They wore new cowboy boots and carried stereo cassette players, and their smiles were uncertain ones, perfunctory and quick to fade.
Members of Dynamo Minsk, the Soviet soccer team on a stateside tour, walked through Lambert Field airport here after their flight from Kansas City, trailed by a local camera crew, some Team America members, and curious onlookers.
"Who are those guys?" a little boy asked his bespectacled mother, struggling with a suitcase and a shopping bag. She glanced at the serious-looking young men, attired in drab gray or olive or brown, and answered, "The Russian army hockey team."
Well, actually, no. Dynamo--"The name is like energy, strength, no?" said team interpreter Alex Podolinsky--came to the United States last week for a whirlwind, four-game trip, and will play the final game here tonight against Team America.
So far, the trip has not produced a victory. A pair of ties and one loss is hardly the kind of record associated with any team wearing Soviet colors.
"All the travel," said the coach, an exuberant fellow named Eduard Maloveev, speaking through an interpreter. "And this. We do not have so much of this in Russia." He kicked at the green carpet of Busch Stadium. "Slows players down," he said, pantomiming legs unable to move.
Maloveev, who prefers to be called Eddie, put his teams through two practices today, one at 8:30 a.m. and another at noon. He isn't pleased with what he has seen, he says, and hopes to see his club "play more to its potential tomorrow (Wednesday) night."
The unspoken fear, perhaps, is that the Russians could go home with what amounts to a poor showing.
Eddie waves his hands, brushing aside the suggestion and shaking his head before leading his players back to their hotel for breakfast.
The coach, who writes poetry, said he will bring home from this tour "at least two poems for my wife. " His players will bring back more materialistic things: the huge radios more suited to subways than the Soviet Union, and clothes, especially blue jeans.
At a Kansas City shopping mall, the team spent an entire day browsing and buying. Between today's practices, the players were planning to visit every department store in downtown St. Louis.
"They are young," said Willy Dewald, who calls himself the tour manager. "They like music, shopping. For all of the players, this is their first time in America." Then he walked off with one player, to show him how to wash his uniform in the hotel's laundromat. "If you send it out, it might not come back in two or three days." The player nods, apparently having learned that lesson of life on the road.
The players, who are either students or government workers in private life, like what they have glimpsed of the United States. Most of them understand some English but are not conversant in it.
"The people here are friendly, everywhere friendly," said Rumbutis Ludas, also a member of the Russian national team. Five other Dynamo players are on the national team (Viktor Yanushevskiy, Sergey Borovskiy, Yuri Pudyshev, Aleksandr Prokopenko and Petr Vassilevskiy), and Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias said that adds up to a very experienced club. Even so, he is not surprised by the team's showing so far.
"The heat," he said, squinting at the midday sun, "the travel, the indoor play, the surfaces--they're not used to some of those things. But I know they have the top football (soccer) program of Europe. They'll be very physical of feet, quick. They have their own style, that 90 minutes nonstop play."
Panagoulias wondered at the Russian zeal for total physical fitness, wondered if all the intense training that includes basketball and hockey and running and any other sport imaginable, might place too much emphasis on the physical and skip over the mental aspects of the game.
"In this game, when we talk about fatigue, it's mental fatigue too," he said. "This is a physical game, but the mental factor is part of it. You talk about pressure before a game. That's mental, and somehow the coach must get the players mentally relaxed."
But even if the Soviet players are feeling pressured going into the game, they aren't focusing too much on those thoughts.
They want to see the United States.
"There is not the time for much sightseeing," said Maloveev. "Here (St. Louis) we visit the mayor's office. This afternoon we will tour a brewery. In Detroit, the Henry Ford Museum and the hotel tower (Renaissance Center). Some things but not enough."
This is Maloveev's third visit to this country, but before, he said, he saw only airports and hotels and didn't enjoy it as much.
What he would enjoy most is a victory over Team America. "Everybody always wants to beat the Russians," he sputters, gesturing as Podolinsky translates. "It's pride."
Maloveev tries to put his thoughts into meter and rhythm, although something is lost in the translation. "I like to win. I like to win all the time. But sometimes it is not possible. But that is okay, because it is all sports."