Major League Soccer celebrated its continuing rise toward adequacy in 2015 with a new, simple, clean logo. It’s not without its detractors, but as league logos go, it’s decent (seriously: Go look at the Bundesliga and Serie A logos).

Would that the league’s teams could — on average, even — approach such design standards.

Twenty-four teams will compete for the MLS title in 2019, and the league announced its 27th franchise, Austin FC, in January. Only one of those expansion clubs, Nashville, still lacks a logo, team crest or “club badge.”

It’s in the interests of saving Nashville from the fate of so many MLS teams that I’m ranking all that have come before from a design standpoint.

My standards are simple:

  • The logo, or club badge, should be distinct, clear, and easily recognizable at any distance. It should communicate visually.
  • You gain one point for a clear visual motif.
  • You gain one point if that motif directly represents your team/city, two if reps both
  • You lose three points for having a soccer ball in your badge.
  • You gain one point if your badge has no text
  • You lose one point for every “SC,” “FC” or other affected foreign trope
  • You lose up to one point for every word beyond club or city name
  • You lose one point every nonsensical design element
  • You lose one point for bad design fundamentals
  • You lose one point for visual clutter
  • You gain one point for not being a shield
  • Points off for two-digit “date” numbers. No deductions for proper dates.

After that, I add or subtract my subjective grade for a total score.

Top Quality

No. 1: Portland Timbers (5 points)

Simple, direct, representative, confident, and instantly recognizable. No affected Euro tropes. No appeals to tradition, even though the Timbers have a “Soccer City USA” tradition other clubs covet. Portland (“Stumptown”) is a place with a timber industry heritage. The big white ax on the green field with a few gold stripes for texture does the trick. Instantly recognizable.

No. 2: Los Angeles Football Club (4 points)

Two great colors, a fantastic central motif, but with text and a Euro trope, displayed as a shield.

But let’s focus on what’s great here: The two colors evoke Los Angeles in ways that are appropriate yet not “top of mind.” It’s both gritty and glitzy, with a distinct Art Deco style that represents the Golden Age of Hollywood as well as the city’s mid-twentieth century roots. Plus the wing references the club’s falcon mascot. Lose the text and the shield container and this is far and away the best logo/badge in MLS.

Confident Classics

No. 3: Atlanta United FC (3 points)

The name doesn’t give you much to work with. The city doesn’t have obvious symbols to use in building an identity. So what do you do?

You frame a bold, quasi-serif capital A in a circle, you employ a sophisticated color palette, and you keep it simple. I only dinged Atlanta one point for including not one, but two Euro tropes in its badge, because I think the name “Atlanta United” is OK given the city’s identity and aspirations. But I look at this and think it’s far stronger, over time, without the name. The “A,” the colors and the stripes in that circle tell the story by themselves.

No. 4: Toronto F.C. (4 points)

See the similarities and distinctions between Atlanta and Toronto’s badges? Toronto is more restrained, traditional, more “Old School,” more formal. Atlanta is bolder, darker, more modern, more energetic. I like both badges regardless of the cities they represent, but I think they also do an interesting job of interpreting the places they call home. Toronto F.C. is “the Reds,” so you get the colors right and the big serif T, with a classic cut-and-folded heraldic banner, and you call it a day.

Gets the Job Done

No. 5: L.A. Galaxy (2 points)

I don’t love this badge, but I respect it. It carries that strange mid-1990s MLS spirit, but without the tacky, cloying, desperate-to-be loved pleas.

Going with a rare four-pointed star is a great choice here, and the colors and choices are lush and easy and simple. This is the league’s first global brand, and they shouldn’t change a thing.

No. 6: Minnesota United (2 points)

So the idea of a black loon aspiring to a six-pointed North Star is actually a pretty cool motif. It’s well executed, too… until you see this logo against a black background and realize it looks so much better that way. And the way that “MNUFC” is tacked on at the bottom, in italics, on a diagonal line? Why?

A few professional tweaks would bump up the Loon for greater effect, simply the rest of the badge, and result in another Top Three contender. So close! Like Minnesota United strikers’ shots on goal after they traded away Christian Ramirez!

No. 7: Vancouver Whitecaps (2 points)

Another badge I don’t particularly love, but thoroughly respect from a design standpoint. It represents the club and the city, and it does it by creating the most distinctively shaped badge in the league.

The palette is cold, and the all-caps font choice is a little odd, but the result is a badge that strikes me as quite similar to the on-field product: Promising, with a lot of thought put into it, but seldom any spontaneous excitement.

