The Angle

The Sheer Insanity of the Official MLS Style Guide

by on 6 March 2017

The official MLS style guide is up on the league’s website. This gives more pliable media members the league’s official line on what is and is not acceptable when referring to the teams in the league. MLS has always been famous among soccer fans for insane league-mandated nonsense (see: TAM and GAM, the discovery mechanism, not announcing any allocation money details of trades before 2017, etc.). But when it comes to nonsense, this could be the absolute pinnacle.

According to the league, it is not acceptable to refer to either Atlanta United or Minnesota United as “United,” while the possibility of doing the same for D.C. United exists in a nebulous gray area (all we know is that D.C. must not be spelled “DC”). Why either team was called “United” in the first place, while banning the use of the nickname, is left unsaid; possibly the league wishes you to forget this whole chapter of its history.

Calling the Seattle team the “Seattle Sounders” or “Sounders” is banned, in favor of the mealy-mouthed “Sounders FC,” a name which would be going against both a century and a half of nickname-based tradition and the English language. The same is true in Columbus, where referring to the team as either the “Crew” or the “Columbus Crew” is beyond the pale, though in this case I can entirely understand wanting to be rid of this particular nickname. Vancouver only bans “Whitecaps”. Apparently the possibility of calling the team “Vancouver Whitecaps” did not occur to them, infected as they were with the fervent, heady possibility of calling the team “Whitecaps FC,” and so this is not specifically banned.

Sporting Kansas City is fine with “SKC”, but should you whisper solely the words “Kansas City” in the press box, goons will be along shortly to defenestrate you. “Kansas” is also banned, with the team apparently taking no chances with the possibility that the careless media member might confuse the city of Kansas City with the entire state of Kansas.

Neither New York Red Bulls nor New York City FC may be referred to as “NY” or “New York,” which makes total sense in the case of the Red Bulls. NYCFC goes one step further, outlawing “New York City,” despite this being the name that the club specifically gave itself. Along with Los Angeles FC, NYC is one of two teams that specifically suggests that an acceptable style for referring to the team is by spelling out every word, suggesting that “New York City Football Club” would be just fine, but “New York City” would be ridiculous.

To their credit, a handful of the league’s teams seem to have a handle on how team names work. Chicago, Colorado, Houston, Montreal, and Philadelphia all note that their teams can (of course!) be referred to by geographic location, nickname, or a combination of both. New England and Orlando City helpfully suggest acceptable nicknames (“Revs” and “Lions”) alongside their obvious place-or-name references. Portland is fine with trying to make “PTFC” happen (it’s not going to happen). FC Dallas and Toronto FC specifically ban nothing, but are mute on offering up any sort of nickname for the club.

It would be hard to pick the craziest thing in this style guide, but for me, there are two main candidates. The first comes courtesy of Real Salt Lake, already the team with the worst name of any MLS side. RSL, not content with having one terrible name, specifically notes that they would be fine, just fine, with you referring to the team as the “Claret-and-Cobalt.” Yes, I will definitely be typing that for RSL, right after I throw myself off the roof. I am now leading a movement to change this website’s official style guide so that the Utah-based MLS team is now referred to as “Dell Loy Hansen FC” or the “Skinflints.”

Despite this nuttiness, though, there was only one portion of the style guide that actually caused my mouth to fall open in sheer wonder, and it is the entry for San Jose. If you are to follow official league guidelines, you may call the Bay Area team San Jose, or the San Jose Earthquakes. You are also specifically directed that “Quakes” would be a fine nickname for the team. Only one thing is specifically banned: “Earthquakes.” As long as it doesn’t follow “San Jose,” in which case it’s totally fine, encouraged even.

Not for the first time in MLS history, I simply don’t know what to say.

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