What’s in a name? A lot, in MLS (Take 2)

When word wafted into the public consciousness last week that the Kansas City Wizards might be changing their name, I found myself in a rather unexpected position: defensive of a name that is, by all accounts, ridiculous. Sure, the name “Wizards” evokes all of the bouncy-castle, soccer-mom provincialist “sawker” stereotypes that MLS is trying to move beyond… but Sporting Kansas City? Real Kansas City? Kansas City FC? These are even more ridiculous. They’re artificial monikers, transplanted from a faraway place, meant to install a veneer of authenticity.

The Wizards name, regardless of its inherent silliness, has history. Fifteen years ain’t much time, but in the North American soccer universe, it ain’t bad. Plus, as Jason Davis points out, there are sillier names that have gained general acceptance simply by virtue of having been around a long time.

Renaming the Wizards to give the franchise a more European-sounding name, and the manufactured prestige that comes with it, would ironically have the opposite effect. The reason we find “FC” and “Sporting” and such pre- and suffixes to be meaningful is that they bring with them, in many cases, 60, 70, 100 years of history in the case of Euro clubs. Throwing away the Wizards name, as part of a “rebranding” exercise, would serve no purpose other than to undermine what historical cache the club has built up.

Just think: the Kansas City Wizards defeated Manchester United. Sure, the Red Devils ran out a D-team and the game was a farce, but still… the Wizards beat Manchester United. Five, 10, 15 years from now, the fact that the Wizards beat ManU will still be accurate, no matter what the franchise is called at that time.

It’s why I found it ridiculous that the folks in Vancouver hesitated in confirming that the team would carry the Whitecaps name into MLS next season. Compared to the FCs and Sportings on the other side of the pond, sure, 35 years of history isn’t much. But with three and a half decades (more or less uninterrupted), the Whitecaps name is one of the most illustrious in North American soccer… even if it is a bit silly-sounding.

And hell, if you want to talk about silly-sounding names that still carry plenty of weight, the New York Cosmos take the cake. The marquee franchise of the old NASL has new ownership, as of yesterday, and new dreams of entering Major League Soccer.

This in a gigantic sporting mecca of a city where the existing team can’t even sell out its brand-new stadium consistently, and where, to put it lightly, the sport hasn’t exactly reached the tipping point. Yet commissioner Don Garber has waxed philosophical about the prospect of adding a second NYC team in the past, and this new ownership group seems to have a leg up based on, really, nothing more than the Cosmos name.

Suffice to say, names matter.

So maybe, at some point in the next seven or eight years, we’ll see the New York Cosmos, with all the historical relevance attached to their name (even if the current incarnation bears no real resemblance to that old crew), paying a visit to Kansas City to play… who? Some team with a cheap Euro-knockoff name?

Or that team that beat Manchester United?


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