No. 8: Chicago Fire (2 points)

There’s that goofy (but unique!) 1990s MLS naming style again. In this case it’s wonderfully pegged to the city’s fire department, and only by inference associated with Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Even though they’ve been playing more like the cow lately.

Using the CFD badge as the club’s badge is a great idea, but if I were in charge I’d be a bit more confident, ditch the unnecessary text, and bump up the visual impact of the “C.” Only three MLS badges eschew the shield or round motif, and that alone gives them some instant-recognition juice.

That said, I downgraded this logo a point on the grounds that its color palette and execution feel a bit basic. Just a slight bit of nuance by a talented designer could make this an exciting logo instead of an also-ran.

No. 9: Philadelphia Union (2 points)

There are a few things going on here, aren’t there? There’s a shield, inside a circle, and the shield says “Union,” except it’s over a coiled snake. The rim of the circle identifies the team as being from Philadelphia, and if you count the thirteen stars under the bottom half of the circle you understand that “Union” is a reference to the original Continental Congress at Union Hall.

There’s good and bad in this design. I like the classy color palette. I like the way it represents team and city. I kinda/sorta like the coiled snake, which references a Revolutionary War idea, but it also references the Gadsden Flag, which was taken up by white Tea Party “patriots” during the Obama Administration. This is more USMNT snake than Gadsden Flag right wing snake, I suppose. But is a snake really the best symbol on offer for “Union” in a city with as many symbols as Philly?

Solid logo, but you could make it pop more.

Not quite

No. 10: Seattle Sounders FC (1 point)

The are three things that make this a good club badge: A creative and visually interesting take on the standard “shield”; the Space Needle, the most obvious Seattle landmark for most tourists; and the color palette, which is unusual and distinctive for a professional sports team.

But the promise of the bold colors and modern shield falls apart under that traditional white ribbon banner and the words “SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC.” First, it’s over the Space Needle, so you don’t need to say “Seattle.” Second, that “FC” is a late aughts, early 2010s sign of Euro inferiority. And what’s a “Sounder?”

The net effect is a design that strides toward bold modernism whilst
simultaneously retreating toward mid-century advertising clip art. And that’s not to mention the fact that when you look at the badge in scale with other league badges, you can’t tell what it is at first. Because that hyper-modern, deconstructed badge shape is very vertical compared to the others.

Like the Sounders in MLS Cup: This design threatens to score, but never actually does.

No. 11: D.C. United (1 point)

Let’s keep this simple. This is a classic MLS crest from the league’s most dominant early franchise. But like United itself before Wayne Rooney and the the new stadium, this badge is looking old, tired and bit like a dopey cartoon.

Don’t add anything. Move those three stars out of the eagle, modernize the eagle, and then surround this classic black, red and white shield with proud gold stars for all those MLS Cup, Open Cup and Supporters Shield titles. This should be one of the league’s great badges.

Various issues

No. 12: Austin FC (0 points)

Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of this badge. I kinda love the badge here on a screen. But the execution? For the real world? It’s a mess, and all because someone ignored one basic design principle: Contrast.

A dark green knotwork tree-of-life symbol is a great motif that represents the city. But when you put it up against a black background, it can’t pop. Period. Instead of the tree and the roots and the various lines joining together, you get… a dark blob. In this case, a dark blob with the word “AUSTIN” in white above it.

Here’s how you fix this, folks. Keep the name of your city on there (for now, anyway), and pick up that shade of white to use as a thin highlight stripe separating your green from your black. Ditch the “F” and the “C” on either side of the trunk — they’re just junking shit up. And there you have it: A super cool, civic minded, distinctive MLS badge.

No. 13: New York City Football Club (0 points)

MLS thought bringing in the front office from EPL champion Manchester City was going to be a great fit for North America’s No. 1 market. The front office in Manchester thought: “Hey, North America is a great market for Manchester City jerseys, and New York is a media capital. Let’s put a farm club there.”

The result thus far has been a rather soulless project in New York. Since when does the “Second Club” from the “Second City” in England treat North America’s first city like a junior varsity team? I could go on and on about my issues with Manchester management, but in this post I’m gonna stick to the badge itself.

On the bright side, the motif is based on a subway token from the early 1950s. On the not-bright side, the motif looks like a subway token from the early 1950s. But what’s the big takeaway from looking at this badge? That its using Manchester United’s primary color and shape. So this is not a horrible badge at all. It has aspects of New York authenticity, and I would probably feel differently about it… if the club were authentically run from New York.

Which it isn’t.

