From the Cardinals to Nelly, the Gateway Arch to Budweiser, St. Louis’ influence spreads beyond its borders, and IU men’s soccer is reaping the benefits.
This season, five of the 31 players – and four of the seven true freshmen – are from high schools in St. Louis. Freshmen Tommy Meyer, Luis Soffner and Chris Haffner attended St. Louis University High, while sophomore Michael Roach and freshman Will Bruin were enrolled at rivals Chaminade and De Smet Jesuit, respectively.
“There’s been a lot of guys from St. Louis that have come to IU and also are still playing or have played (professionally),” Soffner said. “It’s the tradition of Indiana soccer. St. Louis guys, we love to be up here.”
The three schools are all members of the Metro Catholic Conference. IU coach Mike Freitag also graduated from a MCC competitor, Christian Brothers College High School.
Meyer, whose father Keith played on the 1982 and 1983 championship teams, wanted to continue the tradition of St. Louis natives joining the Hoosiers. The manageable four-hour drive and starting for one of the top programs in the nation convinced him to join the Hoosiers.
“I grew up around IU soccer, and in the beginning when they won their first couple national championships, there was a ton of St. Louis kids on the team,” Meyer said. “Everybody knows each other through that.”
Freitag, who graduated high school in 1976, said potential recruits from his hometown have a slight advantage against other prospects.
“A lot of them probably since they could walk have been going to soccer games with their dads,” Freitag said. “I know they’re serious about it. It’s not just another sport we play, that’s their sport.”
While modern soccer was first codified in England, its beginnings in America come from the city known as the “Gateway to the West.” One of the first professional soccer leagues in America was formed in St. Louis, and since it was founded in 1907, Saint Louis University has won 10 national championships, the most in NCAA history.
“Soccer in St. Louis probably had a jump over anybody else in the country,” Freitag said. “Years ago it was in the parochial grade schools, and everybody played. I had players and coaches that had played on World Cup teams, U.S. National Teams. It was a little more established before everybody else. It’s a soccer town.”
Bruin said the players tease Freitag for his high school alma mater “depending on his mood,” but old rivalries don’t hold Freitag back when it comes to scouting talent.
“It was hard for me to recruit those SLUH boys,” Freitag said. “But I had a breakdown and went after them, they’re talented. Usually, I have bragging rights on them. At least I think I do.”
While men’s basketball and football command more attention, men’s soccer still remains one of the most popular sports at IU. Last year’s 1-0 upset against then-No. 1 UCLA drew a record number of attendees.
“When you come to Indiana, soccer is one of the bigger sports,” Roach said. “Michigan or Ohio State, everyone knows the football players. Here, we’re a main sport. That was one of the big things I loved about this school, and that’s one of the reasons I came.”
As the freshmen juggle classes and practice, they are linked, whether they want to be or not, by their out-of-state connection. With every corner kick and tackle, the legacy of past players and expectations of current students follow them. And as the Hoosiers aim for an eighth championship, it will be the “St. Louis four,” as they are known by their fellow classmates, to continue the legacy.