*Editor's Note: To get a view from the other side, we got Alex Schieferdecker, a contributor for Northern Pitch, a blog that covers Minnesota United, to write this guest post about what the name means to Minnesota. You can find Alex on Twitter at @alexschief*
The first thing you should know is that when the new team name was announced as "Minnesota United FC", not everyone liked it. We're not stupid or gullible. We knew "United" was the unsweetened oatmeal of team names. We knew that there were better options. I believe you all may know the feeling.
But the crest, that beautiful, beautiful crest helped smooth things over. That crest which gave us a nickname; the Loons, that is both unique and extremely relevant locally. In the end, even the early detractors learned to live with the name "United", because in a sense, we had the best of both worlds. A formal name and a nickname. That's a particular soccer convention, like the "Red Devils" of Manchester United or the "Canaries" or Norwich City.
In a way, the name "United" makes a sneaky amount of sense for Minnesota. For one, by convention all Minnesota teams are named after the state, not their city. This is down to the historic rivalry between the Twin Cities a cosmopolitan Minneapolis, the economic engine of the state and sleepy Saint Paul, the capital. To ensure that no feelings were hurt, sports teams avoided the issue of identifying with either city. The name "United" speaks to this division in the same way as baseball's "Twins". Recently, Minnesota United FC have begun to move forward on a soccer specific stadium for MLS that will be located in an area of town called Midway, which is located just about equidistant between the downtowns of both cities.
Then there's the history. From 1994 to 2009, Minnesota was represented by a professional team in the second division named the Minnesota Thunder. The Thunder changed stadiums and owners frequently. In 2009, the team was bankrupted and the owner at the time fled the country. Out of the ashes of the Thunder rose the Minnesota Stars, a team thrown together on the fly to save professional soccer in the state. But the team in that set-up could not last, and was soon taken over by the NASL, who tweaked the brand and ran the team for two years. But no new owners stepped forward, including the Minnesota Vikings, who refused to become involved in a team that they could've purchased and run for pennies on the dollar. At the eleventh hour, in the midst of a desperate and emotional run to the league final, the club was purchased by Dr. Bill McGuire. It was his initiative that rebranded the team for the third time in four years. But it was his initiative that also united this fractured history and promised stability and growth. That's perhaps the most meaningful iteration of United. After cheering for "the team that nobody wanted", the club was at last on solid ground.
We may still not love the name "United", but it's our name. I used to work for the club when everyone was all basically in one room. I remember our sales representatives constantly having to explain to people over the phone that we weren't the Thunder. Current employees have told me that doesn't happen anymore. People know who the team is.
You know the story from here. The club grew. The Vikings suddenly became interested in MLS soccer. With the support of the fans, our club beat the NFL outfit to the punch. There's a kinship between Atlanta fans and Minnesota fans. Don't think we don't know it. We both had lower division clubs that struggled for survival. We both were taken over by the league. We both had interest in soccer from our local NFL team. The only difference is that for Minnesota, this all happened two years earlier. And that has made all the difference in the world. The Loons were strong enough to resist the Vikings. The Silverbacks were not. That's just the way it happened. Things ended up differently.
We've fought a lot of battles over a long time to reach this point. It seems ridiculous to have to fight another one over the least loved part of our identity. What's frustrating is that Minnesota was officially announced as a team in MLS on March 25th. Atlanta officially announced its name on July 7th. There is literally no timeline you can construct, out of publicly available information, in which Atlanta has an earlier claim to the name that Minnesota. Nor, in my opinion, is there an argument that Atlanta has a better claim.
The only explanation I can fathom for this debacle is that Atlanta had reserved the name "United" well before the Loons entered the league, but chose not to announce it. Of course, than conclusion that naturally follows is that their campaign in which you all supplied so many engaging and interesting names was a cynical marketing ploy. It would explain the general sense of bewilderment I got out of Atlanta fans when the name was released, because it seemed as if nobody had truly ever advocated for the name you got.
But look, that doesn't matter. Your name is your name, and we can speak from experience in saying that what matters most is what you, the supporters, make of it. We certainly didn't invent the United name, and you're more than welcome to it as well. People are smart, they can figure out the difference between two teams with similar names as surely as they can parse the New York and San Francisco Giants. The only ones with the issue appear to be in MLS headquarters. Our beef is with them.
Online, I've seen plenty of support for Minnesota United FC in this absurd situation, including from Atlanta fans. I appreciate Dirty South Soccer's invitation to share the point of view from the north. I think this has the makings of a fun rivalry next year, but over this issue, I believe we're generally united.