No. 14: Orlando City SC (-1 point)

So Orlando’s shade of purple isn’t my favorite, and the purple and gold combo feels a little Russian-oligarch-in-Trump-Tower tacky. To me. But color combinations are super subjective, and this lion’s head is striking, sophisticated and bold. So why isn’t this logo better? Two reasons:

First, the name of the city is Orlando, not “Orlando City.” There’s no real reason for distinguishing it from the surrounding Disneyland retirement sprawl. Its a needy, aspirational choice, and just because the club feels the need to put that “city” in its name, there’s no requirement that you put it on the badge/crest/logo.

Second, the need to stack the all-caps “ORLANDO CITY” identifier beneath this lion’s head ruins the opportunity to have the lion’s head fill the shield. I mean, look at it: He wants to fill that space.

Civic pride and local identity are a huge part of soccer, and it’s good that North American clubs finally get that. But your badge doesn’t need to encourage civic pride. It just needs to reflect it.

No. 15: Houston Dynamo (-1 point)

Finally, our first soccer-ball offender. Three points off your score to begin with. So consider what that tells you about this particular badge: Despite having not too much to work with, the designer did a pretty good job. In fact, this might be the first example in my best-to-worst countdown in which the designer out-performed the material (Vancouver is in the running).

Dynamo is a weird naming choice for Houston. The most famous Dynamo team is from Moscow, and when I think of Houston, Texas, the word ‘dynamo” doesn’t spring to mind.

But the designer here made great use of background textures and colors to create a glowing effect. On one level, this is really just a squat banner shield, and the word “DYNAMO” is the central motif. But step back from it and the entire shape, which glows from the lower center out and up, becomes the motif.

It suffers from my bias against the “Put an Obsolete Soccer Ball in the Logo” craze, but this is otherwise remarkably competent work.

No. 16: Montreal Impact (-1 point)

Meanwhile, in Quebec, competency took the day off when longtime Impact owner Joey Saputo approved this badge.

WTF is going on inside this shield? Stripes at the bottom, a diagonal banner with the team name in italics across the middle, stars to the upper right, the iconic Fleur de Lis squeezed partially out of the frame on the upper left.

A club badge is like a knight’s heraldry. You should be able to identify it across a battlefield, and the small type shouldn’t matter. Get rid of the text, run your black and white stripes from top to bottom, and put that proud Fleur de Lis front and center! Keep it simple!

No. 17: International Miami F.C. (-1 point)

Speaking of simple: See that shield at the center of this round badge? Good, Mr. Beckham, I’m glad. THAT’S YOUR BADGE. THAT’S YOUR LOGO. THAT’S YOUR CREST. Just that. Nothing more, nothing less.

This “CLUB INTERNACIONAL DE FUTBOL MMXX” nonsense around your crest? That’s either 1. Somebody’s ego; or 2. Something the marketing department told you to add because you’re targeting Latinx football fans.

Thanks to that crap, you can’t see the brilliant crest in the center. It disappears into brown mud. This is maddening. Someone fix this right now!

Problems

No. 18: Colorado Rapids (-2 points)

Earlier in this list you read where I was calling for some design professional to come in to, say, the Chicago Fire offices, and spend a day or two making nuanced, sophisticated improvements to an existing logo?

Well, this is the opposite problem.

This design is tasteful. It’s got a sophisticated palette and a symmetrical and representative motif. It screams “boutique design firm professional.”

It’s also flat, boring, and — with that soccer ball almost dead center — dumb.

Here’s another issue: Look at the bar of team logos across the MLS website. Like Seattle’s badge, the aspect ratio on Colorado’s means that when run the same depth as the others, it disappears.

Start over!

No. 19: Sporting Kansas City SC (-2 points)

Kansas City gave up on the idea of calling themselves “the Wizards” before the 2010 season, and who can blame them, really? Kansas City is a great place to get brisket and ribs, but not exactly the place I’d go to stock up on wands and magical supplies.

But calling the team “Sporting KC SC” was another mistake, IMHO. I get the SC/FC trend, I do. But it’s gonna pass. And the “Sporting” moniker? That’s as bad a Euro trope as “Real.” It’s affected. It’s silly. And it leaves a graphic designer with … nothing.

There’s no point to any of this. There’s no Kansas City in this badge. There’s nothing about the club in this badge. This is a competent effort at filling space.

I’m not offended by it. I don’t laugh at it. It isn’t awful, or good. It’s just… blue. It takes up the required space on the kit and the website.

No. 20: FC Dallas (-2 points)

Man, I really just hate this logo. I mean, it’s competent in some ways, but I just… I dunno. It’s part of one of the worst team marketing packages I’ve ever seen.

