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What Chicago Fire fans should know ahead of Saint Louis FC's debut

Rival cities will share an unusual bond this season, as Chicago Fire affiliate Saint Louis FC prepares to kick off its inaugural season.

Cats vs. dogs. Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi. St. Louis vs. Chicago.

Some rivalries are fated to be intertwined in a never-ending battle for dominance, and few cities have such a long and bitter history as St. Louis and Chicago. The two cities who have a long history of antagonism, from the 19th century battle to become the economic king of the Midwest to the never-ending battle for fandom in the central Illinois area. This battle has torn apart families as they choose between teams in the the generally good-natured rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals and the less-than-friendly rivalry between the Blues and Blackhawks. What few Black Sox fans remain in the area try their hardest to make either fan base recognize their existence.

However, the partnership between MLS and USL Pro, the third-division soccer league, has created strange bedfellows. Few can match the partnership undertaken this year between the Chicago Fire and the newly formed Saint Louis FC.
As the Saint Louis club prepares for its first match at 2 p.m. CST this Saturday at Louisville City (available for stream here), here's a refresher on the club and what it can do for the Chicago Fire in the future.

The team

Despite St. Louis' long and illustrious soccer history, it has not been able to find much luck recently on the professional club side. It's most recent team, AC St. Louis, folded after only one season in the equally short-lived USSF Division 2 Professional League.

But this time looks to be different, as club owner, and former professional indoor soccer player, Jim Kavanaugh has deep pockets. In addition, the club will play at the St. Louis Soccer Park, one of the oldest soccer-specific complexes in the nation - in fact, the park commonly hosted the men's national team in the 1980s. The complex, which includes a 6,000-seat stadium, practice fields and a team store, is situated in Fenton, 16 miles southwest of downtown St. Louis.

The roster is a mixture of St. Louis natives, USL regulars and a few players who have had a cup of coffee in the major leagues. One signing that turned a few heads was the recent announcement the team had signed St. Louis native Brandon Barklage, the veteran MLSer who had started 10 games and made 13 appearances last season with the San Jose Earthquakes.

The Chicago Fire affiliation

A few eyebrows were raised when news first broke last spring that the Fire would partner with Saint Louis FC, a club that had no players, logo or any discernible identity. With a year passed since the news first hit, it remains to be seen just how this relationship will pan out, though more answers should be on the horizon as Saint Louis FC finally starts their season.

On top of sharing scouting initiatives and ideas, the goal of the affiliation is to provide a place where young players can go to find their feet and get some playing time in meaningful matches. The Fire have sent just one player on loan to Saint Louis FC, 22-year-old defender Patrick Doody. Fire Coach Frank Yallop has suggested more players will soon be sent out, though his comment was vague enough to allow fans to speculate on who would be next on the 4 1/2 hour trip down I-55 (or 6-7 hour trip on Amtrak if they're into long delays).

Among the players  speculated to follow Doody online (and right here at Hot Time) are 18-year-old midfielder Collin Fernandez, 24-year-old goalkeeper Alec Kann or recently-signed draft pick Kingsley Bryce. Any of them could leave at some point this season.

Their usage will be interesting to see as Fire fans, especially after Saint Louis FC General Manager Jeremy Alumbaugh said in an article he will follow the example of other USL teams and look to build and focus the club around their own players, with the idea to "use the affiliation guys as help, not as the focal point." Hopefully the coming weeks will reveal exactly what it means to be the help for the focal points.

A lasting bond?

Future questions remain not only about the partnership, but just where Saint Louis sees itself as a soccer city in the coming years. The task force behind building a new stadium for the St. Louis Rams football team have made clear they intend to construct a dual-purpose stadium for both NFL and MLS teams. And in recent months, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has gone out of his way to mention St. Louis as a possible target for a future expansion team.

For their part, officials at Saint Louis FC have insisted they are dedicated see out the first year of existence in USL Pro and have not stated an ultimate goal of being in MLS.

As of now, Saint Louis FC will kick off their inaugural season, and the Chicago Fire will have a chance to get some young players playing time in a meaningful situation. Perhaps if these two clubs can work together, then the other sports teams from St. Louis and Chicago can come together and find some sort of harmony ...