The Rise of St. Louis’ Street League

How Calle is revolutionizing soccer accessibility in America



Unveiled in August 2022, this wall art is a powerful symbol of Calle Pigeon’s ‘Free the Game’ movement, which aims to create more opportunities for soccer enthusiasts by building free courts in communities around the United States.

Diego Perez Palomino, Staff Reporter

St. Louis City SC, our city’s newly founded Major League Soccer team, has had a significant impact on the community. Since the team’s debut in February, there has been a growing sense of pride in the sport; presumably as a result of their record-breaking start. Nonetheless, it’s evident St. Louis has begun to embrace the values that secure its historic title as America’s first ‘soccer capital’. Their introduction has surely boosted the city’s soccer culture; however, it’s worth reflecting on what the city’s soccer culture consisted of before the arrival of City SC. In recent years, despite the success of youth soccer prospering through clubs like Lous Fusz and Scott Gallagher, soccer has struggled to gain traction. While some blame the popularity of conventional American sports, the United States’ ‘pay-to-play’ system discourages casual play, and limits access to the sport for lower-income individuals.

What City SC aimed to do at a large scale, Daniel Flynn and Travis Winn strive to do at a community level. Through the company Calle and their formation of the STL Street League, they hope to bring soccer to every corner of the city and ensure that every person, regardless of background or income, has the opportunity to play the beautiful game.

The company Calle, founded in 2006, was inspired by the soccer playing experience in the streets of European and Latin American countries. Created to encourage creativity and new ideas, without the stipulations of coaches or referees. Despite expansion throughout the South Central region, Calle had to cease operations in 2012. Nevertheless, founder Travis Winn, with the help of Daniel Flynn, relaunched the company in August of 2022, this time, with a determined mindset dead set on reaching their objective: to promote community-based street courts where players can play for free.

“While we always have goals, we never consider anything a failure,” Flynn said. “As long as we’re continuing to try, we know we’ll get there eventually.”

Due to the high costs associated with competitive soccer leagues, the expense of quality equipment, and restricted access to fields, many Americans tend to pick up sports such as basketball or football, which can be easily played in neighborhoods or parks. Calle and the STL Street League aspire to adopt the model of normalizing popularizing previously ‘overwhelming’ sports, into more convenient formats.

“What pickleball is doing to tennis, Calle is helping do to soccer,” Winn said. “Just by making it smaller, we are making the game more accessible.”

Although soccer street courts may appear novel to Americans, they are fundamental to developing skills and expertise in other countries. Community-based soccer courts that are free of charge are not uncommon in other nations, but rather an expectation. These courts promote freedom of expression and attract players of all ages. The latter is essential to understanding why soccer enjoys a massive following in other nations, while in the USA, it is often regarded as a niche sport.

“We meet people all the time who are from Mexico, South America, or even Europe that say, ‘This is how I grew up playing.’ So, I think it feels familiar to certain people that grew up on it,” Winn said. “It’s very refreshing to them, and they’re appreciative of being able to play their style of play.”

For example, downtown St. Louis contains the highest concentration of African immigrant refugees, most likely as a result of the city’s history of resettlement programs; as previously mentioned, the creativity and passion for open soccer courts are rooted in their culture.

“When they saw the court, they instantly knew that it was a space to play and compete,” Flynn said. “We want to make sure everyone has that instant interaction with the court.”

Although the idea of having a soccer court in every corner of America may sound appealing, it’s a tough sell in reality. Basketball has been the dominant sport in parks and neighborhoods for so long that it’s the go-to choice for setting up a court; doing anything else would risk losing attraction. Essentially, the STL Street League doesn’t always get approval from neighborhoods or the Parks Department, but when they do, they make sure the community gets their say in the matter.

“If it is something they want, we make sure it looks like the neighborhood,” Flynn said. “With them having input on it so that it’s something they can embrace, and make much better than we could on our own.”

Negotiating is the difficult part of the process, considering the actual building of the court is a relatively quick process. Many communities struggle to comprehend the idea of open courts, and as a result, are hesitant to take the risk.; however, as the popularity of the courts grows, implementing them across the entirety of the United States wouldn’t be as difficult of a process as some would expect. Since the courts can be made quickly, the only thing stopping them from mass installation is the people in charge.

“I think we could probably have six courts done collectively by the end of the year, maybe one or two more in St. Louis,” Flynn said. “You can build one of these courts in a month, that’s not the hard part; it’s getting the ‘buy-in.’”

As for the reception of the courts, because there is always community input, neighborhoods tend to receive them well. As a result of their free model, nothing stops people from being able to come and play; it rather encourages new friendships and connections with other players.

“It’s not competing with anything else, it’s not a big grass field, we’re not trying to compete with clubs or these indoor spaces,” Winn said. “We’re just trying to provide a service to the communities and think that soccer should be free.”

When it comes to other indoor spaces, the Futbol Club STL stands out as one of the sponsors supporting the STL Street League. Positioned in downtown St. Louis, it is an indoor soccer facility featuring a total of 6 fields designed for small-sided soccer matches. However, in contrast to the courts established by Calle, STL Futbol Club utilizes the mobile app Plei to manage their games. In which, you browse for games on your phone that are convenient to your location and time, and it allows you to reserve or join a match with others. The only caveat is that each game costs around $10.

“I think it is a great business, but we’re hoping that we wouldn’t need an app like that,” Flynn said. “Sometimes I go on the Plei app and it feels like it’s only people that can afford the $10, but I bet you that if I was in a different neighborhood there’d be a lot of good players that just can’t fit that in their budget.”

Currently, the public has access to a selection of courts, including Dog town, Dutch town, and soon Willmore Park. Among these options, the colorful installation situated in the Dutch town neighborhood stands out as one of the most remarkable. This particular court features a captivating abstract design designed and painted by the talented local artist Javn Solomon. His style and vernacular are influenced by his hometown, in addition to a sense of exploration in the realms of art, design, & the natural environment.

“Each court is inspired by the spirit of each neighborhood and the collaborators on the project,” Solomon said. “For example – STL CITY SC was pretty involved in Marquette park in Dutch town, so I merged the assets of the team, the neighborhood, and a little bit of my own magic, and boom there it was!”

As for the future of STL Street League, the goal is to establish just that: a Street League. There was a time when St. Louis had its own professional league, and they had a lot of great amateur teams and clubs over the years. But if you go back and dissect how that worked, those were leagues based on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood or parish-by-parish basis.

“The thinking was, make the simple, simple again.  We thought, why not just use neighborhoods and see how far we get, and if it doesn’t work then adjust,” Flynn said. “I think that could work in future years, but the reality is that we need a lot more courts and then we can figure out that aspect.”