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.