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Is AC St. Louis setting the bar?

Ralston signing shows how serious AC St. Louis is in winning.

Going into this season, there were many questions that were being asked around the soccer world about what the NASL would actually stand for. Was it going to be a true “Second Division”. Was it going to be a “feeder league” for MLS teams? Or was it going to be a league that could actually stand on its own and prove to offer great soccer to fans, not just in the NASL towns, but around the country?

These questions are still being asked today as they were when the formation of the NASL was announced months ago. And the only way to really look to see if these questions are being answered is to look at what is currently happening with the NASL teams.

Looking at the rosters this year, there are a few impressive players. Darren Kenton, Greg Shields, Brent Sancho, Matt Jordan and Júnior Baiano all have some sort of decent overseas or MLS experience. Still, they were the few players that knew what it was like to play at the next level. And even though they did have stints at the top level at some point in their careers, they are still what many would consider ‘minor league’ quality.

In addition to these players, many of the signings that we see happening around the NASL seem to be, well, weak. Yeah, we look at some and say there might be a good player here or there. But the fact still remains that most of the signings look to be along the lines of a typical minor league team in any sport.

Then came AC St. Louis and their announcement of Steve Ralston joining the team. Ralston, who played for the US National Team and who captained the New England Revolution during their four trips to the MLS Cup finals (though they pulled a Buffalo Bills in all of them), showed that the St. Louis franchise were looking to actually ‘build’ a team for the future.

Basically, while some of the teams currently look like nothing more than a Triple-A style of soccer, AC St. Louis looks like a team that wants to not only show that they have the team to win, but they are serious about taking on the MLS as well. And when you yank a record-holding MLS player out of their league, that shows the seriousness of the franchise’s efforts.

Jeff Cooper, Chairman of AC St. Louis, has done a great job of bringing in some high-profile staff into the fold as well. In addition to Claude Anelka (yes, every man deserves a second chance), Cooper brough in Francisco Filho. Many might not know Francisco, but to start off he is Brazilian (good start). Second, he was a coach that worked at Clairefontaine, the training facility for the French National Team and one of the elite training academies in France. And if you put those together, well….1998 France – World Cup winners against Brazil…2002 Brazil wins World Cup…2006 France make it to World Cup final. See, there is a nice trend going on. Hopefully, Francisco will be the guy to pull off the job.

So, here is my main point…Is AC St. Louis setting the bar by which other NASL teams will have to compete in order to be a successful? It is true that St. Louis, Tampa and Minnesota have a bit of an advantage over the other older, established teams as they can start from square one as far as recruiting and coaching.

But with the quality of their signings, it seems as if AC St. Louis is bound to be something more than just a “Second Division” team. They look to be going places.

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6 Responses

  1. I’d respectfully disagree with you on that one, Dave.

    ACSTL signing one good (if not great) MLS player in Steve Ralston is not an indication of great things to come. Romario signed with Miami several years ago, and it hardly led to success or, as you put it, going places.

    That being said, I’d like to remind you of the Puerto Rico Islanders and Montreal Impact’s successes in the CONCACAF Champions League these past two seasons. These teams, along with the other older, more established teams such as Vancouver and Portland have it the other way around: they have the advantage over younger, unestablished clubs (despite some impressive coaching moves made by ACSTL). Keep in mind Vancouver has a Residency system, while Montreal has a well-established farm team. These, I believe, will make the difference, certainly for this season. For the future, I’m forced to agree, AC STL seems to be setting the bar and making strides to not be just “another Second Division” team.

    As it stands, however, (and for the sake of the competition, I hope I’m wrong) I believe that NSC Minnesota, ACSTL, CP Baltimore and FC Tampa Bay will finish in the four last positions in the table.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed. But….as Tom Timmerman points out on his STL Today blog, it will be difficult for AC St Louis to achieve many signifigant signings (such as Steve Ralston) because of their late start and the fact that they are limited to out of contract players. Their opening day roster probably won’t indicate the future quality of players that AC St. Louis puts on the field.

    Jeff Cooper has put a lot of effort and money into securing a professional team for St. Louis over the years, and although he didn’t get an MLS franchise, I doubt that he intends on fielding a “minor
    league” team in a low level league. My feeling is that he and the other former USL owners are looking at establishing a league that will either rival MLS or be merged with MLS in the future. That obviously won’t happen for years. But I predict that the NASL will not be a second division league in the future IF they can establish decent attendance, TV revenue and enthusiasm in their markets. I don’t know enough aboub the other NASL cities but AC St Louis will be successful in drawing fans. The signing of quality coaches in Edmonton and Minnesota further shows that NASL is an entity to be taken seriously.

  3. I agree with you all, that is why I put “build a team for the future” part. It is hard for any expansion team to start great the first year in. But, as soon as they have a season under their belt, I think they will run things smart.

    They also have the market to do it as well.

  4. I believe the bar was set by Montreal in CONCACAF a few years ago, and this year the top teams will be the Canadians, Carolina and Miami, depending on whether Traffic actually spends the money they are capable of now that they are out of USL.

    St Louis will be a nice story, but the bar is already high and STL needs some time to even reach it.

  5. It certainly does seem St. Louis is building for the future, bringing in some strong names is a good sign. I have to say I still don’t understand the Anelka move, but hey, what do I know! I hope that as the league proves it’s stability we should see more high profile players involved. We have to remember it is still a very unknown, untried quantity, especially when viewed from outside the country.

  6. 1st. I’m already ac st. louis #1 fan.
    2nd. You can’t really say that they are setting the bar because they have only signed 3 players.
    3rd. This is going to be huge for st. louis the mls will be knocking on the door begging for us to jump ship and come to the side in no time.
    Lastly how informed is Dave Trotter does he know anything about the kits or when the website is going to offer any real information.

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