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Ranking the MLS Team Names

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They call this soccer's "Silly Season". Over in Europe, transfer rumours are in full swing, as everybody is said by everyone to be going everywhere and damn the price. Even in North America, fans eye up old stars said to be on the way out or young guns looking for a second chance and imagine them in their favourite MLS strips. It's a festival of hope, elation, and crushing disappointment all rolled into one. No wonder so many people enjoy it.

I find it silly in quite another way: there's hardly anything to write about. Between retirements of once-prominent national team members, I can hardly find anything interesting to discuss. Even the Whitecaps, apart from that Robbie Keane rumour seemingly centuries ago, have been both quiet and guarded, with any moves they're preparing to make kept securely under their hats. What's there to write about, besides which players that the Whitecaps already have might be coming into Major League Soccer and how great Luca Bellisomo and Randy Edwini-Bonsu were?

So, screw it. If I can't be insightful, I'll be inflammatory. If there's been one constant subject of discussion in MLS fandom the last few years, it's the naming of their teams: it got started along with the league and reached a fever pitch with the expansion into Salt Lake and the re-branding of the former Kansas City Wizards. Some, like me, argue that those European names cheapen North American soccer traditions and hint that we all have a massive inferiority complex about our place in the world's game without luring in a single new fan. Others say that those European-descended monikers acknowledge that soccer is a sport that extends far beyond the reaches of North America and there's something commendable about bringing a little internationalism into the often-insular world of American sports.

I say, screw that. So after the jump, I undertake to rank all eighteen MLS teams by how much I like their team names. I won't say this will be interesting. Or educational. Or readable. I can, however, guarantee that it will be long.

(Not the best sales pitch I've ever made, I know. I think I'm still hung over from New Years.)

  1. Real Salt Lake. Oh, please, like I have to explain this one?

    Pros: Did not manifest into a gigantic foot and personally kick me in the junk.
    Cons: Absolutely everything else.
    Verdict: I have a theory that "Real Salt Lake" was named are a really long, difficult meeting. Nobody could come up with a new for this new Major League Soccer team that was going to put Salt Lake City on the map as something other than "that place way too many flights stop over at." Tension was high. Some young soccer executive, trying to crack a joke and lighten the mood, said "hell, people love Real Madrid, let's call our team Real Salt Lake." And when the staff started to take it seriously, the young executive was too terrified to tell them it was an awful joke and they were all awful people for considering this.

    Because I refuse to believe somebody actually mooted that name seriously.

  1. Sporting Kansas City. Like Real Salt Lake's six-year-old brother who thinks everything the older sibling does is so cool it must be ferociously imitated.

    Pros: Isn't named what translates into "Royal Kansas City" despite having no royal patronage and playing in a country that had a revolution to kick out a monarchy. I have to get awfully specific when looking on the bright side of this name.
    Cons: Still really, really stupid. Got MLS in the news this winter as a thing for people to laugh at. Judging by some of Kansas City's results in the past few seasons, I'm not sure they really are all that sporting. Makes me long for "Kansas City Wiz", and that's hard to do.
    Verdict: I'm not sure what's up with these faux-European names. I mean, is some guy who only watches La Liga going to start attending Kansas City games because their name is stupid? Or is he going to laugh, say that just proves how MLS has an enormous inferiority complex, and go back to watching Cristiano Ronaldo trip over individual blades of grass? Come on. You can't take a club named Sporting Kansas City seriously unless you actually cheer for Sporting Kansas City, and even then I bet it's a struggle.

  1. C.D. Chivas USA. Our first non-faux-European club on the list! Instead, it's a faux-Mexican club. I think that's an improvement?

