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Jon Marthaler writes about the Minnesota United and sport of soccer.

Report: Minnesota United faces name change with move to MLS

Three years ago, following Bill McGuire's purchase of Minnesota's pro soccer team, the new ownership group held a press conference to announce the team's new name: Minnesota United FC. Now, a report by Brian Straus at Sports Illustrated indicates that, if MLS gets its way, the team will have yet another new name.

The issue stems from the expansion franchise in Atlanta, which will begin MLS play in 2017. In mid-2015, Atlanta announced that its new team would be called "Atlanta United FC." While teams with the moniker "United" are common in England, until Atlanta's announcement, D.C. United was the sole MLS team using the name. 

According to Straus's report and other rumors, though, MLS is leery of having both Atlanta and Minnesota enter the league in 2017 with the same nickname, and of having three Uniteds in the league. As such, the league is reportedly leaning on Minnesota to change its name - yet another change for pro soccer in Minnesota, following the Minnesota Thunder, NSC Minnesota, Minnesota Stars, and now Minnesota United FC.

MLS is well-known for inexplicable decision-making, but this would go down as one of the league's greatest hits. For one, Minnesota United FC was announced as a franchise at the start of 2015 - months before Atlanta announced its new nickname. Why the league, apparently nervous about having an additional United in the league, okayed a new United in Atlanta is confusing enough; why they would do so, then turn around and force yet another new nickname on Minnesota soccer, verges on pure nonsense. 

It's also worth mentioning that one of the reasons Minnesota's ownership group chose the name "United" was from an effort to unify the disparate strains of Minnesota soccer history, from the Kicks in the old NASL, to the Thunder, to the present-day franchise. Atlanta, meanwhile, didn't bother to do any unification at all; Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank completely ignored the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks, eventually forcing Atlanta's only pro team to fold in the face of upcoming MLS competition. 

I've found it impossible to come up with a rationale for the change that doesn't make the league out to be either craven or stupid. Straus quoted a source saying, "Arthur Blank is very good at persuading people," so perhaps the United-related about-face is simply due to pressure from Blank. Minnesota, meanwhile, is being left to twist in the wind; the team has put remarkable energy into building up the United brand in Minnesota over the past three years, and is now facing yet another name change. 

Minnesota FC? Minnesota Loons? Whatever the new nickname might be, it'll leave egg on the league's face.

Pep Guardiola at Manchester City: A "challenge" of a different sort

I made fun of past Barcelona / current Bayern Munich / future Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in Saturday's Soccer Insider. Having already announced he would take over at Manchester City next year, Guardiola said, "I need a new challenge." As if Guardiola, whose entire coaching career has been spent at clubs that could buy unlimited numbers of the world's best players, has any idea of what a "challenge" is. For college football fans, if Nick Saban won another national title at Alabama, then went to Ohio State because he needed "a new challenge," that'd be about the same thing. While the Premier League is top-to-bottom richer than any other league, Guardiola is still about to take over one of its two most money-soaked teams; there are at least 17 jobs in the Premier League more traditionally "challenging" than the job of spending Abu Dhabi oil riches on new players for the Sky Blues. Let Guardiola take over at Tottenham Hotspur, where new stadium construction is going to kill the team's budget for half of a decade, and we'll see him actually face a "challenge."

That said, though, it's worth mentioning that incredible riches also bring incredible expectations. Barcelona won the league / cup / European treble in Guardiola's first year as manager, a feat it never duplicated in Guardiola's next three years; only at Barca can two La Liga titles, two Copas del Rey, and a Champions League win in the span of three seasons feel like a letdown. Similarly, in his first two years at Bayern Munich, Guardiola won two Bundesliga titles and the German Cup - but a pair of semifinal exits in the Champions League have the manager still striving for what the club would deem "success." Guardiola will leave Bayern with three consecutive league titles, but without Champions League success as well, it's impossible to say that he really lived up to his promise in Germany.

Right now, there are only three clubs that can aspire to such heights: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid. Guardiola, who came up through the Barcelona system, will never manage Real Madrid, and so his work with the three European Super Clubs is somewhat done. Viewed through this lens, his new "challenge" is actually somewhat interesting, even though on the face of it calling it "challenging" is ridiculous: Guardiola's job at Manchester City is to build Barcelona in the north of England. 

Since the Abu Dhabi royal family bought City in 2008, they've spent absurd, offensive amounts of money turning the club from also-ran into powerhouse. Before the money came, City was a small team living in Manchester United's shadow; as late as 2002, City was still languishing in the old First Division, out of the Premier League entirely. Time was, staying in the Premier League and beating United was a pretty good season for the Citizens. The arrival of the cash took a couple of years to have an effect, but by 2011 City was in the top four, and in 2012 the team won the league for the first time in nearly five decades. In the last four years, the club has two league titles, an FA Cup, and a League Cup to its name, an impressive haul for most - but a record that would be a disappointment for Barcelona or Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. 

The "challenge" for Guardiola isn't just to win, it's to win everything. That includes Champions League success, which has entirely eluded Manchester City so far; the team has yet to get past the round of 16, though they may do this year, as they've been drawn against Dynamo Kyiv in this year's first knockout round. City's ownership has never made any bones about wanting to create its own version of Barcelona, even hiring Txiki Bergiristain to be the team's director of football - a role that he previously had at Barcelona, back when a brand-new manager named Pep Guardiola took over the team's "B" team and then the first team.

City will be Guardiola's most difficult job. At Barcelona, winning the league meant beating Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid; at Bayern, winning the league mostly means making sure the squad shows up on time and doesn't get into fights. England, meanwhile, has at least five other clubs committed to spending big and winning yearly trophies - not to mention a team like Leicester City, coming from nowhere to become the league favorites (and smash City to pieces, 3-1 in Manchester last week). Winning the Premier League, and still having enough left in the tank to compete with Bayern and Barca and Real Madrid, seems virtually impossible in this day and age. It's why Chelsea - currently 13th in the league and not entirely safe from relegation yet - has the shortest odds of any English club to win the Champions League.

Managing at Manchester City is not a challenge, nor is winning regularly, or even winning trophies. The club is in the League Cup final again this year, is still in the FA Cup, and may yet catch Leicester for the league title. Current manager Manuel Pellegrini could conceivably finish his City career with the club's greatest season; all four potential trophies are still within his grasp. But the challenge for Guardiola isn't winning - it's lifting City to that status as a perennial powerhouse, both at home and on the continent. Nothing else will satisfy City's ownership. For Guardiola, that's challenging indeed.