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Rain or Shine: An All-Access Look at the St. Louis Lions (Part Two)

The St. Louis Lions had to overcome the elements in their first preseason match of the 2012 season. They are hoping to build to recover from a fifth-place finish last season that kept them out of the USL PDL playoffs.
The St. Louis Lions had to overcome the elements in their first preseason match of the 2012 season. They are hoping to build to recover from a fifth-place finish last season that kept them out of the USL PDL playoffs.

(Editor's Note: This article is a follow-up to two articles written in December 2011 and this past January about St. Louis' struggles to land an MLS franchise. If you haven't read those yet, it is highly recommended. This is Part 3 of the ongoing Soccer in St. Louis series. Part One of this article appeared on the website yesterday.)

From Scotland to Stateside

While some of the equipment staff starts to kick around a soccer ball in the locker room, I talk to Tony about how the heck he ended up in St. Louis after being born in Scotland.

Glavin, who just turned 54 this past Sunday, was born in Glasgow and began playing football at a young age.

"Growing up in a poor neighborhood, the one thing we had was soccer," said Glavin. "If you had a field and one ball, that was good for everybody and I think that's probably why it was so popular."

At 16, he finished high school and went to work in the shipyards while still training three nights a week. The training paid off at age 18 when he signed with Queens Park Football Club, who was then in the second division of Scottish football.

"I find myself very fortunate and blessed to have been able to play professionally," he said. "That's all I ever wanted to do."

Glavin played for Queens Park from 1976 to 1978 before moving stateside to play for the Philadelphia Fury of the old NASL. He played with the Fury until they were located to Montreal after the 1980 season.

At that time, Tony was playing with the St. Louis Steamers of the old MISL to stay fit for the Fury. When the Steamers offered him a three-year contract to make a permanent move, he accepted. He ended up spending eight consecutive years in St. Louis, becoming a player-coach in 1987.

The Steamers folded after the 1987 season, so Tony took an assistant coach/player role with the MISL Kansas City Comets for two years before spending the 1990 season coaching the Dayton Dynamo of the AISA (American Indoor Soccer Association).

His family kept a house in St. Louis throughout his later career though, and when his career finally ended, he moved back to St. Louis. In 1994, he started his soccer club and the rest is history.

I ask Tony if he misses Scotland at all. He admits that when the opportunity to come to the United States first presented itself, he was apprehensive about the level of play. He originally wanted to play in England, and was very interested in playing for Fulham FC. (Nick Fedora and my favorite Premier League club) After a year stateside, he had the opportunity to play for Watford or Leicester in the then-First Division of English football, but he turned them down.

"I decided I wanted to stay in this country and forge my career here," says Glavin. "I had the opportunity and I didn't take it, and I really didn't miss it."

Tony admits there are parts of the Scottish game that he misses, but that it's not enough for him to move back.

"I miss it for the visits, there's a part of the football, the atmosphere, the passion with the game, I miss some of that at times," he says. "But I think what you give up and what you get here, this is my life and this is my home now so I really like it here."

On April 10, it was announced that Glavin will be inducted to the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame. He says the honor means a lot to him.

"I only lived in Scotland for 19 years and then I've been in St. Louis almost twice as long now," said Glavin. "It's home for me, so it's nice to be recognized that you are made to feel a part of St. Louis."

Pregame (again...) and (finally) kick-off

Around 7:30pm, the Lindenwood assistant trainer says he's looked at his weather scanner and didn't think the storm will stop anytime soon. He says he would recommend calling the match off.

Tony thinks for a moment, and then asks his players how late they'll be able to play. Since some of them are only in own for the weekend, the urgency to get some kind of action in is building. He then goes over to Lindenwood coach Hutter's office to negotiate.

At the beginning of the delay, the players were fairly quiet. Goalkeeper Samuel Thomas tweets out his disappointment about this.

Around 8pm though, it appears Tony's magic has paid off. The game is tentatively scheduled to start at 8:30pm. The players start talking more and have joined the trainers in the kick-around game.

Around 8:20pm, just as the Fire are restarting their match, the Lions once again head from the locker room to the field. The lightning has stopped, but the rain is still coming down in full force. As we're walking over, I hear a player mutter, "I'm f***ing swimming out here."

After a very brief warm-up on the Enviroturf at Harlen C. Hunter Stadium, the game starts just after 8:30pm.

It appears the rain delay has had the effect of convincing the players to completely ignore Glavin's instructions to essentially play a more conservative game early on. Despite the slight anxiety, the Lions take the lead in the 6th minute through Jamie Skillen's side volley.

