As St. Louis sports fans start 2019, there’s a lot to look forward to. From new franchises to post-season appearances, there’s a check list of items we should be prepared for in the New Year. Here’s a quick list of ten that I have…
- Support the MLS pursuit: MLS is going to announce their 28th franchise by the end of 2019. The effort led by Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Carolyn Kindle-Betz and Worldwide Technology founder Jim Kavanaugh has been flawless. They’re spending their own money to finance a stadium and expansion fee; about $400 million. They’ve worked with state and city government to gain backing and approval, and they’ve worked closely with MLS to assure the league of the quality of their bid. Columbus is keeping the Crew, and Austin has been given one of the two available expansion franchises, number 27. Detroit, Phoenix and Sacramento are the other cities currently vying for the 28th franchise, but St. Louis appears to be the one that has the most boxes checked. Support on social media and for ticket requests, when they become available, will be our responsibility as fans.
- Intently watch Paul Goldschmidt play: We don’t know how long Goldschmidt will play with the Cardinals…we’re only guaranteed 2019…but we know he can hit. He’s the best hitter that was available this off-season, and his overall game was compared to Albert Pujols by former Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa when TLR oversaw Arizona’s front office. Because our time with him might be limited, like it was with Larry Walker or when Wayne Gretzky was with the Blues…let’s enjoy the time we DO have with Goldy.
- See the ascent of Travis Ford’s SLU program: The Billikens head into Atlantic 10 play with a record of 9-4 and seem to get better with every outing. They’ve played three teams that were in the Top 25, beating Seton Hall, leading Houston in the final minute before falling on the road, and losing to Florida State in Florida. The Bills are unbeaten at home heading into the conference season, and were picked to win the A-10 regular season title. It’s a team worth making the drive to Chaifetz Arena to watch play. Javon Bess is one of the best all-around players in the country, Jordan Goodwin can do it all, and emerging big men Hasahn French and Carte’Are Gordon can make life miserable for the opposition.
- Wonder if Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers can avoid the snake bite: Ford has had a halting start in rebuilding SLU, and Martin has lost his top player to injury in both of his seasons at Mizzou. Last year it was Michael Porter Jr., who went in the first round of the NBA draft anyway, and this year his brother Jontay suffered a torn ACL during a pre-season scrimmage. Mizzou is good without Jontay Porter, but they’ll be REALLY good once Martin is able to play with a full deck some time in the future.
- Keep an eye on the Blues transformation: During 2018, the Blues played 78 games, going 35-35-8, including 15-18-4 to start this season. In those 78 games, they exceeded a two-game winning streak twice, last January with a three-game streak, and last March with a six-game streak. Coach Mike Yeo was fired, but the inconsistency has remained under interim Craig Berube. When he fired Yeo, President of Hockey Operations Doug Armstrong talked about his core group of players that includes Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo and Jake Allen…all of whom have long term contracts. He pointed out that he had been patient with the core, but that patience is “now at its thinnest point, and that group has to get us out of this.” Well, they haven’t…so we can reasonably expect to see some major changes in the Blues roster.
- Pay attention to Barry Odom’s Tigers: After another rugged start to a season, the Tigers again were unbeaten in November to clinch a bowl spot. They lost a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve, but have a strong cast returning in 2019. Joining that group will be former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, who went 16-2 as their quarterback and took Clemson to the national semifinals in 2017. A strong local recruiting class should make Odom’s team this year even more intriguing.
- See if the Cardinals can return to the post-season: After three seasons of not making the playoffs, this should be the year the Cardinals return. They’ve rebuilt on the fly, preparing young players like Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader. Those players were mixed in with Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha…who all have World Series experience…and supplemented by Marcell Ozuna, Andrew Miller and Goldschmidt. This should be the season that everything comes back together for the Cardinals.
- Welcome the XFL: The startup spring football league will begin play in 2020, and the Dome at America’s Center will be home to one of the eight franchises in the country. Teams will get names and colors this month, and coaches will be hired soon thereafter. It’ll be fun to watch the approach of the league and the St. Louis franchise as they try to fill a niche in the spring sports market.
- Get ready for the NHL All Star Game: The NHL officially announced on New Year’s Day that the 2020 All Star game will be held at the renovated Enterprise Center. The last time the All-Star game was held here was at the old Arena in 1988, and it featured Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. The summer and next fall leading up to the All-Star game should be similar to the buildup toward the Winter Classic a couple of years ago. It will be a great economic and sports ego boost for the STL, which does big events as well as anyone.
- Prepare for the STL lawsuit against the NFL: Little nuggets should trickle out during the course of 2019 as St. Louis and the NFL move closer to a court date some time in 2020. Based on the NFL’s relocation guidelines and what has been said publicly by principles involved in the Rams move to Los Angeles, it would seem it’s going to be difficult for the league to defend itself. This should become even more clear as we move toward a trial date and a trial.
As always, the year will bring us plenty of surprises as well. We’ll bring you all of those as we celebrate ten years of being St. Louis’ Sports Station on 101 ESPN.