By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Oct 10, 2018) US Soccer Players - It’s expansion season in American soccer because every season is expansion season in American soccer. The game in the United States is experiencing a boom period when it comes to adding new professional soccer clubs. Those new professional soccer clubs need names, logos, and colors.
There’s really nothing more important to the initial success of a club than the name and look chosen for its launch. Winning, the stadium atmosphere, the value of the tickets all matter more in the long run for any new club. Still, it’s the first impression that sets the tone.
Recently, that tone has been what we'll politely refer to as “Anglo-inspired”. “Inspired” probably doesn’t do it justice, since in many cases the names for new American teams are simply English-style names ported over to the United States. In a country that calls the sport “soccer” in most cases, the word “football” has an outsized presence here.
Which brings us to the latest addition to the pantheon of Anglo names in American soccer. Welcome to New Mexico United, a club slated to join the USL’s top division in 2019. Based in Albuquerque, the newest “United” is set to play in a minor baseball venue as it begins life in the USL’s rebranded “Championship” level.
New Mexico will be one of five “Uniteds” in the top two divisions in 2019, the others being Minnesota United, Atlanta United, Atlanta United 2, and Loudoun United. Those last two are subsidiaries of MLS teams, the obvious Atlanta United and DC United, respectively. That mitigates some of the responsibility for their less-than-creative names. It does not absolve their parent clubs from going with the tired, simple, and frankly inapplicable sobriquet.
An additional professional United, California United FC fell apart with the NASL's issues. Their name combined three banal elements into one extra banal name.
The origins of “United” as the name for a club go back to the 19th century and England’s burgeoning association football culture. When one or more clubs in an area couldn’t sustain themselves individually and joined together, the result was often called “United” to denote the merger. Though it was never a rule and sometimes didn’t apply at all, the spirit of the “United” name came from the uniting of clubs.
American clubs have leaned on the explanation that their use of “United” relates to the uniting of fans, communities, and so on in their hometowns. When Atlanta United announced that name in June of 2015, club president Darren Eales called it “authentic” and pointed to its English history. Per Eales, the fans were responsible for pushing the club in the direction of “United”. That claim is either representative of a wider predilection towards English-style names across American soccer culture. Or, it's indicative of a lack of consensus in an environment where American-style names aren't popular.
Pro soccer teams stay away from the standard American naming convention. City plus marketing approved name and you have yourself a pro sports team. It's an appearance distinction, a divide between now and the bad old days of the Wiz, Mutiny, Clash, Burn, and so on. Those names seem strange in a world where famous clubs from across oceans that follow different customs appear on American televisions.
American soccer’s inferiority complex may be in no greater evidence than in our need to chase authenticity through the naming of our clubs. The rash of “FC” and “United” branding is a byproduct of the inferiority complex. Better to be boring and copy the English than risk turning off fans who think of the Premier League as the pinnacle of soccer.
The thinking probably goes that American soccer fans anxious to support a professional team in their hometown will show up regardless of the name. Meanwhile, fans who are more apt to need a nudge to give attention to the American game are more likely to give that attention it the name isn’t overly American.
New Mexico United played their own “unity” card when announcing the name.
“We had some amazing submissions for names, everything from Yuccas to Chupacabras,” said New Mexico United owner and CEO Peter Trevisani in a statement on the new club’s website. “Ultimately, we wanted a name that was synonymous with our vision, to unify and create a single team that the entire state can get behind. Soccer has the amazing power to unify even the most diversified groups of people, and we wanted to capture that power in our name. We believe that United does just that."
Rather than look to create a unique identity that fans in Albuquerque and New Mexico can rally and build around, Trevisani’s organization passed the buck. By slapping the now-generic “United” on the club, ownership is asking fans to do the heavy lifting. Occasionally that can work, but it also risks the club lacking anchor elements for years in an environment where getting a fast start is often the difference between long-term sustainability and the struggle for support. At the lower division levels, that’s no small thing.
Neither “Yuccas” nor “Chupacabras” seems like great names, which might be why Trevisani mentioned them at all. Pointing to a few terrible fan suggestions makes the blandness of “United” more appealing by comparison. There are myriad of options for new clubs in-between those two extremes.
A few American soccer clubs have even managed to find it, tying their names to the character of their cities or the history it possesses. USL club Sacramento Republic has one of the strongest identities in the American game because they melded an element of California history and the city’s status as the capital of the state with a vaguely Euro-style moniker.
Perhaps all hope is not lost. The tide might even be turning, at least at the lower division levels. Among the 2019 USL entries, only New Mexico stands out as bland and Austin Bold stands out as strange. El Paso Locomotive mixes plenty of local flavors with the very modern idea of the “brand identity”. Memphis 901 is unique an referential, as is Birmingham Legion. No need to worry too much about the unnecessary “FC” appendage when the names are that interesting.
Once upon a time, American soccer looked to blaze its own trail, making the Old World names a bit more of a fit for the American style. The Miami Fusion, an original MLS club launched in 1996, took the “united” concept and turned it sideways. “Fusion” is a clever way to use the concept without directly aping the name. Maybe the new team in Albuquerque just needed a thesaurus.
More From Jason Davis:
- Predicting the knockout round
- Reggie Cannon and Ben Sweat take different routes to a USMNT call
- An MLS playoff reality check
- Vancouver makes an unexpected move
Logo courtesy of New Mexico United - USL