So I get that the stockyards in Fort Worth were the end of the line for lots of longhorn cattle drives. And I get that longhorns have a special meaning to Texans. I get that red, white and blue are the colors of the Texas flag.

But the way this longhorn image divides up the internal space and the color allocation is… goofy. And why is there what appears to be a red flame in the spot between the animal’s eyes where the slaughterhouse workers are gonna shoot that bolt before carving it up?

And really: When you think soccer, do you think cattle?

Texas has other symbols. Lots of them. And while you’re rethinking that, rethink this, too: Most of the top prospects coming out of FC Dallas’ fantastic academy program are Latino kids. FCD’s fanbase is heavily Latinx. Isn’t there a team badge, identity and color palette that would look better and feel more inclusive?

It’s bad. It’s really bad

No. 21: Real Salt Lake (-4 points)

This is another example of a bad team name leading to a horrible badge. In the first place, Utah is famous for its Mormons, not its Spanish nobility. Suggesting that a soccer team in Salt Lake City has been designated as “royal” by some monarch is like naming a baseball team in Tehran “the Yankees.”

And it just goes downhill from there. The royal “R” gets the crown.

Oh, but wait! Don’t we need to get “Salt Lake City” into this design? How about just an “S” and an “L,” blended into the Claret and Cobalt. So that it’s there, but you barely see it.

Oh, and don’t forget the 1980s soccer ball!

No. 22: Columbus Crew SC (-4 points)

This is a mess.

There’s no central motif. There’s no variety of weights to the visual elements. Nothing says “Columbus.” Nothing says “Crew.”

Black and yellow is one of the great color combos on Earth when it comes to bold, heraldic statements. Pick something. Anything. Then do it clear and bold.

I mean, I know the last logo, the one with the guys in hard hats, was a flop. But this was your answer?

No. 23: FC Cincinnati (-4 points)

In one sense, this weird, artless logo manages to say a lot about its city. Cincinnati isn’t known for cosmopolitan sophistication. It’s known for the Robert Mapplethorpe obscenity trial in 1990, and Skyline Chili, which is basically spaghetti with meat sauce.

This badge lives down to that reputation. It’s simultaneously garish and washed out, with a white Aslan “winged lion” fantasy figure essentially hidden in the center of its light orange field. The club takes pain to explains why the winged lion with the sword and the crown represents Cincinnati, but it feels contrived.

Cincinnati fans really showed up to support this team in USL, and I wish them well. But man… this is like the Basic Bitch of MLS team crests.

The Plane Has Crash Into The Mountain

No. 24: San Jose Earthquakes (-5 points)

I pity the designer tasked with “updating” the horrendous previous Earthquakes badge in 2014. I mean, it’s better… but… ugh.

I can’t imagine what a graphic image of an earthquake might inspire fan loyalty or player excitement. And is this “San Jose’s” team? Or the Bay Area’s team? Or is it Silicon Valley’s team?

Really, other than Chris Wondolowski, who and what are these people?

Here’s a blank sheet of paper. Start brainstorming, front office. Start from scratch. You need a better identity before you even think about a new logo/badge/crest.

No. 25: New England Revolution (-5 points)

On its design and messaging merits alone, could there possibly be a worse professional sports logo than this one?

It’s not just bad, it’s:

  • Casually bad
  • Indifferently bad
  • Neglectfully bad
  • Treasonously bad
  • Old Navy t-shirt bad

If this logo were a living human, it would be a middle-aged single white dude wearing high-waisted jeans, an American flag tank top, and a fanny pack, strutting around the Wal-Mart in a fresh mullet haircut from Sportclips.

This thing hasn’t changed since the Revolution were founded in 1996. It pretends to be an American flag, but it’s not, really. It’s got a blue and white soccer ball where the star field should be, and five red, waving stripes.

In one sense, it’s “artistic,” because, you know, the image is sorta “distressed.” Mostly it looks like something your aunt screenprinted on her Hanes sweatshirt with a kit she got from Hobby Lobby. She’s planning to wear it at “the lake” on the 4th of July.

Everyone knows that the Revolution exist solely so that Robert Kraft can get extra revenues from that stadium he built for the Patriots.

My suggestion: Keep the name, but make the motif the FRENCH Revolution. I’m thinking a guillotine poised above Kraft’s neck would sell a lot more jerseys than this bullshit.

No. 26: Red Bull New York (-6 points)

This isn’t a team badge. It’s a corporate logo. For a shitty “energy drink.”

Burn it down.

… and as for Nashville…

You’re on the clock for 2020, boys.

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