Five Takeaways from the CITY2 Schedule Announcement
Last week, the full regular season schedule for St. Louis CITY 2 was released. With it came questions to answers that we have been clamoring for since it was first announced last summer that a new division 3 professional league was being created by MLS and we found out that St. Louis would have a team in their inaugural season. CITY2 will be the first professional team to call St. Louis home since Saint Louis FC folded at the end of the 2020 season, and will not only lead directly into the 2023 debut of the MLS side but it will also feature players who will be on our first team. There is a lot to be excited about. With preseason in full swing, below are five of the most interesting things that we learned from the schedule drop.
1. Where CITY2 will play their home matches
MLS Next Pro's inaugural season will see CITY2 play 24 matches, 12 of those being at home. 11 games currently have home venues known. CITY2 will play 5 matches at SLU's Hermann Stadium in the City of St. Louis and 6 matches at SIUE's Ralph Korte Stadium in Edwardsville, Illinois. Ralph Korte Stadium holds 4,000 and Hermann Stadium has a capacity of 6,050. During their Fall 2021 run in the NCAA College Cup tournament, Saint Louis University set a new attendance at Hermann with 6,815. Whether CITY2 can approach these numbers for either their first or any game this year remains to be seen. We have heard that supporters will have a section at Hermann, but whether that is the location typically housing the SLU supporters or a different section near the ends also remains to be seen. We can expect more information as we get closer to the season.
2. First game of the year importance
Speaking of that first game, locally it is a historic moment in the development of St. Louis CITY SC itself and provides another flashpoint in the build to 2023. Nationally though, this match is taking on a much higher level of importance. As I said above, this is the inaugural season for MLS Next Pro. It will be the first time MLS has attempted a "2" or reserve league, since 2014 when it was branded simply as "MLS Reserve League". Revamped as MLS Next Pro, besides being an actual bridge from MLS Next Academies to the first team, this is a true to form professional league, unlike the previous Reserve League. The inaugural game to any new professional league takes on added significance and for MLS Next Pro that honor goes to St. Louis CITY 2 and Rochester New York FC on March 25. As MLS Next Pro President Charles Altchek has said, "When we were deciding on where to host the inaugural match, we wanted to pick a location with a strong soccer fan base and a storied soccer history, and St. Louis checked all those boxes." MLS 2 teams in the USL have historically drawn very low attendance numbers. With a venue capable of holding more than 6,000 and the unique excitement that exists in St. Louis for this club, this is a no-brainer opportunity for MLS Next Pro to put their absolute best foot forward in this league.
3. When we will play our matches this year
While the excitement has been building, it can only be sustained when games are visible and accessible to as many people as possible. Prior to the schedule release, it was unknown how much importance MLS would put on making these games accessible. We did not know if they would be streamed online, if they would be midweek and afternoon matches, morning weekend matches, or some amalgamation of it all. What we have are:
- Saturday and Sunday matches - 21 total matches with all evening start times except April 2 at Colorado Rapids 2 (2pm CT) and Aug 14 at Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (4pm CT)
- Friday night matches - March 25, April 29, June 17, all evening matches
4. Who we will play
St. Louis CITY 2 will play in the Western Conference in MLS Next Pro. Geographically, we are the furthest east side and in the same conference as Sporting Kansas City II, who will continue to play in their home state of Kansas, heading further west to Lawrence, KS. 21 of our 24 games come against Western Conference opponents with the March 25 first game against Rochester and 2 matches against Chicago Fire II on June 11 (away) and Aug 6 (home). Notably, we play SKCII three times, 2 away and our final game of the regular season at home (more on that later). One added bit of excitement that will be fun to follow are the players who we will match up against this year. The '2' teams in this league can be made up of professional and amateur players including previous SuperDraft picks. Among the slew of players from St. Louis floating around the US Soccer landscape that could find their way in an opposing team's lineup, there are a few players from SLU who were drafted in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft currently play for Western Conference teams in MLS Next Pro. Be looking out for matches against North Texas SC (FC Dallas) for Isaiah Parker and Chase Niece and Vancouver Whitecaps 2 for Simon Becher for this class of SLU alums. Unfortunately, Kipp Keller, who started for Austin FC during week 1 of MLS (Austin also doesn't have a team in MLS Next Pro yet), Patrick Schulte, who could be on the Crew 2 roster for Columbus, and Chandler Vaughn who could see time for LA Galaxy 2 in USL-Championship, would seem to be entirely off the board to play CITY2 this year. Besides SLU, St. Louis Scott Gallagher have professional players throughout the country, so homecoming matches for those SLSG grads will be fun to watch for.
5. The first match at Centene Stadium?
11 of the 12 home games have home venues listed. The final match of the season will be against Sporting Kansas City II on Sunday, September 18 at 6pm and is currently listed by CITY2 as TBD for location. However, our eagle eyed crew here at City SC Report spotted the above on the official MLS Next Pro site, seeming to confirm, or at least indicate that CITY plans on having a soft launch of sorts for their new stadium in September (after posting this image, the site was quietly changed to TBC). Centene Stadium is currently on track to be completed on July 22, 2022, meaning the keys to the castle will be handed over and everybody can start moving in. Seats will be in, grass will be laid, and the move-in logistics can be started. That would give CITY just under 2 months to prepare their home for the final MLS Next Pro game against the odds on favorite to be our rivals just across the MO/KS state line - Sporting Kansas City. Could this be a season ticket holder only event? An opportunity to pack as many ticket buying fans in as possible to preview the stadium 6 months before the 2023 MLS season will start? I have long said a USWNT World Cup Qualifier this Fall would make so much sense to help launch the stadium, and Austin similarly launched Q2 Stadium with a USWNT match last year. But with their own club playing their rival shortly after the stadium is complete, the opportunity seems too good to pass up.
By Matt Baker