Baker's City Bites: 11-17-21- The Stadium Tour
Photo by STL Post-Dispatch, Colter Peterson
This past week was jam-packed with different types of experiences for St. Louis CITY and fans. Last Thursday, 11/11 saw three different groups take tours of the stadium to witness and experience the immense progress the club has made in creating what will be the capital of their Downtown West soccer district. Friday was an incredible watch party joint hosted by St. Louis CITY with the American Outlaws STL and Amsterdam Tavern. Fans in attendance witnessed an incredible Dos a Cero performance that saw the USMNT climb to the top of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying table and they also received a badge for their CITY SC app profile. Saturday, fans were finally treated to the long-awaited MLS Next STL Derby between St. Louis Scott Gallagher and St. Louis CITY SC, at Soccer Park in Fenton, MO.
Photo by STL Post-Dispatch, Colter Peterson
Last Thursday turned out to be a full day of stadium tours provided by CITY with CXO Matt Sebek as the guide. It started in the morning with a tour for 10 players in the St. Louis CITY SC Academy system, continued into the afternoon with a tour for members of the St. Louis media, and finished with the Fan Experience Council touring the site past sunset. Over next few days, we saw article after article and picture after picture released by various members of the media from Fox 2, KMOV, KSDK, and KMOX in broadcast to the St. Louis Post Dispatch and St. Louis Business Journal in print. I made note that it was exciting to see A1 front-page stories printed about the progress that CITY SC was making, and I really do hope to see that continue, especially in the front page of the sports section routinely when we hire a head coach, make player signings, and after kickoff. The most exciting part of the day to me, was obviously the FX Council tour that I was lucky and humbled to be a part of.
The tour started at 22nd and Clark. It took us on a path through the construction on the training facility side, walking on top of where the grass practice fields will be. There will be one turf field laid out horizontally near highway 40, and two vertical fields end to end on the east side of the training facility itself. The training facility is coming along nicely. The framework looked to either be done or nearly completed, though with Lutz not there, we unfortunately did not have such insights as to where the washer and dryer will be, among other things. As we walked around and past the training facility, the full view of the stadium came into focus and as anyone who has been to the site can attest, it is entirely different seeing it in person than in pictures. However, rather than going straight into the stadium over Market, the team has constructed a huge tunnel that goes under Market St. There is a road that will connect Clark St to the stadium itself by running to the West of the training facility, and then proceeding under Market, emptying inside the stadium, and nearly butting up against the field itself. This will be the loading dock and how everything is delivered to the stadium. It is the unique and exciting way that the club ensures all four side of the stadium are open and accessible.
The tunnel itself is daunting. The concrete slabs are both beautifully lightly colored as well as extremely large. It looked like the goal was to minimize any "noise" and provide a very discrete way for trucks to enter/exit the stadium. The way it felt, game day and any other day from Market St and north to the stadium will never notice anything coming into or going out of the stadium which should create such a unique aspect to the overall gameday compared to other stadiums. As you exit the tunnel itself, you find yourself in a large open area inside/underneath the stadium, but on the field level. The bottom concourse area, which will house a lot of facilities as well as locker rooms, is where we continued our journey through the southwest entrance and onto the field (or what will become the field) itself.
The concrete in the entire area is poured and complete - so this was an incredible experience to walk out onto the field and into the stadium proper, with so much of the structure being completed already. It was, in a word, breathtaking. I've heard thoughts that when you're on the field, it gives off a cozy, if not massive, feeling, where it isn't extremely large in scale. I personally found it to be quite impressive with its' size. Whether or not you feel that way, as you enter and are experiencing the interior with the flat field, walls, and seat foundations up - you are entering into a true soccer cathedral and you can feel every ounce of it. Entering from the outside when the stadium is completed will be a wholly different experience, as you'll be walking from street level into the stadium and looking significantly downward at the field, as opposed to entering from the tunnel and below street level. While on the field, taking in a full 360-degree view is an experience that I will never forget and cannot wait to see as a finished product next year. The West side will house club/premium seats as well as media, the East side has mostly general reserved areas, the South side has the huge South Bar and multipurpose area where glass was in the process of being installed around it, and as we all know, the North end is the supporters section with a level of general reserved above it.
