…to come up with their own traditions and culture.
Let me say at the outset that this is not another “Soccer is STOOPID” thread. It’s not a game that has ever caught my interest, but I know it’s the most popular sport on the planet, and that the World Cup is only rivaled by the Olympics as the biggest international sporting event. I’m not here to crap on the game.
But my home city of Atlanta just got a brand-new, hugely popular MLS franchise that the city has gone nuts for. (Which makes me feel like an atheist at a tent revival, 'cuz I just can’t get into soccer.) I was looking at an Atlanta United mural the other day when I finally realized why the MLS slightly irritates me. It’s because they are not trying to be an American soccer league; they’re pretending to be a European one in the U.S.
For example, Atlanta United, and other teams, call themselves “football clubs”. Yes, I know that the game they play is called “football” in all the rest of the world. But here in this country, it’s known as “soccer”. (And that’s completely leaving aside the argument on which code has the right to the name. Both are “football”, in the same manner and for exactly the same reason that gorillas and chimpanzees are both “apes”.) For better or worse, “football” in the U.S. is the sport in which players wear pads, carry the ball, and play in the autumn. The sport played by kicking a ball into a goal is called “soccer.”
The other thing is the team names. American sports leagues have a pattern for team names - a locale, then a nickname. Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Braves, Golden State Warriors. Some MLS teams, like the Portland Timbers or the San Jose Earthquakes, adhere to this. But then you have “Atlanta United” (plus two other "United"s and one “Union”), “Sporting Kansas City”, and even “Real Salt Lake”. Clearly, these are attempts to evoke famous European teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid. (If MLS ever put a team in New Jersey, I bet they’d call it Bayonne Munchen.)
The European teams’ names actually mean something, though. According to Wikipedia, Manchester United was formed by the merger of two teams, thus the “United”. Atlanta United and DC United have no historic reason to be called such.
“Real Salt Lake” is especially egregious, as “real” in Spanish means “royal”; Real Madrid was granted that title by the King of Spain. The owners of the Salt Lake team apparently awarded it to themselves because it sounded cool and European. I think it just sounds stupid, especially as “real” is also an English word. Is their minor league team called “Fake Salt Lake”?
MLS has survived longer than any other major soccer league in the US, and Atlanta United flags, jersey, and hats are everywhere to be seen in Atlanta, so clearly there’s a demand for it. Thus is seems presumptuous to me to try to ape the culture and history of legacy European teams, rather than establish a culture of their own. Soccer scarves seem pretty damn silly on Atlanta fans in July.
I’ll bet if MLS didn’t try to force a culture on their fans, one would emerge organically. Trust your fans, MLS.