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What’s in a Name for USL Clubs?

By CHRIS HOCKMAN -, 03/30/18, 6:30AM EDT


From the Battery to the Rowdies, how some of the league's teams came about their nicknames

Photo courtesy Steven Christy/OKC Energy FC

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” So said Juliet in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but despite Juliet’s insistence names matter. That is especially true for soccer teams, looking to find fans first of all through a name, so how did some of the unique USL team names come about?


Photo courtesy Bethlehem Steel FC

One of the most iconic names in American soccer history, Bethlehem Steel FC took its name after a fan poll voted in favor of rebirthing the historic name. Bethlehem Steel FC was the name of the original club in the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania region, having played from 1907-1930 sponsored by the Bethlehem Steel corporation showing Pennsylvania’s steel producing roots.

The original Bethlehem Steel F.C. won six Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles, including four in a row from 1916-1919, and won the first ever American Soccer League in the 1912-13 season. The sense of pride attached to the historic name was enough to win over fans for a rebirth of the name as the club looked to rekindle memories while creating a new modern history.


Photo courtesy Zachary D Bland/Charleston Battery

A city with a strong military history, having played a prominent role in both the American Revolution and the Civil War, the Charleston Battery take their name from that military history. That is why the club's crest includes two artillery cannons, and visitors to MUSC Health Stadium are welcomed by a replica cannon and cannonballs at the main entrance to the venue.

The Battery is a popular promenade in the city of Charleston which was used as a Fort in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. It is a popular tourist attraction thanks to the historic buildings in the area and its history as part of the Siege of Charleston.


Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

Another team which takes its name from history is the Charlotte Independence, drawing their name from the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. That Declaration is reputed to have been signed in 1775, making it the first declaration of independence made in the 13 colonies ahead of the American Revolution.

The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is why the year, 1775, features on the Independence's crest, while the man riding on the horse on the crest is Captain James Jack who the narrative says rode with a copy of the declaration to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The club's supporters group is named in his honor, with Jack's Militia providing the atmosphere at the Sportsplex at Matthews during the Independence's home games.


Photo courtesy Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography / Richmond Kickers

This one is seemingly easy, with the Indy Eleven surely referencing the 11 players on the pitch, but that’s only part of the story. Indy is another team taking its name from the military history of the town, drawing its name from the 11th Regiment Indiana Infantry in the Civil War.

The Indiana 11th was formed in Indianapolis and was closely involved with Ulysses S. Grant throughout the war. The 11th fought in the Battle of Fort Henry with Grant before taking leading a leading role in the siege of Vicksburg.


Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC

Oklahoma is certainly an oil state, and from beginnings in oil, Oklahoma City has grown into a city with a strong energy industry. It is in a nod to the status of the energy industry that OKC Energy FC draws its name.

There are few cities that could name a team after a strong industrial presence in the city but for Energy FC it not only works but fits, creating a unique identity that fans have become attached to, with Oklahoma's state motto of Labor Vincit Omnia – Work Conquers All – also featuring prominently in the crest's design.

RENO 1868 FC

Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

A name that is rarely seen in soccer in the United States but is common elsewhere, Reno 1868 FC was chosen through a fan poll. The year, 1868, is the year of the founding of the city of Reno and won the poll ahead of United and FC.

Reno 1868 FC goes even further with its nods to the city, drawing its colors from the Flag of Nevada, with Nevada Cobalt Blue, Silver Grey, and Light Gold chosen for the team’s colors. There are also ties to the state in the name of the club's supporters group, with the Battle Born Brigade drawing its name from one of the state's nicknames, the Battle Born State.


Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

Taking its name from the history of California, Sacramento Republic FC draws its name from the California Republic, still honored on the state flag. The California Republic was a breakaway state from Mexico in 1846 that lasted 25 days before joining the United States.

The nods to the California Republic continue in the club’s crest with the California Grizzly from the California Republic flag featured, while the color of the star is also a subtle nod to that flag.


Photo Courtesy Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

Another iconic name in American soccer, the Tampa Bay Rowdies rebirths the name of the original team in the Tampa Bay area. Originally founded in 1975 as the first professional sports team in the region, the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers arrived a year later, the Rowdies claimed the league championship by defeating another iconic club, the Portland Timbers, in their first season. The original Rowdies had a lot of success throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, including attracting the legendary English player Rodney Marsh and others like Mike Connell, Perry van der Beck and Farrukh Quraishi who remain mainstays in Tampa Bay's soccer community to this day.

Nods to that history can still be seen at Al Lang Stadium, from the retro badge and colors to the club theme song playing pre-match reminding fans that “the Rowdies are a kick in the grass”.


Photo courtesy Lori Scholl / Tulsa Roughnecks FC

While not as iconic a name as Bethlehem Steel FC or the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Tulsa Roughnecks FC also draws its name as a rebirth of an older club. The original Tulsa Roughnecks played from 1978-1983 winning a league championship in 1983. Modern-era Roughnecks Head Coach David Irving was part of the club's original era, playing for Tulsa in 1980 before leading the club in its first two seasons in the USL earlier this decade.

That original name draws on the oil history of the state of Oklahoma, and Tulsa specifically, with a roughneck being a common term for a worker on an oil rig. 

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