An FC by any other name

Last week, when New England revealed its new logo, part of the “reveal” included the phrase “Proudly not another FC.” 

When Major League Soccer launched in 1994, its ten teams were Columbus Crew, D.C. United, New England Revolution, NY/NJ MetroStars, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Colorado Rapids, Dallas Burn, Kansas City Wiz, Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Clash. 

Something funny has happened along the last 26 years. Only five of those original names still exist and, even of those five, only one—D.C. United—has a “European” inflection to it (and there is not an FC in the lot). Next year, 19 of the 28 teams are of some variety of “FC” or “SC” (this includes teams like Vancouver Whitecaps FC whom we generally think of without regard to the FC appendage), “United,” the rebranded “Sporting Kansas City” and the to-me-still-head-scratching “Real Salt Lake.”

Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on this. While in general, I want US soccer (fans and league) to “do their own thing” and not feel like we have to look over to Europe to figure out how to be fans or how organize the entire system, I’ve also had moments when I thought many of the nicknames sounded somehow silly or trite, and I actively wanted us to get in line with Europe on the name styles, even if they didn’t make a lot of sense (NONE of these teams are “Clubs” in the traditional sense by any stretch, and the “Real” nomenclature seems almost parodic when put into relief). 

Names have persuasive power and, like it or not, “Football Club” or “FC” just signified something different about this sport compared to others. Indeed, not having to ask “Why is the team called XXXX FC?” acted as something of a shibboleth for American soccer fans. When a new fan would ask me why a team wasn’t a nickname, I felt like an insider.

As silly as it sounds, I even cringed a little at first when Nashville needed to move from FC to SC (now, I hold it at a matter of distinction).   My colleague Jonathan Slape, on the other hand, thinks all the FCs should be SCs because “soccer” is the “American” (or US) way of referring to the sport. While other countries have used “soccer” and “football” interchangeably in the past, once the NASL put a US claim on the phrase, other nations began holding their nose whenever it was spoken. So, on that point, I’ve given in: better an SC than an FC any ole day.

All that said, in the end, I think what matters most is consistency. Each one of these soccer communities is trying to build a tradition. So, regardless of what names are chosen, I now simply hope that the teams stick with them. If you can stick with a name, it helps tell the story of the club. The “FCs” will have a sound that dates when those teams entered the league; the “Sounders,” “Timbers” and “Whitecaps” signify, in part, their histories as earlier franchises in the NASL.  Nashville’s switch from FC to SC, partially motivated by rebranding, partially motivated by other legal contingencies at the time, itself tells a story.

But consistency is key. While I’m all on board with changing the names of teams like the Braves or Indians or Redskins, the reason some of the fans want to hold on to those names is because of tradition. While I think they are wrong, I get it. I would try to smack someone silly who tried to alter Chelsea’s name or colors.

Indeed, in New Englands’ press release concerning the new logo, and their recommitment to the name “Revolution,” they make it clear that months of research and focus groups made it clear that the fans did not want the name touched or altered in any way. They came into as Revolution fans and always wanted to be Revolutions fans (also, can you imagine how angry you would be if you had a Kansas City Wiz tattoo?).

So, while I’m still up in the air about FCs, SCs, and Uniteds, I hope the names now don’t change. We’re building something. Let’s let the ground settle.

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