Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

English Premier League Soccer Coming to Busch

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

English Premier League Soccer Coming to Busch

Article excerpt

World-class soccer, once a regular feature of the St. Louis' sporting landscape but increasingly an afterthought because of a lack of a place to play, will be coming back in May, and in a new venue that could lead to more games.

The Cardinals will announce today that Manchester City and Chelsea, two of the top teams in the English Premier League, will play an exhibition match at Busch Stadium on May 23, just four days after the close of the EPL season. Depending how you look at it, it's been at least 15 years since teams even approaching this caliber have played in St. Louis, and the Cardinals hope the gap isn't that long in the future.

"We hope at minimum this will be an annual event, that we can bring two great international teams or the U.S. national team and play here in Busch Stadium," said Vicki Bryant, vice president, event services and merchandising for the Cardinals. "It's important for the city."

Big-name European clubs such as Manchester United and Barcelona have been making regular stops in America in the summer in recent years and drawing large crowds for what amounts to spring training for them, but St. Louis has been left out of that equation because there was no place to play. Teams don't want to play those matches on artificial turf, which rules out the Edward Jones Dome (and bringing in a temporary grass field is expensive), and the sport has long since outgrown the Soccer Park in Fenton, once the home field of American soccer.

Enter the Cardinals, who have the only large outdoor stadium in town and who have been actively pursuing events to put Busch to use while the baseball team is out of town. A group from the organization went to New York last summer for the exhibition match between Italian power AC Milan and Spanish heavyweight Real Madrid at Yankee Stadium. They met with promoters there and made a pitch for a game in St. Louis.

The planned tour of America by the English clubs, which also includes a game in New York, fit perfectly with the Cardinals' being on the road. Last week, officials from Manchester City visited Busch to look over the stadium, and Bryant said they were impressed.

"They were absolutely blown away by how beautiful the grass looks," she said. "As much as we were excited to have them in our building, and the opportunity for this game, it was obvious they shared in that excitement to come here. We told them, 'If you think the grass looks good now, wait till you see it in May.' "

Tickets for the match will start at $30, and seats in all- inclusive areas of the park will start at $140. (Bryant said about 40 percent of the seats will be at $55 or less.) Seats will be added on the field while some in the upper deck in right field won't be sold, bringing capacity for the game to about 42,000. Bryant said they're hoping for a sellout, with fans coming from outside the area to see the game.

Fitting a soccer field into Busch Stadium will be a tight squeeze. The field will run from in front of the visiting dugout on the third-base line, along the first-base line, to the right field stands. …

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