The Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer unveiled new uniforms this week. And guess what? Just like the "real" soccer teams in Europe -- where of course it's referred to as football -- there is nothing on the jerseys to identify the players as being with the Fire or from Chicago, nothing about the team or point of origin save the secret little Fire logo at the shoulder blade (right next to the Adidas logo).
This is all very commonplace in "real" soccer. Go to the Globe Pub on Irving Park Road on a Saturday morning to watch matches in the English Premier League -- that is, excuse me, the Barclay Rum Premier League -- and good luck figuring out which team is which until you know the code. Arsenal jerseys urge fans to "Fly Emirates," Manchester United promotes AIG (don't ask me what that means, or even what's "United" about Manchester), and Liverpool, thank their hard-drinking British-Irish stars, is backed by Carlsberg Beer.
Look, NASCAR is one thing -- and nothing to emulate, as I'm not about to defend the rampant commercialism of sport -- but it strikes a U.S. fan as faintly odd not to have, say, "Chicago" on the jerseys on the road in a team sport or "Cubs," "White Sox," or "Bulls" at home. The Bears and Blackhawks get by because their color schemes and logos are identifiable enough -- show me a better logo than Chief Black Hawk's profile -- but at least they don't read "Ditka's Restaurant" or "Wirtz Liquor Distributors" like some Little League or 16-inch softball team. Now the Fire will be known as "Best Buy" across the players' chests, which I guess makes these U.S. bush-leaguers feel like "real" soccer players.
"This is huge," Fire defender C.J. Brown said on the team's Web site. "When I started with the Fire our sponsors were league sponsors. This is another big step in the right direction for the league and also for the Fire. You're in good company when you have Best Buy in your corner."
What do you expect from a team that plays (for the time being, until some other corporation offers more money) in Toyota Park? And if I have to admit that, yes, the Bulls and Hawks play in the United Center and the Cubs in Wrigley Field (at least for now), I still maintain that the White Sox play -- as they did in the early 70s -- in White Sox Park.