The talent level from club teams to high school to college players, is top shelf and there is a local club that is giving young players a chance to play at the high level of professional soccer.
For 11 years, the St. Louis Lions have been giving college-level soccer players a chance to hone their skills and have success in pro soccer.
“Our basic purpose is the help players get these guys to the next level in professional soccer whether that’s the USL [United Soccer League], NASL [North American Soccer League], or MLS [Major League Soccer],” said Lions general manager Kevin Hecht.
The team was started by former St. Louis Steamer player and current co-owner of the St. Louis Ambush, Tony Glavin.
Glavin, who also owns and is head coach of the Lions began the team as another way to help develop outstanding young soccer players in the St. Charles County area that could play at the highest level of the sport.
“The whole purpose of the Premier Development League [PDL] we play in is what we call Path to Pro,” Glavin said. “It extends the playing season of the players from spring through the fall and the main purpose of the PDL and Lions is the to give the players a high level of playing platform.”
Most of the Lions roster consists of college players that play to stay sharp during the summer months between seasons and the average age of the players is 18-23, although some older players have been on the roster in previous seasons.
“Our season generally runs from the middle of May until about the end of July, so the majority of our team are college players, who are just looking to continue playing during the summer,” Hecht said.
The team plays in the United Soccer League, which is the premier outdoor developmental league in pro soccer.
Players can move from the Lions and other PDL clubs to outdoor pro leagues such as the NASL or MLS, and the Lions have managed to send players into those leagues as well as provide players for the St. Louis Ambush Indoor soccer club.
“Pathway to pro is a stepping stone for these players, and a pipeline for these players to move onto the professional level,” Glavin said. About 75 percent of the players that are drafted in MLS currently are playing in the PDL.”
Former Lions who have excelled in the pros includes Lawrence Olum, one of the first Lions players, who played in the MLS with Sporting KC and plays now with the Portland Timbers, Tommy Heinemann, who currently plays for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Also, former Lions Vadim Cojocov and Cody Blentlinger also spent time playing with the Ambush between 2013 and 2016.
Teams from Chicago, Cincinnati, Des Moines, St. Louis, as well as Canadian clubs Thunder Bay and Winnipeg compete in the USL along with the Lions.
The Lions play their home games at the Tony Glavin Soccer Complex in Cottleville and are looking to increase their visibility in the area.
“We’ere trying to raise the profile of the team and get the word out that there is good professional soccer being played here in St. Charles County during the summer,” Hecht said.
The Lions open their season on May 21.
For more information on the Lions, visit the club at www.stllions.com.