rivalry that already exists between the Cubs and Cardinals.

"For the last two decades as a player and as a commentator for ESPN, I've seen this league grow in the United States and Canada," said Taylor Twellman, who grew up in St. Louis and played in MLS before becoming an ESPN broadcaster. "Few of us thought it would reach this point. But the community, the fans, that recipe is why we're in St. Louis today."

St. Louis Soccer Heritage

-- The St. Louis Soccer League, which operated from 1907-1939, the only professional soccer league in the nation at the time it began;

-- St. Louis Stars (1976-77) of the North American Soccer League;

-- St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League (1979-88);

-- St. Louis Storm of the MISL (1989-92);

-- St. Louis Ambush of the National Professional Soccer League (1992-2000);

-- St. Louis Steamers, who played in the World Indoor Soccer League (1998-2006);

-- St. Louis Athletica, which competes in the Women's Professional Soccer (2009-2010);

-- AC St. Louis (2010); and

-- The St. Louis Ambush, which is an indoor soccer team based in St. Charles, Missouri (2013-present).

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