Does Rams' departure open the door for MLS expansion team in St. Louis?

Leander Schaerlaeckens
Does Rams' departure open the door for MLS expansion team in St. Louis?

There's a newly NFL-less city in our fair union. And it just so happens that this very metropolis is also one of the cradles of American soccer. So it didn't take very long for the question to be asked whether St. Louis ought to be considered as an expansion city for Major League Soccer, now that the Rams have cruelly skipped town.

Soccer, it was suggested, could be the salve to mend all of those broken football hearts.

This is, of course, assuming that there is much overlap between the respective fan bases of football and soccer teams within the same city. Or indeed that those who spent a sizable chunk of their disposable income buying tickets to their local pro football team would be happy to do the same for pro soccer, if perhaps only for the surrogate tailgating.

But the bigger issue here likely isn't finding a following for a new team. St. Louis can surely support an MLS team. Soccer in America has grown to the point where just about any major city will draw enough people to regularly fill a 20,000-seat stadium.

What matters here is finding the right ownership group.

St. Louis has been on the shortlist for MLS expansion for the better part of a decade. But in 2008 and 2009, it was passed over as Toronto, San Jose, Seattle, Philadelphia, Vancouver and Portland broke down the doors and stampeded into the league. The league had concerns about the St. Louis ownership group and was perhaps proven right when that same bunch launched a second-tier men's team and a Women's Professional Soccer team but folded both after just one season. A new group doesn't seem to have formed just yet.

Jozy Altidore and the U.S. played a World Cup qualifier before 43,000 at Busch Stadium in November. (AP Photo)
Jozy Altidore and the U.S. played a World Cup qualifier before 43,000 at Busch Stadium in November. (AP Photo)

Seattle is often held up as an example of how a soccer team can step into the void of some other team deserting the city. The SuperSonics left and lo the Sounders became perhaps even more popular. The Emerald City, like St. Louis, was plainly a potentially strong market. (A U.S. men's national team World Cup qualifier in St. Louis in November packed 43,000 into Busch Stadium. A Chelsea-Manchester City friendly once pulled in 48,000.) But it had a strong ownership group with a good strategy and a sound stadium plan in place.

In all likelihood, the Sounders would have thrived even if the Sonics hadn't left because Seattle was ready for MLS. It had checked all the boxes the league has learned the hard way that need to be filled. There's a reason every MLS expansion has been successful over the last decade – there's a strict formula that must be adhered to: eager city + moneyed and committed owners + realistic plan for a downtown (ideally) soccer-specific stadium = success.

Jumping into St. Louis as a kneejerk reaction, to plunge into the sporting vacuum because the city might be keen to bury its pain with a rebound lover, could backfire on both MLS and St. Louis.

And the last thing either one would want to see is another team leaving town.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.