Photo by Matt Sebek
After taking in the entire scene and walking around the field to truly experience the size and scale of it all, we were led through what will be the players' entrance tunnel on the West side. It was very noteworthy that multiple seating spaces look to be carved out on either side of the tunnel on the West, and after asking, I was told that team benches will be immediately to the left and right of the tunnel and further out on each side (where the Academy is pictured and looking like dugouts now) are the field level premium seats. It is a little mind blowing, but there will be people sitting right next to both the touchline and the team's benches. After realizing that moment of clarity, we walked through the tunnel and followed the same path through hallways that only have steel beams set at this point but are also the same path the club will be following to and from their locker room. In fact, we were afforded the opportunity to step into the first team home locker room, although it is quite literally a shell of what it will be this time next year. Remembering the training facility renderings, which I expect the locker room to mimic, you could easily envision what it would look like in the large space the first team would have.
After a peek at CITY's locker room, we ascended some of the stadium stairs on the West side and made our way through the main concourse to the Supporter's section. The views from the West side as you go are quite incredible. You can see the skyline of downtown sneak over the top of the stadium roof, even from the main concourse. Making our way to the North end, we saw a litany of work being staged on the main concourse outside the supporter's section that will soon transform into the dedicated supporter's bar along with men's and women's restrooms on either side. If there's one thing that is apparent about what the club has thought of in the constructions design and floorplan, it is the flow of fans on game day. Standing in front of the soon-to-be bar, as I looked back to the northeast corner of the stadium, I couldn't help but notice a giant stairwell that descends from street level onto the main concourse behind the supporter's section. Designed to accommodate a more-or-less dedicated supporter's entrance, this is a likely entry point for supporters as we finish the march to the match. I can attest that if that is the case, we'll be exactly where we want to be - bathrooms immediately to our left and walking straight to numerous North end entrances with a bar readily available and numerous entrances to the section itself all along the North end.
Stepping out into the supporter's section itself was a trip. With no railings or cup holders, it was about as far from safe standing as you can get, but the giant concrete slabs are completely in place, giving us all an idea of just how steep we can expect it to be. I took the time to climb the section to the very top and I can attest that it is no hyperbole when the club talks about just how steep the section is. While we as fans initially saw the 2nd level in that end as a curious choice vs a full wall like Minnesota or Orlando - the slope and size of the standing section is quite a sight to behold and to experience. It will be a wall, no doubts about that, even with a general reserved section above us. I saw plenty of space for banners and signs both on field level and at the top. When you think of stadiums that have ample banners and signs to really make it a home for supporters like Portland or Cincinnati, we will absolutely have the space and ability to customize this section as supporters, however we see fit.
From here, we doubled back to the West side and made our way further upstairs to what I believe the club is calling the "CITY View" level. While I saw a glimpse of downtown's skyline from the main concourse, it was on full display at this higher level. We walked right past where the media space is too, walking past club and premium seats on through to the top level of the southwest corner where the "Instagram moment" was, as well as the app badge scanner. This looked like the premium spot for picture taking, as you get a perfect glimpse of the stadium and through the opening on the south side you get all of Market and the Arch in one image. Of all the things I had seen so far, this image really made the stadium feel like a part of the city. A part of everything else around it. That top level visual of both inside and out, leading down to downtown proper. This spot really made the stadium feel like the anchor of the Gateway Mall on its' West side. Once everyone had a chance to take it all in and catch their breath, we walked down to the interior South bar area to finish the tour and take in one last look at the stadium from the South side before leaving and having a sort of debrief across the street at Union Station.
There was such a palpable level of excitement from everyone who had this opportunity, myself included. After reading through the various articles and seeing stats and numbers, I could tell that I had the same sense of excitement from those in the prior tour. In addition, we saw a new estimated completion date of July 22, 2022 published. While this is presumably the date the entire construction will be completed and turned over, we can expect that given the level of progress so far, most work will be done in the spring, with grass being laid over the late spring/summer. Our hope for a soft-launch or a non-CITY event taking place next Fall shouldn't be too far out of reach, should the club choose to open their stadium similarly to how Austin opened theirs this year. After all, there will be Women's World Cup Qualification matches taking place next fall and we all know how well St. Louis supports Becky Sauerbrunn and the USWNT.
