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Matchday Cork Board: an anti-brand is better than a bad one

How New York cheats the game by ridding itself of any pretense towards specific branding

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Bruce Arena New Head Coach New York Red Bulls Press Conference - July 18, 2006

Unless you were under a rock or maybe just aren’t on Twitter, you probably saw that the Columbus Crew changed their name this week. Yes, the powers that be decided that the best way to celebrate the club that fans painstakingly saved from relocation was to erase any history and identity from its official brand. You’re not going to hear any contrarianism on this front - Columbus SC sucks. It’s trash, it’s tacky, it’s cheugy...or not cheugy? Anyway, it’s however your age cohort describes bad lame things.

MLS is almost certainly campaigning on some level in recent years to homogenize the branding of many of its clubs, perhaps out of a desire to ape Europe or perhaps purely out of the abstract demands of focus groups and marketing studies. The New York Red Bulls might seem at first glance as a casualty of such a movement, they actually have a nice get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to this constant third rail of mission-based North American soccer:

We’ve heard the taunts, the banners, and you’re absolutely correct. You know what’s better than your club chaining you to a clunky, misguided brand? Making no attempt at a top-down brand at all.

Red Bull (as well as the generic MetroMedia identity of the club’s first decade) doesn’t have a brand except the soft drink the company produces, which itself hasn’t been as much of an emphasis recently. Fears of constant halftime musical numbers extolling the virtues of taurine-infused soft drinks have been largely unfounded as the advertising angle of the club identity has rarely gone outside the logo on the jerseys. For years after Red Bull Arena opened, much of the concrete framing around the stadium remained bare...and it was fucking great.

If there is any Red Bull brand over the last decade, it’s that the company’s sporting operation is too busy staking out the cutting edge of soccer administration in four different countries to spend too much time hawking sugar water. The early part of the Gerhard Struber era in New York has shown glimpses of the best Red Bull’s soccer identity has to offer - clear, coherent tactics that allow the club to maximize the salary cap on undervalued talent such as the 12 first team signings brought in this offseason. Maybe some would’ve preferred an agile new club brand instead of continued diligence under the current approach that’s won three regular season titles over the last decade...and sure, you’re free to be a Chicago Fire fan if you want.

But even beyond soccer, there’s room to develop your own culture. You don’t need a narrow committee of graphic designers and Adidas executives to define what you think about your club. The Red Bulls in their current state will never be rebranded with some theme park vision of New York - not least because the Red Bulls have a clear example in the Bronx (and East Hartford) of what happens when you build a team’s branding around arbitrary symbols of a hyperreal pizza and police-loving New York: not much.

The focus on branding in MLS (particularly its supposed holding back of an otherwise sound product, as Columbus seems to think is happening) is a cart before the horse situation. Players and fans and moments are what creates an identity and a brand for a league. You shouldn’t have to care about the logo foisted on you from above.

That is...unless your club changes its badge to something that looks like the letter C with a goatee. In that case, please rip your shirt off and scream indoors.

Matchday Miscellany

Kickoff: 7:30, Chester PA

Television: MSG Network

Projected Red Bulls lineup: Coronel, Gutman, Long, Nealis, Duncan, Davis, Cásseres, Clark, Amaya, Fabio, White

-Gerhard Struber appears to have found his groove in the 4-diamond-2 with a largely unchanged set of personnel putting together consecutive clean victories. The biggest wrinkle today will be the likely debut of new signing Patryk Klimala, who whatever one thinks of here.

-The injury report for the Red Bulls remains relatively thin. Tom Barlow is listed as questionable with a quad injury, while Jason Pendant and Florian Valot deal remain out with more long-term maladies. Also listed as out for Saturday is Youba Diarra, the defensive midfielder who Gerhard Struber said was the heart of the team in the opener against Kansas City before the team unraveled following his substitution.

-Also unlikely to dress today are midfielder Wikelman Carmona and defender Mandela Egbo, who both featured last night for the Red Bulls II reserves in a 1-0 loss to Miami FC in USL play. David Jensen continues to train alone according to his Instagram.

Struberism of the Week

“like bulls”

For all my bleating above about how Red Bull thankfully has no brand, there is always the cute little cows in the logo. Gerhard Struber is turning them into verbal beasts of burden in recent weeks as he seeks to galvanize his young team. Struber has emphasized the bullish spirit in recent locker room speeches, and fullback Kyle Duncan said this week that Struber has referred to him as a bull in efforts to improve his form. Maybe one day Gerhard Struber can record infomercials for Bovine University.

Greatest Ever Bald Philadelphia Union Player: Conor Casey

Conor Casey once said he didn’t really like soccer that much, so it makes sense that he was more than happy to be part of the mid-00s Union. The Denver-bred target man was an occasional US national team wild card, including a powerhouse performance to clinch World Cup qualification in Honduras in 2009 and even more notably being a striker wearing the jersey number 4 in a Confederations Cup. Casey scored 21 goals for Philadelphia over three seasons before retiring after a brief stint with Columbus. He was last seen as interim manager of his hometown Colorado Rapids.

Here he is that 2009 night in San Pedro Sula, thundering around the box looking like what would’ve happened if Judge Holden wasn’t held back by the pay-to-play structure:

Match Prediction: 2-2 draw

With the Union coming off a midweek game and traditionally averse to lineup rotation, Struber and the Red Bulls will likely come out aggressive and look to build only their slowly-burning offensive output in recent games. However this attempt for the front foot could leave holes at the back that end the team’s shutout streak. This early in the season it’s still hard to gauge where teams will hurt you or be hurt, but I’ll go ahead and declare that Fabio will score both goals and render my column from Thursday obsolete.