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A celebration of U.S. Soccer”s weirdness

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As the summer of 1995 came to a close, Luis Orozco, a Colombian-born student living in Akron, Ohio, popped a letter in the mail that was bound for his local newspaper. He was overcome by two emotions: pessimism and intrigue. The latter of the two was fueled by Orozco’s love of football, which, to his delight, was welcoming a yet-to-be-named professional team to his area, set for a place in the newly formed Major League Soccer league. The pessimism: that came from Orozco’s belief that his suggestion for the Columbus slot’s name, contained in the letter that was now on its way to the Columbus Dispatch, may not be chosen, thanks to a wave of competition.

But on October 17, 1995, Dispatch readers opened their newspapers to find that Orozco’s submission—the “Columbus Crew,” inspired by those who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his many voyages—had been selected. With the new team name emblazoned in the headline, other, less successful suggestions were also used to fill column inches in the newspaper that day: From Alley Cats, Cowtown Eleven, and Evil Squirrels to Goalrillas and Zuts. It was a smorgasbord of odd, funny, and downright bad team names—with Orozco’s snatching the essential prize.

But the inspiration behind Orozco’s suggestion didn’t hold: In a Columbus-esque discovery of his own, he was informed that the club’s branding would not be in keeping with his vision of sailors, exploration, and nautical ties when the club unveiled a logo depicting a crew of construction workers.

“The slogan that I proposed was: ‘Christopher Columbus discovered America… Come and discover us,’” Orozco told Eight by Eight. “They wanted it to be a blue collar team, the hardest-working team in America: a hard hats and construction-worker kind of image.”

The naming of American football clubs has traditionally followed a simple format: geographical locator first, identifiable nickname second. It is this approach to branding, and selection processes like that of the Crew’s, that has led to some eyebrow-raising choices of names.

When the sport was first taking off professionally, in the 1960s and ’70s, the names of new franchises were never discussed at North American Soccer League meetings, said Clive Toye, a former general manager of NASL franchises the Baltimore Bays and New York Cosmos. He also had stints at the playfully named Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard.

“Whoever owned the team said, ‘I want that name,’ and that was it,” said Toye. “End of story.”

This Wild West of naming opportunities produced such fan-pleasing titles as the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Portland Timbers, and the Seattle Sounders. Other, more shocking concoctions, however—like the owner-driven name of a New England franchise bankrolled by the Lipton family, the Tea Men—suggest that it was perhaps not advisable to let the owners go at it alone. Boomers, Roughnecks, Rogues, Toros, and Mustangs have all run off American club football’s naming production line since the days of the NASL—perhaps with little or no marketing advice behind them. (Toye, though, contends there were no bad names; they were just different to what people were used to elsewhere in the world.)

Unlike in Europe, where football has been ingrained into local communities and teams have storied histories to protect, the obvious choice of American clubs is to build an identifiable—and potentially global—brand, using a location-followed-by-nickname approach, online casino canada according to sports-marketing expert Andy Milligan. Having a locator (like a Manchester, New York, or Atlanta) lets people know where a team is from, even if they hadn’t been aware that there was a football team from that area. The nickname: That is something the fans new to a team (or who are about to follow a team that is soon to emerge) can immediately get behind.

This style—from the NASL days through the U.S.’s football hiatus in the ’80s and early ’90s, down to amateur sides—was an obvious, one-size-fits-all approach that would be followed to the letter by most MLS teams when the league began, in 1996. Only D.C. United’s European-style name and Miami Fusion’s addition of “FC” were real acts of invention—setting the trend for future evolution.

As the league has developed and the game has become more globalized, team identifiers have become ever more far-reaching. Salt Lake slapped the word Real, a signifier of patronage from the Spanish monarchy and a link to Real Madrid, before their geographical identifier; New York City FC’s name shows the link to their Manchester-based parent club; Houston Dynamo sounds European but actually refers to the area’s energy-based economy; and the moniker of MLS-elect Orlando City SC would be right at home in the Premier League.

And then there’s Kansas City, who, in 2010, switched from the very American-sounding Kansas City Wizards to the very European-sounding Sporting Kansas City, in something a little more common to American sports fans than those elsewhere in the world: a rebrand. That change would be included in Time magazine’s “Top 10 Dubious Name Changes” list, alongside P-Diddy and Coke.

“We felt like we had a dormant brand in Kansas City Wizards and that it hadn’t really caught on,” said Andy Tretiak, chief marketing officer for the club. “It was time to rip the Band-Aid off entirely. And the more we walked and walked with it, the more people got it.”

It’s that “it” that means Luis Orozco’s Columbus Crew name could one day come to an end, as—unlike in, say, England, where names are practically set in stone—fans crave a new identifier to associate with. On October 8, 2014, 19 years after Orozco popped his submission in the mail, the Crew unveiled a new logo, which would see the team abandon the hard hats and builders in favor of a more traditional, checkered crest. Unlike with Kansas’s complete overhaul, the franchise opted to keep Orozco’s moniker for the foreseeable future, simply adding “SC,” for “Soccer Club,” to the title.

“Most of the people who know me, they think it was a pretty easy choice,” said Orozco, who’s confident his name has the longevity to last for years to come. “The Crew. Simple—even just to cheer.”

This article originally appeared in issue 04, which is available for purchase in our shop.

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