For Atlético Madrid, La Liga Title Is a Rare Opportunity


From the other side of the Atlantic, the reluctance with which M.L.S. embraces its history is strange. Yes, of course, those original names — the Kansas City Wiz and the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Des Moines Spanx and whatever — are cartoonish. Yes, obviously, Europeans laugh at them.* Yes, probably, Americans should too, certainly if they want Europeans to stop.

[*It’s odd, because we don’t laugh at N.F.L. or N.B.A. team names, and they’re just as ridiculous.]

But they are also, as the M.L.S. writer Pablo Maurer has pointed out, part of the fabric of soccer’s history in North America, and something is lost in jettisoning them.

It often seems as if the new generation of M.L.S. names — C.F. Montréal and Columbus S.C. and all of the Uniteds — are an attempt to impose a borrowed form of authenticity on a product. If the teams sound European, the logic seems to be, the whole thing will feel more serious, more real.

But importing names and borrowing iconography does not add authenticity; it subtracts it. The Wiz and the Burn and the Sounders — and, yes, the Cosmos, too — are part of American soccer’s origin story. They are where the game came from. They represent its roots far more than a tradition co-opted from Europe. That they are different from the names in the Old World is a strength, not a weakness. Authenticity is not something that can be imposed. It has to be earned, and those names have earned it.

Thanks to Dan Woog for getting in touch to clear up the mystery as to why basketball players do not, apparently, need to warm up like soccer players do. “Soccer players enter a match having sat for a while,” he wrote. “80 minutes or more, in some cases. Basketball players frequently shuttle in and out of games. They may sit for only a few minutes at a time. Presumably, they’re already warm.”

Don Langford, on the other hand, comes with a challenge. “Is it possible to write an article about Manchester City without mentioning their wealth? I realize that City’s financial and ownership position cause serious discomfort among many people. I agree that it’s appropriate to talk about the distorting effect of money and politics in the game. It seems to me, however, that every writer, commentator, or pundit mentions their money whenever possible. Is there an editorial, or technical, or moral requirement to do so?”

This is a great question, Don, and it is something I wrestle with a lot. I would say that there is both an editorial and moral requirement to mention it when it has a direct impact on the article in which it appears. It would, for example, be egregious to mention it when assessing the form of a particular City player, or describing the merits or flaws of a specific performance.