    Pros: Everyone just calls them "Chivas USA" anyway, which is actually kinda badass. Naming your club after a Mexican team is somewhat understandable when your entire raison d'etre is "bring Mexicans to MLS games."
    Cons: The full name of the team is Club Deportivo Chivas USA, which translates as "Goats Sporting Club... er, USA." Long-time MLS observers will recall that the team is named after C.D. Guadalajara of Mexico, nicknamed "Chivas". If some mad Manchester United fan started up Red Devils United USA as an MLS team, I would be obliged to hate that name with the burning fire of a thousand suns. So I don't see why the Mexicans should get an exemption.
    Verdict: This team feels like it was named by some MLS marketing executive from New York who didn't speak word one of Spanish and just browsed Wikipedia for an afternoon.

  1. FC Dallas. Ah, that fake European veneer. It's been so long since we've seem you. And by "so long" I mean "one entry".

    Pros: It's short. Nine letters. Hard to get much shorter than that unless you want to blow it up to "Football Club Dallas", and, well, why would you?
    Cons: Not only promotes the whole "we're calling it a 'football club' even though we call the sport we're playing 'soccer'" ridiculousness, but does it the wrong way around! "Football Club Dallas"? Is this Italy? I'm pretty sure this isn't Italy. Then it takes that Sincere Europeanity and puts it in a stadium called "Pizza Hut Park" with a bouncy castle on one end. That technically hasn't got anything to do with the name but may still be the worst thing I've ever heard of.
    Verdict: They didn't even try, did they? "Let's call them... Dallas FC. No. FC Dallas. Fantastic. Print up the stationary; who wants to go for ribs?" Or possibly it was the result of a complex marketing study. "We found that what Dallas-area soccer fans most want from a name is to know that it is a football club, and that it is in Dallas. We believe this new moniker will satisfy our core objectives." By the way, they actually play in Frisco, Texas, so, yeah.

  1. Houston Dynamo. I'm not sure whether to call this a European nickname or what; surely the Eurosnob version would be "Dynamo Houston" and how many Soviet ex-pats are there in the Houston area anyway? I am sure that I can call it dumb, though.

    Pros: They were going to name the team "Houston 1836", which is just stupid. Can you imagine cheering for a team named after a year? Not just that, but Dynamo Theory is a great name for an SB Nation blog; naming a website after a year would just be ridiculous. You'd have to be a real idiot to do that.
    Cons: I hate team nicknames which aren't plurals, and I hate them any more when the plural would work perfectly well: what's wrong with "Houston Dynamos"? Beyond the fact that "Dynamo" is a dumb name no matter how you suffix it. Names like this give North American naming conventions a bad reputation and make people think calling their teams "Real Salt Lake" is a good idea.
    Verdict: The first authentically North American name on this list is not offensive, just ugly. Really, the state of Texas has bad luck with soccer team names. Which is weird when you consider the great names their NFL teams have: the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Tex... well, the Dallas Cowboys anyway.

  1. New York Red Bulls. Ah, the bane that is corporate sponsorship. It provides valuable money to the league which allows teams to buy better players and increase the quality of play, benefiting supporters in every city and lending much-needed credibility to a still-nascent league trying to prove itself on the world stage. On the other hand, it's really tacky, so screw it.

    Pros: It's not "New York/New Jersey MetroStars", which is either a pro or a con depending on what side of the bed I got up on. As corporate names go, "Red Bulls" is classier than, say, "Microsofts" or "Nutrilites" or "Big Seth's Plumbing and Radiators" would have been. Shares a name with Austria's Red Bull Salzburg but manages to entirely avoid the stink of Euro-centrism because, well, who cares about Red Bull Salzburg?
    Cons: How disgraceful is it that we live in a world where an energy drink company can pay cash money to imprint its identity on our beloved soccer clubs? It's revolting. I mean, there are advertisements in our stadium names and on the boards around the pitch and everywhere in the stadium and in massive letters on the front of our players' chests, but naming the team is just a bridge too far.
    Verdict: Loses points for its mercenary nature, but "New York Red Bulls" is probably the best corporate-named team we're going to get until Richard Branson finally names a team after the Virgin Group.

