After 18 Years, What's Each MLS Team Known For? (Part 1)

Ed Zurga

Expansion is coming back to MLS in 2015. As New York City FC and Orlando City SC get ready to enter MLS, what will they become known for? Because, fair or not, every MLS team becomes known for something.

Well, the 2013 Major League Soccer season is over, and it was a memorable one for the league. From the resurgence of Landon Donovan, to the central role MLS players played in the US Men's National Team's successful World Cup Qualifying campaign, to the return of Clint Dempsey, to the collapse of D.C. United in the regular season and it's unexpected run to the US Open Cup (and don't forget the stadium deal announcement), to the amazing shootout that decided the MLS Cup, there were a lot of big stories. Perhaps the biggest from a long-term perspective, however, were the announcements of MLS teams #20 (New York City FC) and #21 (Orlando City SC).

In 2015, these two franchises will join the league and begin to establish their identities on field (because they're both already starting to build their off-field identities). It will be interesting to see what these teams become known for as they move into MLS.

After 18 years of MLS history, what are the other teams in MLS known for? Some are founding members of the league with long histories, others have only joined in the last few years. Each, however, has become known for something that fans of the league immediately think of when they hear that team's name.

Below are my thoughts on the first thing I think of for each of the surviving original MLS team (RIP Tampa Bay Mutiny). To the maximum extent possible, I've attempted to factor out any snark or team rivalry, but would love for you to factor those in down in the comments below. We'll start with the founding teams this week (in alphabetical order), and then next week we'll cover the expansion teams.

Take note, NYCFC and OCSC. What do you want to be known for?

1. Colorado Rapids--The Rapids are actually my second favorite MLS team. I went to college in Colorado, and have lived there for many years. The second MLS Cup was one of my all-time favorites with D.C. United facing Colorado. So, that's a lot of words to say that although I'm a fan, I think the Rapids' identity is that they are "the average team of MLS", the middle of the road performers who haven't been great but haven't been horrible either. They've only won one trophy in their history, but they've been in two other finals and they've been in the playoffs 12 out of 18 years. They have nice fans, a good stadium, and a coach and young players who have them postured to break out in the years ahead. Oh, and their home jersey (with ticket season holder names embedded in it) and their third jersey (patterned after the Colorado state flag) are two of the best uniforms in MLS history. This feels like a team on the rise.

2. Columbus Crew--Besides being the home of the league's first soccer-specific stadium, and being the host of the quadrennial dos a cero match, I think Columbus' identity is that of "a hardworking, blue-collar, Midwestern team" whose on-field style and branding are consistent with each other. Plus, they've been successful with this approach (five major trophies). Ironically, as one of only two original teams who have not changed any of their original branding (New England being the other), it now appears their new owner is looking to make a change (at least to the logo).

3. D.C. United--I'm obviously a homer for the Black-and-Red, but D.C. United is "the original MLS super club". As the MLS team that has won the most major trophies (13!), D.C. United is certainly known for fulfilling the first half of it's mission statement, "Win Championships and Serve the Community". Even though the most storied club in MLS has had more losing seasons than winning ones recently, they still have won five of those trophies in the last 10 years (and only two other MLS teams even have more than five trophies in their entire history!). As for the second half of the team's mission statement, if there's a team that has done more community outreach and authentic service for its hometown, I don't know who they are. For the near term, however, "Completing the Stadium Deal" is mission #1.

4. FC Dallas--When I think of Dallas, I think, "Why aren't they better?" Why hasn't the team performed better over its history and why don't they do better at the gate? The Metroplex has a huge population, is internationally known, and has a rich youth soccer history. Dallas is also owned by the deep-pocketed Hunt family, the heirs to perhaps the most influential name in modern American soccer history (Lamar Hunt). In some ways, Dallas is/was the poster child of MLS 1.0, with a name (Dallas Burn), a clipart logo, and team colors that all needed rebranding. Additionally, they built a soccer-specific stadium, but it is not in the urban core of Dallas/Ft. Worth. If this all sounds like a slam, it's not meant to be. I have nothing against Dallas. It just seems they should be better.

5. LA Galaxy--The original big spending MLS team, I think of "sustained excellence" when I think of the Galaxy. Except for a 3-year stretch in the middle of the last decade, LA has made the playoffs every year since the league's inception, reaching the MLS Cup in 8 of the league's 18 years (a MLS record). Yes, they spend a lot of money. Yes, they use the lure and bright lights of Los Angeles to attract talent. Yes, they are the highest-profile MLS team around the world. But, with all that said, at least they win. Unlike some other big spending MLS teams, they get a return on their investment.

6. New England Revolution--What do you think of a team that reached 4 MLS Cups in 6 years but never won? What do you think of a team whose fans probably think they have the worst stadium situation in the league (assuming D.C. United gets their new stadium deal done) despite have one of the deepest of deep-pocketed owners in the league? New England is a team with a rich history, but it rivals the Buffalo Bills' history in its character. This makes the Revs "the hard luck team of MLS". Their future, however, could be bright with young stars Diego Fagundez and possibly Juan Agudelo (?) on the squad.

7. New York Red Bulls--If New York/New Jersey MetroStars/New York Red Bulls are known for anything in MLS, it's been "futility". Now, to their credit, 2013 was the season in which they finally earned their first major trophy (the last of the original teams to do so, including Tampa Bay). The Red Bulls are part of a big-spending global sports conglomerate, and they have the advantage of attracting top foreign talent to one of the world's great cities and one of the best soccer stadiums in North America. Yet, they've only reached two major cup finals in their history. They've been the only MLS team in the New York market for 18 years (with one more to go), but soon they will face local competition when New York City FC starts playing in the city. Can this season lead to more success for the Red Bulls? Their history makes many MLS fans skeptical, but Mike Petke (as unexpected as his hiring was) just may be the coach to change what the Red Bulls are known for in the future.

8. San Jose Earthquakes--When I think of San Jose, I think of "great American scorers". The Earthquakes have had the following US attackers ply their trade in the Bay Area since 1996: Eric Wynalda, Paul Bravo, Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, and Alan Gordon. For good measure, they also had Canadian Dwayne De Rosario on their roster during a dominant stretch in the early 2000s that saw the club win two MLS Cups and a Supporters' Shield.

9. Sporting Kansas City--First, congratulations to Sporting for winning the 2013 MLS Cup, their fifth major trophy. Second, what do you think of when you think of Sporting? For me, it's "the success of good ownership and a well-conceived rebranding" in totally reshaping the fortunes of a club. It's not that the Kansas City Wiz/Wizards didn't have success before the rebranding (they did, winning three major trophies), they just had the reputation of being a struggling franchise that played in front of small crowds in the wildly too-big Arrowhead Stadium. Now, however, their ownership and new stadium, the glittering Sporting Park, have put Kansas City, Kansas (yes Kansas!), on the map as one of the best soccer destinations in all of North America.

Next week we'll review what Major League Soccer's expansion teams are most known for. In the meantime, bring your snark or your differing opinions and tell us below what you think of when you think of the original MLS clubs.

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