Some of the city’s fiercest soccer fans sat down over beer and pretzels Wednesday and were asked to reflect: What does living in Omaha, Nebraska, mean to them?
And more importantly: How can a soccer team’s name and crest embody those qualities?
United Soccer League officials are navigating that question as they prepare to launch a professional soccer team at Werner Park next spring.
Through a series of five community forums Wednesday and Thursday, team leaders were asking community members for input as they decide the team’s name, logo and colors.
“These are conversation starters,” said Matt Homonoff, chief operating officer of USL Omaha. “We didn’t want to come in with anything that was already set. It was very important that we let this conversation happen organically.”
The conversations were scheduled across Omaha at places like Werner Park and a downtown art studio. Each session was geared toward a specific audience, including soccer families, professional soccer supporters and those in the arts and workforce development communities.
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At Barchen Beer Garden on Benson’s main strip Wednesday, organizers hung a series of photos of iconic Nebraska landmarks and locales. Those in attendance were asked to “vote” by placing a sticker on the photo they felt best represents the area.
The photo that received the most stickers was a shot of the Henry Doorly Zoo. There were also shots of South Omaha, downtown Omaha, the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting and the Capitol building.
“We want to get people’s opinions,” Jason Mims, who will coach Omaha’s USL team, said of name ideas. “Whether it’s funny, or creative, or really good, or makes you laugh, makes you cry — whatever it may be. We want to hear from everybody in Omaha.”
The session also included a guided discussion by Erika Bjork, a consultant for USL Omaha. Bjork asked the few dozen people at Barchen to dig into the roots of Omaha and Nebraska. What does it mean to live in the Midwest? What does it mean for a place to be family-oriented? How much of the state’s history, of the state’s agricultural roots, should shine through the team?
Those answers will come, in part, as a result of the forums. Fans like Liam Keating, who lives in Omaha and attends school at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, say the team needs to be rooted as locally as possible.
Right now, Keating said, Omaha’s soccer community must turn to Sporting Kansas City or national teams for their soccer fix. But soon, no more.
“This is our time to create a culture, to create a team,” Keating, 20, said. “This is the city of Omaha’s team.”