  1. Toronto FC. You knew they'd be way down on the list, if only because I'm a Whitecaps fan and am therefore required by constitutional amendment to needle TFC supporters every chance I get.

    Pros: Can't be that offensive because there's nothing actually in the name. It's a chunk of Generic Soccer Team Name, served out of a can with a joyless blue label. It has all the personality of a wooden plank with Mo Johnston's face painted on it.
    Cons: We're Canadians, we play soccer, not football. Its very conservatism makes it lame and instantly forgettable, much like their players. And Toronto's history is filled with great soccer team names: the Blizzard! The Lynx! The Supra! The... uh, Lady Lynx! Come on, guys. Serious D- for effort right there.
    Verdict: Toronto FC's name is like white bread. It isn't memorable, it isn't going to offend your palate, but it still makes you feel vaguely, indefinably rotten.

  1. Columbus Crew. HA! Columbus finishes above Toronto again! The Trillium Cup: Mediocre Nicknames Division has a clear winner this season!

    Pros: Authentically North American. There's no way a Premier League or La Liga club would give their team a nickname like "the Crew". No chance whatsoever. Even a team made up of guys who rowed crew for Oxford would come up with a better name than "the Crew".
    Cons: "Columbus Crew" sounds like a name for a club-sponsored all-ages supporters group, not an actual team. "Come join the Columbus Crew for only $25 a season! Stand up and sing G-rated chants just like those hooligans you see on TV! And show up July 15 for our special Chuck a Flare at Stefan Frei's Head Night!"
    Verdict: If there was a Saturday Night Live sketch in the late '80s mocking American soccer and the NASL's love of ridiculous expansion teams, I'm pretty sure one of the parody teams would have been named "the Columbus Crew".

  1. Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Yes! My boys make the top ten! Which would be a lot more impressive if this weren't an eighteen-team league.

    Pros: It has a long, glorious history behind it. I'm not convinced this is actually a pro, especially since I just made a joke about how stupid some NASL team names were, but this is a Whitecaps blog and I know somebody's going to bring it up so I'm getting that out of the way right now.
    Cons: The whole "whitecaps" thing refers to both the snowy peaks of our mountains and the frothy caps on our rolling waves. It would be a lovely metaphor if those weren't, um, kinda stupid things to name a team after. I'm probably most bugged by the "FC" at the end: it's like the team couldn't make up its mind whether to be Eurosnobby or North American and decided to split the difference. They should have just gone for parody and been "FC Vancouver Whitecaps United" or something. Real FC Vancouver Whitecaps United.
    Verdict: My boys in blue and white, unfortunately, come off a bit like dopes in this competition. It could be worse, though: remember a few years ago when they dropped the Vancouver and were just calling themselves "Whitecaps FC"? That would have put them down in Salt Lake territory. My god, was that ever unfortunate.

  1. Seattle Sounders FC. This is the exact same name as the Whitecaps, down to the molecular level. If I didn't cheer for one of these teams, I'd get the Sounders and the Whitecaps confused all the time. "Wait, which one plays in the retractable-roof throwball stadium with artificial turf and a closed-off upper deck in an rainy pot-smoking mid-sized northwestern city? Both of them? Shit!"

    Pros: "Seattle Sounders" is alliterative. That's it. You hear that, Sounders fans? That's the only reason you're ahead of Vancouver. Alliteration. When a German pronounces my team's name so it comes out "Vancouver Vhitecaps", you don't even have that.Cons: Just go up and read that Whitecaps paragraph again, substituting "Seattle" where appropriate. It'll save me copy-pasting. These names are so similar that, when the Sounders and the Whitecaps were growing up, their mom had to put them in different-coloured sweaters so she could tell which one was which.
    Verdict: If the Sounders really want to forge a unique identity, they should change their name to the "Seattle Scumbags" and go all-out like wrestling heels. Sigi Schmid can start wearing fur coats and lighting cigars with $100 bills. Do they still have Jeff Parke? There's a guy who was born to powerbomb opposing strikers through the ESPN Deportes broadcast table. Let's face it, most of MLS hates the Sounders already. Run with it!

