By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
St. Louis has been a soccer town since before the Cardinals started winning the World Series.
According to St. Louis soccer historian David Litterer, the sport arrived in the early 1880s through amateur leagues in Catholic parishes and ethnic social clubs across the city and became immensely popular with first-generation immigrants from nations like Italy, Spain and Germany. In 1920 — six years before Rogers Hornsby hoisted the Redbirds' first world-championship trophy — a team of eleven St. Louis-born players defeated an all-British squad sponsored by Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, to win the then- prestigious U.S. Open Cup.
The local dominance over Anglo-Saxons was reborn in the 1950 World Cup, when a U.S. team that featured five St. Louisans shocked England 1-0 in Brazil. In a story about the match, the BBC described how the Brits were so heavily favored to win that "many newspapers around the world reported the result as a victory by England of 11-1 or 10-0, believing that a typographical error had occurred in the transmission 'U.S. 1-0 England.'"
Coached by native son Harry Keough, Saint Louis University won four NCAA national championships in five years beginning in 1960. In 1972, amid the heyday of the North American Soccer League (NASL), the St. Louis Stars led the league in attendance. Several professional clubs have called the city home since then and though the current franchise, AC St. Louis, is struggling to remain solvent, it still boasts a loyal following from a small but passionate group of fans who call themselves — no joke — "The Chickenheads."
The point of this brief history lesson: Soccer here has always meant something.
Given the recent media handjob, you're forgiven if you mistakenly believe the sport's local vuvuzela only commenced tooting when the 2010 World Cup began early last month in South Africa.
But that simply isn't the case.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when we watched eighteen matches at fourteen area bars and restaurants that nearly everyone we encountered was a soccer fanatic. It didn't hurt that we cherry-picked places that corresponded with the countries that were contesting each game, but it's not as if we instructed the folks we encountered to paint their faces, drape flags around their shoulders, shout themselves hoarse and drink themselves silly in support of their favorite teams.
But as the world prepares to choose up sides in the 2010 World Cup finals, RFT is ready to hand out some local hardware! (Click here for a list of the five best places to watch the finals.)
The United Nations Cup for Outstanding Diplomacy
And the cup goes to... the Mexican fanáticos at Carniceria Latino Americana
To herald the first match of the tournament, between Mexico's El Tri and South Africa's Bafana Bafana, the restaurant-slash-grocery store decked out its covered patio in Mexico's red-white-and-green regalia. A pair of flat-screen TVs were tuned to the Univision feed of the game.
Though the kickoff was at 9 a.m. Central Daylight Time, most tables were topped with buckets of Modelo Especial and Corona. Breakfast was carne asada tacos — grilled and shredded ground beef heaped atop corn tortillas.
Save for a few gringos who showed up to bask in the feverish atmosphere, the crowd was almost entirely made up of hardcore Mexico fans. Until early in the match, anyway, when a tall African fellow in an embroidered shirt strolled in and took a seat on the front steps.
Latino Americana patron Minerva López — owner of Gooolll, a soccer shop across the street — promptly yelled for "¡un applause for Sudáfrica!"
The crowd responded with a modest cheer.
"¡Y por México!" López continued.
The crowd roared. The African guy shrugged and humbly allowed that his side probably didn't stand much of a chance.
But in the 55th minute, South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala hammered home a beautiful finish into the upper-left-hand corner of the net, putting his country ahead, 1-0.
The lone South Africa fan stood up and put a finger to his lips — the universal gesture for "shhhh." The Mexicans respond by belting out the "Ay-ay-ay-ay" lyrics to the song, "Cielito Lindo."
Draped in a Mexican flag and sporting a green velvet sombrero, López turned the friendly teasing to the Americans with lines like, "You're welcome here as long as none of your cousins work for La Migra — the immigration."
When Mexico's Rafael Marquez scored in the 80th minute to tie the game, the crowd went nuts, chanting, "¡Méx-i-co! Méx-i-co! Méx-i-co!" and "¡Sí, se puede!"
Yet no one taunted the South African guy.
So when the game ended in a 1-1 draw, everybody went home friends.
The Hooligan Cup for Exceptional Rowdiness
And the cup goes to... USA fans at the Old Post Office Plaza
With virtually no shade, and a heat index that bordered on 100 degrees, the Old Post Office Plaza was broiling when the U.S. took on England on Saturday, June 12. Nevertheless, several hundred people donned red, white and blue and gathered outside to watch the match on a massive flat-screen television monitor embedded in the side of a trailer.