The Little Bebetos

The greatest thing about soccer in America is the team names. I love the singularity of the names and branding of the original Major League Soccer teams. As one travels down the soccer pyramid, the names get even better. My personal favorite was my brother’s U-8 team, The Little Bebetos. It was explained to the kids that Bebeto was the best soccer player in the world; America in the mid-90’s was a magical place where that statement could go unchallenged.

That magic was enhanced by a homemade felt banner present at every youth soccer game, giving a visual representation of the team’s spirit. I’m sure the team mom charged with making it must have prayed for a faunal name, like “Bears” or “Panthers.” Then they could just slap down a handy cut out of that animal and paws labeled with each child’s name and number. However, what to do with a more abstract team name like “Rage”? How did that mom from my U-8 team know a masked superhero draped in the team colors and surrounded by personalized soccer balls would spur the Dynamos on to victory? Incidentally, I doubt if the coach that named us (or the front office of Houston Dynamo) was aware of the more than passing associations “dynamo” sport clubs had with the KGB.

Even more magic could be found when the coach would ask his young charges for their input on a team name. This, of course, could backfire, such as when my U-16 team’s moniker was a particular sex act. Another specific example was given by my wife as I wrote this: one teammate suggested that they should be called “The Team” and she then watched in horror as this proposal carried the day; it was, however, a step up from her previous team, the vaguely racist “Homies.”

My generation grew up in a time and place where soccer was unconstrained by history or tradition, and this was reflected in the team names. I feel wistful as I see more traditional names like “Arsenal” or “United” pop up more and more in youth soccer. A colleague recently told me how her daughter started playing U-6 soccer, and their team name is Juventus; of course, they play in the famous black and white stripes of the bianconeri. The whole mini-league is made up of Serie A team names with corresponding colors. While I’m amazed at (and jealous of) the level of organization and knowledge these five year olds are the recipients of, I can’t help but feel they have been robbed of the anarchic, unconventional soccer of my youth. As my sons grow and begin to play the game, I hope their teams will be a place where the spirit of the Little Bebetos lives on.

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