Another USL Championship team is joining the ranks of the 2 teams with the announcement last week that the Swope Park Rangers will go by Sporting Kansas City II beginning next season.
The move makes sense for a number of reasons — the Rangers haven’t played in Swope Park in two seasons — but it will be sad to see a decent soccer team name replaced by a Roman numeral tacked on at the end of a worse version of a wannabe Euro-sounding name.
The news release from the team made a case about continuity along the development path — as if the name of the team they play for matters all that much — but a better case for dullification might be that it’s more honest about the club’s purpose and intentions.
A USL Cup finalist in 2016, Sporting Kansas City’s USL Championship affiliate has shifted its focus away from contending with a mixture of ages to a purely development model as illustrated by their bottom of the table status this season.
The Bethlehem Steel is in a similar place and are due for a rebrand of their own, regardless of where they actually play their home games next season.
Like SKC II, Philadelphia Union 2 or II is pretty unexciting but it would go a long way in correcting missteps of a past regime that didn’t see a problem with co-opting the name of a company sponsored team from the first three decades of the 20th Century that won a bunch of Open Cups. First for a popular 2013 third jersey inspired by the iconic team and again to try to build a fanbase for its USL affiliate.
The fact that a team bearing the Bethlehem Steel name couldn’t even compete in the U.S. Open Cup because of its affiliation to an out-of-town team was a bad look from the get go. If not for its five U.S. Open Cup championships, the original Steel team that dissolved 89 years ago would likely not even be remembered.
The Union’s relationship with soccer fans in the Lehigh Valley, a little awkward from the start because of the carpetbagging appearance of things, turned sour when the announcement was made earlier this year that nearly all of the home games in the 2019 season would be played at Talen Energy Stadium. Instead of just sort of being in the Lehigh Valley trying to build a team around a co-opted name, the Steel have been with the exception of one game at Goodman Stadium a local team in name only to fans in the Lehigh Valley since the season opened in March.
Moving forward, the Union should really just jettison the name that was never really theirs to adopt in the first place and allow for it either to return to the annals of history or for an actual grassroots local team to adopt it as the moniker for a community-based and community focused team. Maybe the Union could even partner with a future independent team to further add to the goodwill and growth of the sport in the region.
Rather than just go full on No. 2 like SKC, the Union could rename their USL affiliate after wherever they end up finding a suitable venue. The Lehigh Valley Union, the Delaware Union or a name honoring the city of Chester like Chester United or Chester Clippers if they were to continue playing in a mostly empty Talen Energy Stadium would all be better options.
The rebrand for the Union would accomplish what it looks like SKC is going for with their shift to a Roman numeral name, further clarifying the purpose of the team and what should be expected from fans while keeping the colors and branding consistent throughout the youth and professional ranks.
There’s an argument for whether teams with unoriginal names that draw by the handful and crowd the lower half of the table should be in a Division 2 league, but that’s a debate for another day. For now, the Union shedding the Steel name would be the best step forward.