Photo by Amsterdam Tavern/STL CITY SC
While stadium tours and info were a highlight of the week, CITY's busy weekend continued the following night with a watch party at Amsterdam Tavern for the USMNT's own World Cup Qualifier match against Mexico. By all accounts, this was a tremendous success, with Urban Chestnut's van and tent on site, the next-door scooter lot used for overflow, and hundreds of the city's most excited soccer fans gathering with staff of CITY to cheer on our national team as they ended up defeating Mexico 2-0.
Photo by St. Louligans
Watch parties are fun, but most will argue, myself included, that nothing can beat live soccer and CITY brought that in spades on Saturday night. The first STL Derby between St. Louis CITY SC and St. Louis Scott Gallagher took place Saturday night between their U-16 and U-17 teams at Soccer Park in Fenton. The groups split, with SLSG winning a 5-4 thriller in the U-16 match and CITY's U-17s running away with their match, 6-1. The full matchday report from CITY can be found here, but it only partially tells the story of that day. As is customary at Soccer Park and has been customary for CITY Academy matches, the St. Louligans hosted the tailgate starting two hours prior to the U-16 kickoff. Louligan tailgates have historically had games each season where special events take place for fans and supporters in the lead up to a match, such as a full-kit wanker night where you dress up as a, well, wanker in a full kit. This weekend was a two-fer. Tall Boy Roulette made a return, where fans are encouraged to bring a tall boy can of beer - any off the wall beer you can find - and it goes into a mystery cart, where you can then pull a can with the only requirement that you drink what you pull. It was also the 2nd annual Uncle Claude's Yard Sale (named after the venerable Louligan, Claude Karraker), where fans and supporters brought unwanted scarves and jerseys that others could purchase with all proceeds going to the STL Foodbank as this week's Charity Du Jour beneficiary.
While I had an out-of-town family commitment, I wanted to get a sense for what the vibe was at a tailgate that had some pretty special events and a match where the atmosphere and exciting environment go without saying. Thankfully, fellow CITY SC Report contributor and fellow Louligan Michael Haffner had me covered and I'll let his words speak for themselves:
The Louligan tailgate was a cold afternoon but the camaraderie with the crowd and the boozy game of Tallboy Roulette kept the spirits up. Mitch was on the microphone calling out what everyone pulled from the mystery buckets. Caleb might have gotten the worst by pulling the Four Loko green apple can, which coincidentally he brought himself. Additionally, four tables were filled with jerseys and scarves that people brought for the garage sale. Some people left after the tailgate while others marched in and took the usual corner. There was a group of three people that stood behind me that were there for the first time. They were excited (and a little inebriated) to hear what "it's like with this group." While I explained typically there are drums and chants during the adult professional matches, we typically don't do that for the 16s and 17s just because they are just kids and we don't want to put additional pressure on them. But there was a corner kick in the first half by us and the corner erupted in the standard "SHOTS!" chant. As you can expect, there were jokes and comments made throughout about who to cheer for and we all ultimately decided on rooting for everyone except the refs.
The "who do we cheer for" was probably an interesting thought not only for fans, but also friends and families of the CITY players. 16 of the U-17 players and 18 of the U-16 players were in the SLSG system prior to this year either wearing the SLSG or STLFC crest. This was at the crux of the anticipation for this match, as an STL Derby is exciting, but this kind of unique overlap provided for quite the storyline that fans fed into. As the CITY Academy is in its' first year, we will likely see CITY employ a similar roster build for the U-14 and U-15 levels when those clubs are stood up next year. This will not last long though, as we as fans, families, and all organizations involved are in such a transformative period for youth soccer in the area. CITY will be completing their full Academy and cooperative structure with youth programs including Gallagher and Lou Fusz in the area over the next few years so I know I will be enjoying this weird period while we can because it won't last long until fans, parents, and players alike settle into the new norm for soccer in St. Louis.
By Matt Baker