It’s difficult to argue that most of the excitement surrounding the North American Soccer League (NASL) has to do with its future. After all, the league is currently a 7-team competition, with clubs zipping across the continent to play each other a total of four times a year, where quality is often questionable both on and off the pitch. As with many things, the league will go through an array of ups and downs on its way through its youth stage and, if all goes well, into maturity. In a similar manner to Major League Soccer (MLS) almost a decade ago, there will come a time when NASL will have pressing issues with respect to its identity moving forward. And, as with most international leagues, its identity will, to a large degree, be based on its clubs personalities. With this in mind, NASL is getting set to welcome a host of new teams in future years. Each new team will add its own unique elements to a league attempting to find its spot in the complex North American sports scene. At a basic level, NASL offers its clubs more freedom in establishing identities relative to leagues such as MLS, where personalities are often decided behind-the-scenes in league offices. The recently established Virginia Cavalry FC, Minnesota United FC, and our beloved Ottawa Fury FC did not, for example, feel the pressure of forced kit designs from a league-wide Adidas deal which MLS clubs must adhere to.
Perhaps the freshest of the new personalities is emanating from Virginia, where ownership for their new club has decided to integrate the state’s history into the team’s identity. With a fan vote yielding the moniker ‘Virginia Cavalry FC’, the club has managed to find a name which largely appeals to a wide array of its potential followers, from traditional footie supporters to North American soccer kids and their parents who drive them to games. Traditionalists, who may or may not support the nickname at face value, can accept the fact it integrates their regional identity more-so than typical North American sports nicknames, where frightening creatures (penguins in Pittsburgh?) or weather phenomena (lightening in Tampa?) are attached to clubs. North American minded fans, in the meantime, can also appreciate their team’s gallant nickname. Additionally, Virginia has introduced a simple, yet character-filled logo which directly complements their chosen name. A stallion, the letters CAV, and a well placed club name on a simple shield gives the badge enough character to support the club, with the only slight issue being that it’s a tad generic.
Elsewhere, last year’s Minnesota Stars are this year’s Minnesota United FC. With a new owner (Bill Mcguire) came promises to revolutionize the sport in Minnesota, starting with the rebranding of the club’s name to a traditional mindset. The only flaw may have been the choice of the name, with ‘United’ being confusing to the North American audience, while drawing a love-it-or-hate-it reaction from established footie supporters, particularly now that the club has the initials MUFC, similar to a particular club in England. They may be forgiven, however, with the ‘uniting’ features of the club’s new badge. At face value, the modernistic design, like the name itself, would likely draw a love-it-or-hate-it response from supporters. When digging deeper, however, its suggested that a loon taking flight over a blue stripe is symbolic of the bird flying over the Mississippi river that separates the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, which the club ‘unites’. Additionally, the loon’s eleven feathers represent eleven united players on the pitch, an element that only adds to the badge’s design. With all this in mind, Minnesota makes a fair case for both the risky adoption of the United name and the introduction of a modernistic logo which would typically draw mixed reviews from critics.
For the Bytown Boys, the most anticipated name and logo show of them all was that of our own Ottawa Fury FC, a name which the club introduced while our group was on hand to help create a supportive atmosphere. Like in Minnesota, the club’s name choice is one which initially draws mixed reactions from supporters. However, and like in Minnesota, if one digs deep, reasons for retaining the name can be uncovered. It’s understandable that Fury FC has been a moniker associated with the organization since at least 2005, with both the PDL and W-league clubs carving an impressively successful record under the name. From this standpoint, retaining the identity is a bold, but great decision, as the club made an independent choice and did not cave under the pressure of adopting a strictly traditional name which many would have deemed more appropriate. The name itself is well-established within the community, with the locals at least aware of the club’s existence. For the Fury, this eliminates the need to start anew with respect to attracting new fans or supporters. The moniker, however, is intriguing for a footie club. It comes with the potential of either evolving into a part of the club’s identity, similar to England’s Tottenham, a club who are simply referred to as ‘Spurs’ to a large degree. However, it may also fade as supporters lean towards referring to the club as ‘Ottawa’ while downplaying the ‘Fury’-ous portion of the name. The club appears inclined to shift perception into the former direction, where ‘Fury FC’ may one day ring a similar tune to referring to an EPL club as ‘Spurs’. However, if this is unsuccessful, there is potential for awkward placement of the club’s chosen nickname within the overall name.
Shortly after a bold name announcement, the Fury released potential badges which, like the name itself, are intriguing at first glance. All three possibilities feature a fiery theme which caught many by surprise, due to the relatively little association between flames and the city. Additionally, the badges suffer from a lack of creativity and exude a slightly generic feel. For NASL, a generic ambience of its club’s badges is emerging as an issue moving forward, with Canada’s original entrant, FC Edmonton, serving as a key example. Like the Fury potential badges, FC Edmonton features a simplistic logo with a ball, a shield, the word ‘Edmonton’, and a maple leaf tucked behind, contributing a slight amount of character to the whole design. And, once again, the badge does little to represent the city of Edmonton or the club itself. Canada’s three MLS entries, on the other hand, each feature logos which represent either their city or club well, with local characteristics such as a fleur de lis (Montreal Impact), rivers and mountains (Vancouver Whitecaps), or overall ‘Canadian-ness’ and other elements which contribute to club character (Toronto FC). It would be wise for both Canada’s NASL entries, as well as the league as a whole, to look at MLS and its past struggles as it looks to develop an identity.
It wasn’t that long ago when Major League Soccer was in a similar position to NASL, with a small number of clubs zipping across the continent and seeing relatively limited action, and quality being an issue both on and off the pitch. What MLS does indicate is the fact that the perceived quality of a league is dependent on off-pitch issues almost to a larger degree than on-pitch quality, a fact that MLS’ former Kansas City Wizards can attest to. In its metaphorical infancy and youth stages, ‘The Wiz’ was heralded as a reason for MLS’ lack of popularity relative to established international leagues. It’s difficult to argue with those who claimed the club was an amateur organization, as its name was literally borrowed from kids entertainment and it played in a cramped baseball field where a pitcher’s mound obstructed a part of the pitch. Be that as it may, however, it took a few short months to revolutionize the feel of the club, as it gained immense increase in perception simply by moving to a world class facility and adopting a name which correlates to traditional footy a lot more than their early magical moniker. NASL can take note of this, and it can be argued that a similar phenomenon is underway in Minnesota with the Stars adopting a United moniker and a more character-filled badge.
As NASL continues to grow, the league will inevitably welcome a host of new clubs to its repertoire. With each new club will come a new name, badge, and character which will contribute to the league’s overall image and identity moving forward. The league’s journey into maturity will come with difficulty as it looks to appeal to as many potential fans and supporters as possible. Like MLS, there will be a time when NASL must balance the needs of its traditional supporters with those of its fans which prefer a North American sports mentality. In a similar manner to any growing entity, the NASL will need to cater to its own preferences while conforming to the needs of reality. But, as many claim, the journey of growing up is one of life’s greatest adventures, a fact that the North American Soccer league will one day attest to, whether they like it or not.