St. Louis soccer legend Pat McBride cannot wait for St. Louis City SC to get started.
The first American signed to play professional soccer back in 1967 after a stellar career at St. Louis University, where he helped the Billikens to a pair of national titles and earned All-American honors twice, McBride is already looking forward to watching St. Louis City SC, which is set to begin Major League Soccer play downtown in 2023.
“I’m excited. Interest in the pro game in the U.S. has really exploded,” said McBride, 76, who learned the game playing CYC at Holy Rosary Parish in north St. Louis. “With all the boys and girls playing, I think the game is as popular as it’s ever been and that St. Louis is certainly deserving of a spot in MLS.
“I know people here are excited about the new franchise.”
McBride was a key member of the last outdoor professional team here, spending 10 seasons with the St. Louis Stars, who competed in the National Professional Soccer League for a year before a shift to the new North American Soccer League in 1968. As a first-year squad, the Stars had players from nine different countries, including former SLU Billikens McBride, Carl Gentile, Don Ceresia, Ed Clear and Jack Kinealy.
“Back then — we’re talking 50 or so years ago — we had a very interesting mix of talent,” McBride recalled. “We had a bunch of guys from Yugoslavia to go along with guys from England, Germany and Poland. … We had players who were first-year pros, guys in the middle of their careers and others who were finishing up.
“We needed time to get on the same page and had maybe six weeks of practice before we first started playing games. For me, it was a real apprentice year, just trying to get my feet on the ground. The guys on the team were great, but honestly we had a tough time communicating because most of them were just learning English.”
But McBride, a tough and hard-working midfielder, and the team eventually came together. He would earn first-team all-league honors in 1972 and was a second-teamer in 1970 and 1973. In 193 career games with the Stars, he finished with 31 goals and 23 assists.
“It was a fun and very exciting time,” recalled McBride, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1994. “I had just finished playing college soccer, so the pro soccer opportunity came at a great time for me.”
McBride also competed internationally for the United States, playing in five games with the Men’s National Team during his career.
“Getting a chance to represent the USA was a special honor, but back then, it was a different time,” he explained. “I remember one trip where we met in New York, trained for three days and then headed to Europe to play Poland and Italy. Two days later, we’re playing Poland, the third-best team in the world at the time, and we just got killed. Four days later, we’re facing Italy at the Olympic Stadium and we get crushed again.
“Fortunately, the National Team is treated a little differently these days.”
When McBride first started in professional soccer, it was a full-time job. But that changed after the NASL folded and came back in 1969. Looking toward the future, he hooked up with his college coach, Bob Guelker, and became a graduate assistant coach at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“With my playing career winding down, I knew coaching was what I wanted to do,” he recalled. “I loved playing — that was the most fun — but for me, coaching was the next best thing.”
McBride coached junior college soccer in St. Louis for 25 years, at Meramec from 1976 to 1982 and at Forest Park from 1987 to 2005. He led Meramec to a national championship in 1976 and was named national coach of the year. He led Forest Park to nationals in 1995 and 1996.
He also coached professionally in the Major Indoor Soccer League, leading the St. Louis Steamers from 1979-81 and again from 1985-87 and the Kansas City Comets from 1981-84. He was voted MISL Coach of the Year in 1979-80 and again in 1982-83.
“A lot of things fell into place for me over the years,” said McBride, mentioning Guelker, former St. Louis University High teacher and coach Ebbie Dunn and former St. Louis Stars and U.S. National Team coach Bobby Kehoe as a few of the coaches who influenced his life. “As a player, I felt that coaching was my future, so I watched and I learned. As a coach, I was keen on giving the American players an opportunity to show what they could do and was lucky enough to coach some great ones with the Steamers — Ty Keough, Steve Pecher, Sam Bick and so many more — and in Kansas City. And those guys repaid me with their efforts and their outstanding play.
“I can still remember the press conference to announce the Steamers — Ron Jacober was the only media guy who showed up — and then we sold out a few early games and enjoyed so much success. Those were some special times.”
Always one to give back, McBride ran local summer soccer camps for 40 years.
“It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it,” he said. “I enjoyed being around the kids and I enjoyed the camaraderie. In a way, I felt like it was my way of paying back for all the people who helped me through the years.”