New Jersey sees Red over name change

America at Large : Would a bull by any other name still smell like, uh, livestock? As Major League Soccer heads into its second…

America at Large: Would a bull by any other name still smell like, uh, livestock? As Major League Soccer heads into its second decade, the citizenry of New Jersey is up in arms. Already stung by the imminent cancellation of HBO's Jersey-based gangster series The Sopranos, which is airing its final season, the Garden State found itself further dissed by the revamped name change of its hometown soccer team, reborn earlier this month as "Red Bull New York."

Elsewhere in the country the rechristening was greeted as alarming evidence of creeping commercialism: it's one thing to play with corporate logos splayed across the front of team jerseys, argue the doomsayers, and quite another to formalise the relationship by turning a brand name into the team's name as well.

In New Jersey they seem to be more upset that the name of the state in which the team plays will be omitted entirely, thus exacerbating Jersey's perpetually festering inferiority complex.

And never mind that the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets have played their home games in New Jersey for the past three decades. At least those teams had their beginnings across the river.


The club born in 1996 under the unwieldy designation "New York/New Jersey MetroStars" has never played a home game in New York.

Major League Soccer's position, on the other hand, seems to be that for $100 million, the new absentee owners from Austria can call the team anything they wish. (The surprise, if there is one, is that they didn't opt for Roetlichbulle as the new handle for the franchise.)

For the past several years the team had been known, simply, as the "MetroStars," but the manufacturers of the world's largest-selling quick-fix energy drink found the opportunity to establish a geographic association with The Big Apple irresistible.

For its hundred mil, the new Teutonic landlords acquired not only the team, but part ownership in (and naming rights for) a new, soccer-specific stadium ("The Bullpen?") due to open in Harrison, New Jersey, in 2008.

Until then, the Red Bulls will continue to play in the final resting place of the late Jimmy Hoffa, Giants Stadium, which is owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

To say that this organisation is displeased by the name change considerably understates the case.

"Their home stadium is a New Jersey landmark, and it is an insult to us for them to remove the name of the state," complained NJSSA CEO George Zoffinger in a statement last week. "We strongly object to this lack of respect for the state of New Jersey."

The Jerseyite's reaction to the name change even made it on to Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segment last weekend, where co-host Tina Fey noted, "He was throwing up Red Bull for two days."

The team's fan-site,, has addressed the identity crisis by referring to its beloved team as "the Metro Reds".

Another soccer site described the team's new moniker as "Red Bullshit", claiming that "it sets a bad precedent and makes the league look weak and whoreish".

The MetroStars-to-Red Bull (and New Jersey-to-New York) transformation came as the team was ensconced at its pre-season training camp in North Carolina, and while they await delivery of their new kit from Adidas, the club has practised and played its exhibition games in generic uniforms. The only hint to the new-look outfit comes in the freshly-minted logo, which features two bulls converging on a soccer ball.

The Red Bulls are scheduled to open their season on April 2nd against DC United at Washington's RFK Stadium.

The home opener will come on April 8th when they host the New England Revolution at Giants Stadium, and you may take it that the pickets will be out in force.

The Austrians have managed to stay out of the line of fire thus far, leaving it to team president and general manager Alexi Lalas to defend the name change.

Lalas is a former player for the US National Team, as well as for several MLS clubs. (Including the MetroStars; he was also a charter member of the Revolution, where he was known as a contentious clubhouse lawyer and helped hasten the demise of Frank Stapleton after that first, misbegotten season.) He pronounced himself "astonished" by the reaction of the New Jerseyites.

"Having a team named Red Bull New York is a small price to pay for an undeniable benefit for New Jersey," said Lalas.

The club president also wondered why there hadn't been similar "righteous indignation" over the fact that the Giants and Jets had played under the New York imprimatur for the past 30 years.

The New York-New Jersey flap wasn't the only controversy over a newly-named MLS team for the upcoming season. When the San Jose franchise was relocated to Houston back in January, the league initially announced that the club would be known as "Houston 1836", ostensibly in honour of the year of the city's founding.

But 1836, it turned out, was also the year that Texas gained its independence in a bloody rebellion against Mexico, and the city's substantial Mexican-American population (one from which the soccer team hopes to draw its support) understandably took offence.

In that instance, MLS' hierarchy took notice and quickly retreated. The "1836" designation was abandoned, and the club will play under the name "Houston Dynamo". That's "Dynamo", as in "energy".

And hold the Enron jokes, please.