  1. Los Angeles Galaxy. Sure, this name is kinda stupid, but is it as stupid as the rest of these? We're up to eighth place and still dealing with stupid names. I'm beginning to think that I'm just a grumpy bastard.

    Pros: Puts me in mind of the Ford Galaxie, which can't be a bad thing. Given the way Los Angeles loads up on famous players like David Beckham and Landon Donovan, it's hard to think of a more appropriate name for MLS's heir to the New York Cosmos.
    Cons: "Los Angeles Galaxy" is so '80s that whenever I watch one of their games I spontaneously grow a mullet. They also lose points for being the only MLS team most non-North Americans have heard of: surely the face of our league should have less of a Carl Sagan motif.
    Verdict: This nickname isn't really so bad, but I still feel vaguely dissatisfied with it. This team has all the ingredients for success and feels like it should be named better than it is. Whoa, metaphor for the Galaxy's on-field performance alert! I made it so subtle, you might have missed it.

  1. Chicago Fire, or as I prefer to call it "the MLS team people keep forgetting". Admit it, you forgot about the Chicago Fire. You got confused when I mentioned them for just a second. "Are they still around?" We're all friends here, be honest.

    Pros: Fire is a much more intimidating symbol of unstoppable soccer power than, say, the Puget Sound, or snowy mountains, or the letters "FC". The Chicago Fire is probably the only MLS team that sounds like it could be a hockey team. A roller hockey team, but still.
    Cons: You know how, when parents are naming a child, they'll sometimes go through ways the names can be twisted so the kid doesn't get mocked in school? Calling a kid named Bart "Fart" and so on? I think soccer teams should do that with lazy soccer writer puns. Particularly teams that are kinda crappy all the time and go through a lot of coaches, but have occasional timely hot streaks. Naming a team like that "Fire" was just asking for it.
    Verdict: A decent name, but one ruined by columnists on a deadline and with no better ideas for a headline. Soccer journalism ruins everything, this site not excluded.

  1. D.C. United. Yes, the last Eurosnob name makes an appearance at number six. That's a long way up the list, I know. I'll turn in my Pretentious MLS Fan card at the nearest Champ Sports.

    Pros: If it wasn't obvious, I kinda like D.C. United. It's simple, but in a good way. As European touches go, "United" is one that's generic enough to be harmless and even charming. And going with "D.C." rather than Washington lends a certain touch of authenticity. Nobody is more surprised than I am; I'm frankly not sure how this happened.
    Cons: Besides the obvious? I'm not sure there are any. This is a good, workmanlike name that doesn't get the credit it deserves. This is the Dan Gargan of MLS team names.
    Verdict: It's simple, it's strong, and against my better judgment I like it. Plus, the irony of naming a team based in the American capital "United" is worth a giggle every couple of weeks.

  1. New England Revolution. You say you want a revolution? Because I know I do. I don't want to change the world, I just want teams with awesome nicknames like this. If you talk about changing this nickname, don't you know that you can count me out? How far can I extend this joke?

    Pros: This isn't just not a European name, it's an anti-European name. The American Revolution! Take that, Premier League addicts! They're tossing the tea of the North American soccer inferiority complex into Boston Harbor! They're crossing the Delaware of pretension in the boat of national pride! We just need a Canadian MLS team named the Hamilton Queenston Heights or something and we can start an actual war over this!
    Cons: Apart from that, it's actually pretty lame. And "Revs" sounds like a third-rate motorcycle gang.
    Verdict: The New England Revolution. Great for Beatles jokes, great for lining up redcoats against a brick wall with a last cigarette, not so great for chanting at a soccer match but I forgive them all the same.

  1. San Jose Earthquakes. Another rare example of an MLS team that sounds like it could be in a league other than MLS. I was always surprised this one came from the NASL era; it sounds way more 1998 than that. Surely the NASL team was really named the "Urfquakez" or something, but we all airbrushed the photos and agreed to forget about that?

