The new MLS team in Miami finally has a name: Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami. It’s a mouthful, but not to worry. They’re shortening it to “Inter Miami” for a nickname.
So you’ve got a club in the United States with a Spanish-language name, whose nickname refers to either Italian giants Internazionale or Brazilian heavyweights Internacional. That’s three, perhaps four languages involved in one club nickname. A new record for nonsensical MLS branding.
If you look at the league’s history, nonsensical branding is a category with an awful lot of competition.
It’s hard to top the original MLS teams for wacky branding. Marketing folks, with free rein with the new league, got a little carried away with the idea that soccer was a new counter-cultural thing in the U.S. and thus needed a whole new style of branding. Remember, this was the mid-1990s, when the next big thing in sports was roller hockey teams with neon colors and non-plural names (bonus points if you remember the Minnesota Arctic Blast or the Minnesota Blue Ox).
In the new league, D.C. United was the only team with a normal name. The other seven featured such hard-to-take-seriously team names as the Kansas City Wiz and the Dallas Burn. The New York/New Jersey MetroStars might have been the most labored team name in the history of professional sports, roller hockey or not. The worst might have been the Tampa Bay Mutiny, which featured a bat-like character as the team logo because the marketing person in charge got the word “mutiny” confused with the word “mutant.”
When the league began to expand in 2004, a new trend emerged: stealing “authentic” European-style names. This is why a team in Salt Lake City named itself “Real,” as if it were a Spanish club; why Houston borrowed its Dynamo nickname from either Moscow or Kiev, and why Kansas City took on the Sporting nickname of a famed Portuguese side.
The effect was less authentic and more Soccer Mad Libs, like a FIFA video game had developed a glitch and started randomly renaming American soccer teams.
Miami’s new name is in that vein, a tradition that’s mostly died out in MLS naming. But even so, it sometimes feels like branding is the chief product of MLS. Inter Miami released a one-page sheet detailing every element of its new logo, containing such nonsense phrases as “The Heron Legs communicate our unity.”
Austin FC, the theoretical new home for the Columbus Crew, did the same, releasing a windy explanation of its new tree-focused logo – an unfortunate symbol, given owner Anthony Precourt’s desire to uproot the Crew from Columbus.
All that branding doesn’t feel authentic. The effect is, well, Astroturf . It’s imitating something it isn’t, and the harder it tries to match the real thing, the further from the real thing it becomes.
The fakeness of Astroturf is why so many soccer players don’t like playing on it. MLS teams make huge efforts to brand themselves in an authentic manner and come up with names that are both exciting and traditional. But the harder they try, the more they’re in danger of going the same way as Astroturf, and feeling more and more fake.
• The U.S. women’s national team defeated Chile twice in a week, 3-0 and 4-0, and now looks to the CONCACAF Championship in October, which also will function as the qualifier for next summer’s World Cup. The United States has a good shot at ending 2018 undefeated, and hasn’t lost since July of last year. But it’s difficult to know just how good the USA is, given that it plays most of its games at home. The team has played just three road games since the 2016 Olympics, and one of those was in Canada.
• Italian sports newspaper Gazetta dello Sport published details of the payrolls of Italian clubs, and the most shocking number was Cristiano Ronaldo’s paycheck. The new Juventus striker is making nearly $36 million this year. That’s more than the entire squads of 10 Serie A teams and nearly four times as much as the next highest-paid player. So far, Ronaldo hasn’t scored a goal, though Juventus has won three games out of three.
• This weekend is the kickoff of the new UEFA Nations League, a year-round competition for national teams that will replace many international friendlies. It remains to be seen whether fans will embrace it. If they do, expect to see the format exported to the rest of the world.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
MLS: D.C. United at New York City, 3:55 p.m. Saturday, Twitter.com (in English) / Univision (in Spanish). Most of the soccer world is focused on international soccer this weekend, but MLS plays on. NYC hasn’t won in four games and is coming off an ugly home loss to New England on Wednesday. D.C. United, which hosts Minnesota United on Wednesday, is going the other direction and climbing in the standings.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. • firstname.lastname@example.org