This week marks the beginning of a new era of sports in St. Louis. Professional soccer is here.
On Wednesday, CITYPARK stadium, home to St. Louis’ future Major League Soccer team, will host its first soccer match — an international friendly between CITY SC 2 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, a German team. It will be a sneak peek at what professional soccer will look like at CITYPARK when it arrives in 2023.
Wednesday’s match is the culmination of years of waiting for St. Louis soccer fans. After the city was granted an MLS team in 2019, developers broke ground on the stadium in February 2020. CITYPARK, located in the Downtown West neighborhood, planned to host its first game in September 2022, but the opening was delayed after flooding and electrical issues.
The delays, though, are in the past. Now, it’s time for soccer.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of Wednesday’s game:
St. Louis CITY SC 2 is the reserve team to CITY SC, the city’s future MLS team. They compete in the MLS NEXT Pro league. In its first year, CITY 2 finished with a 15-6-3 record and reached the league championship, where it fell to the Columbus Crew 2.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen competes in the Bundesliga, the top division in Germany. They are currently ranked as the 12th-best team out of 18 with a 5-3-7 record — a significant tumble after finishing in third place last season. Named after the German pharmaceutical company, Bayer Leverkusen was founded in 1904 (hence the name), and it was the 2002 runner-up in the UEFA Champions League, previously known as the European Cup. The team also holds the probably frustrating distinction of finishing second-best in the Bundesliga five times without ever winning that top spot.
People to watch
Forward Josh Dolling, a former star at Missouri State, led CITY2 with eight goals, and defender Kyle Hiebert was one of three defenders honored for the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI, the league’s award list. Also, keep your eye on goalkeeper Roman Bürki, who has already inked a deal with CITY SC for 2023, competes for the Switzerland national team and previously played for the legendary German team, Borussia Dortmund.
Leverkusen is led by French winger Moussa Diaby, who leads the team in goals, and striker Czech forward Patrik Schick, who won the Silver Boot in the 2020 European Championship. The team’s head coach is Xabi Alonso, a former professional soccer player who played for Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and the Spanish National Team.
What time does the game start?
Gates open at 5:30 p.m. The game starts at 7 p.m.
Where can I tailgate?
Schlafly Taproom (2100 Locust Street, 314-241-2337) will hold a tailgate near the stadium. Hosted by the St. Louligans fan club, the pre-gaming starts at 4 p.m., followed by a march to the stadium at 6 p.m.
What will the stadium look like?
The stadium is advertised as a state-of-the-art soccer facility, designed to be loud and modern and very St. Louis. It accommodates 22,500 fans — the seventh largest in American soccer. Every person in the stadium is seated 120 feet from the pitch — the closest of any MLS team.
The Supporter Section will be the rowdiest part of it all. There are no seats. Fans have to stand. It's the steepest section in the MLS. There's a metal canopy above. There is a place to bang drums. All in the name of creating pure chaos and loudness.
The stadium also features 100 percent local food (more below), music from St. Louis native Mvstermind and a sculpture titled "Pillars of the Valley" by Damon Davis dedicated to Mill Creek Valley.
What kind of food will the stadium offer?
The stadium will feature food and beverage from St. Louis staples such as Steve’s Hot Dogs, Crown Candy, Dewey’s Pizza and Kaldi’s Coffee. The 24 offerings will be scattered throughout the stadium in 52 different locations. The number is expected to climb when the MLS season starts in 2023. It is the only MLS stadium to have 100 percent local food vendors.
The entire food experience is also completely cashless. Fans can order through the CITY GO app and pre-order food for halftime.
Tickets start at $45 on SeatGeek.
Can I watch the game on TV?
Those who don’t attend the game can watch on ESPN+ or on Facebook through Lider Sports Media. Fans can also listen on KMOX (1120 AM) or enjoy the match from the 100,000-square-foot plaza area outside of the stadium, which will feature viewing opportunities and food trucks.
What are folks saying about the first game?
Simon Rolfes, managing director for Leverkusen, on the inaugural game at CITYPARK stadium to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch : “That’s unknown in Europe. It’s not normal that you have a new club. Normally they’re 50 years old, 60, whatever, and that’s quite amazing to see how you start from scratch, you build the new facilities, new stadium, new squad, the whole new crop, and that’s very interesting to see that and see the advantages and disadvantages. … Normally you have a foundation and then you change pieces of the puzzle, but to create a whole new puzzle is not so easy.”
Gerard Craft, CITY SC Flavor Officer, on the food to RFT : “St. Louis is made up of so many different cultures, and we really wanted to show that. We love toasted ravioli and everything like that, but we know that St. Louis is more than just that. ... We really wanted to have as much representation as we could.”
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