    Pros: Simple and unambitious, but still looks like they're trying. It's hard to get offended by "Earthquakes" and easy to get revved up by it. Lends itself to die-hard supporters stamping on the terraces and trying to simulate an actual earthquake, which would be unbelievably cool. You know, if San Jose had any die-hard supporters.
    Cons: Naming a team playing near the San Andreas Fault after an earthquake seems like running up to the gods and tweaking their noses. If a bunch of people ever die during an earthquake in the middle of a San Jose Earthquakes game, this name will seem a lot less fun.
    Verdict: This is a good, strong nickname until the moment a natural disaster turns it into the most horrifying moniker imaginable. If nothing else, at least the tension is exciting.

  1. Colorado Rapids. A lot like the San Jose Earthquakes: named after a natural phenomenon that frightens those who encounter it and can take lives. Except that no Rapids fans are likely to die during the game in tragic kayaking accidents.

    Pros: The double meaning of Rapids meaning "intimidating, rock-strewn bodies of water that can easily kill the unwary" and "just plain quick" is magnificently appropriate for a soccer team. Also, it manages not to be a reference to mountains, which for a Colorado sports team is borderline revolutionary.
    Cons: Just slightly dull and uninspiring. While I haven't heard it yet, leads to the possibility of being nicknamed the Raps and nobody wants that.
    Verdict: You know that Genesis song "In the Rapids"? Probably not, but I always think of that song when I watch this team and since it's a pretty good song, the Colorado Rapids are fine by me.

  1. Philadelphia Union. I was disappointed that they didn't name the team "Philadelphia Freedom" and go with the twin totems of the American Revolution and Elton John, but this is still pretty good.

    Pros: In a weird way, it sounds like it could be European but isn't. It might be the best of both worlds: so similar to "Philadelphia United" that the European fan might do a double-take, but distinctly and undeniably American. It's perfectly appropriate for the city of Philadelphia, first capital of the United States and one of the cradles of their country. It's short and easy to shout. It doesn't easily lend itself to mocking puns from opposing supporters. It's borderline perfect.Cons: We've established I don't like team nicknames that aren't easily pluralized. But... no, forget it. I'm not even going to bother with this one. "Union" is better than anything I could have come up with. This is terrific.
    Verdict: Good name. Great logo. Lovely stadium. Crummy team, which is too bad, but they'll get over it. When they announced this as the name for the MLS expansion team, I kinda liked them immediately, and even now that the Whitecaps are joining MLS I still have a soft spot for the Union. That's now you know your name is solid: when otherwise hostile supporters are on your side because of it.

  1. Portland Timbers. Oh, hell, I put the Portscum at number one. I feel like I need to take a shower. A sulfuric acid shower. This is just unforgivable. But, unfortunately, this name is just so perfect not even a Whitecaps fan can deny it.

    Pros: "Timbers" is just the right combination of the abstract and the concrete. Everybody knows what timber is, obviously; it's a thing you can reach out and touch and get splinters from. But it also evokes far less literal interpretations: of lumberjacks and logrolling and big, strong men in flannel swinging two-headed axes like real lumberjacks never really did but bear with me. Plus, playing in a city that's now a technology capital but once relied so heavily on the timber trade it's actually nicknamed "Stumptown", it's got that perfect local relevance that only a local would ever really get.
    Cons: The team that plays with that magnificent nickname is still the Portland Timbers. Normally that would be enough to put them at seventeenth on its own. But I'm trying to set my pro-Whitecaps biases aside for this one.
    Verdict: I really like this name. I like everything about it, from its almost inside-baseball referencing of the city's past to the way it conjures up images of a gritty, rough-and-tumble world that no longer exists but would be welcome on the soccer pitch if it still did. The Portland Timbers are all right by me. The name, I mean! Just the name! Don't get any ideas, you Portland bastards.