And in the 12th minute, the Lions double their advantage, although the weather definitely deserved an assist on this one. The Brazilian Marcelo Carreiro blasts a long range shot from about 30 yards out. (We are able to judge this due to the fact that they are playing on a football field at the shot came from about the 20-yard line) The shot is headed to right of the goalkeeper, but the rain and wind pushes it to the left mid-strike. The Lindenwood goalkeeper who is already moving to the right is unable to find his footing and starts to fall as he desperately moves his hands to his left in order to try and swat the ball away. He is able to get a piece of it, but the ball gets past him to give the Lions a 2-0 lead.

Around the 30th minute, Michael and I move over to the other side of the stadium to stand with a few brave fans that waited out the delay. I see a couple of the green skull St. Louligans skull shirts, but it appears most of them decided the match was a lost cause. To be perfectly honest, if I wasn't covering the game, I probably would have done the same thing.

After a very brief halftime in which neither team goes back to the locker room, both teams change up their rosters. The Lions are clearly the more talented side, but there are certainly flaws and communication issues. Just after the break, Lindenwood gets a free kick about 25 yards out, and second half goalie Adam Leonard motions for his wall to move over more to the left. The wall doesn't move over enough though, and the kick-taker from Lindenwood essentially has an unguarded shot on goal that is rocketed past Leonard to cut the lead in half.

But just after one of the biggest mistakes of the game for the Lions, they come roaring right back. They play the ball through midfield and find a winger on the right side, who delivers a perfect ball in the box for Diego Dos Santos to head home. It is easily the play of the game and Lions show off their quality in taking a 3-1 lead.

Next to me on the stands, the people next to me are ecstatic. They start yelling in a foreign language, presumably at the goal-scorer Dos Santos. I start talking to them and find out that they are speaking Portuguese and are friends of the Brazilian goal-scorer.

I do a quick count of the remaining fans left. Including myself and Michael, there are exactly 15 people. Four of them are friends of Dos Santos, who traveled about three hours from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri to see him play.

One of those friends is Pedro Franco, who played for the Lions during the 2011 season. He would be playing this year, but he tore his ACL late last year. After the defender graduates in May, he hopes to continue rehabilitating and then play abroad somewhere in Europe.

Still, he fondly remembers his time with the Lions. "You stay with a host family, and its pretty fun."

If a player is not from the St. Louis area, the Lions help the players find a family for them to stay with for the season. Most of the families have children enrolled in the Tony Glavin academy program. It's one of the few ways that the Lions can essentially compensate players and keep their amateur status.

After the elation of the goal though, we're once left to deal with a brush of blisteringly cold wind to go along with the pouring rain. I honestly have no idea how the players are still running out there. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Fire have officially called it quits on their match. We aren't so lucky.

To be fair though, the quality of the Lions is very good. They're essentially an amateur All-Star side when compared to the NAIA (essentially Division 4 of college athletics) Lindenwood team, but despite that, many of the players show signs of individual skill, be it footwork, passing or speed. It should be interesting to see them match up against other PDL teams once they've had the opportunity to play together on a more frequent basis.

The scoring wraps up in the 85th minute when Tarik Sehovic finds Korey Dowell to give the Lions a final score-line of 4-1. The match ends just after 10pm and, by this point, most of the players just want to find shelter.

I catch up to Diego to ask him his thoughts about the match.

"It's kind of strange because I'm from a warmer country, so I've never played in this (kind of) weather," says a wet and exhausted Dos Santos.

Once back in the locker room, we catch the Lindenwood assistant trainer who wanted to cancel the game earlier. He looks like he would be more pissed off were he not completely wet and exhausted. I don't think he'll be a Lions fan in the future.

I talk with midfielder Pat Kelly, who was with the Lions last year to ask him about the differences in the two teams:

"I feel like the quality of the team this year is going to be a lot better," said Kelly. "This year, there's a lot more talent and depth, so that'll help a lot."

Coach Glavin delivers his post-game thoughts shortly thereafter. Overall, he's pleased with the performance and, in particular, the resilience the team showed in dealing first with the delay and then with the weather.

"Just the attitude of everybody going out, you played hard, you played to win, it was great," says Glavin.

Tony says he has some tough decisions to make ahead of finalizing the club's 26-man roster, but he puts a positive spin on it:

"You know, if we have to make any decisions, that's a good thing because it means you guys make it difficult, it means that everyone is doing well," he says.

Regardless of who makes the final roster, this team ought to be able to improve upon their 2011 campaign, in which they finished with only four wins in sixteen matches, and ended up in 5th place out of seven teams in the PDL's Heartland Division.

The Lions play one more exhibition home game against the Chicago Inferno on May 5th at the Tony Glavin Soccer Complex. They then open up the PDL season on the road against the Des Moines Menace on the 12th before their home opener against those same Menace on Saturday, May 26th. For our comfort and health, let's hope it's not raining.