Hello, Soc Takes crowd. It’s been a while, I know. The pandemic hit, sports got cancelled and my day job suddenly kicked into overtime. But now, the world is looking a bit more normal, and my soapbox needed a good dusting.
You may remember that last January, I wrote a post that was supposed to be the first post in a series on the history of MLS branding. Well, it was, and I guess now still is.
But I digress.
Since Part I was released last January (how time flies!), two more MLS teams have since rebranded, and don’t worry, I’ll definitely be getting to those. I have many, many thoughts on the current state of Montreal and Columbus. However, that’s a future post for future John to forget about and put off for an exorbitant amount of time.
This time, we’ll be looking at the teams that joined MLS between 1997 and 2010, the first major “expansion era” of the league.
Chicago Fire SC/FC
Chicago joined MLS as the first announced expansion team, to begin play during the 1998 season. Their inaugural badge got things very, very right. The shape is derived from that of the Saint Florian Cross, the symbol of the patron saint of firefighters, the 6 points are taken from the flag of Chicago, and the colors fit both the theme of the brand and those of the city itself. Honestly, it’s a fantastic logo, and it stuck around for a long time.
Chicago tweaked the team’s color palette for 2015, using slightly more muted shades of blue and red, while leaving the rest of the crest’s appearance unchanged. Honestly, it’s so subtle most people never even noticed it, and that’s some of the best reception a palette revision can have. It still looks clean, just a bit easier to work with across different forms of media, and maybe a bit easier on the eyes.
And then there’s this.
This is why I started this entire project to begin with. Ahead of the 2020 season, the Fire had announced a laundry list of changes that, overall, made the fans extremely happy. Joe Mansueto bought out Andrew Hauptman to take over the team, and then bought out the absurd lease at SeatGeek Stadium to allow the team to return to Soldier Field. The front office was overhauled, the team got a new coach, and things were looking brighter than they had in years. But then the team revealed the new branding. As previously described, the reaction was overtly hostile, and despite being in use for less than a full season’s worth of games, they’re already working on changing it again. Yikes.
But also, yes please, go back.
Miami Fusion FC
Remember when MLS had a team in Miami? What’s that, they do again? Yeah? Oh, well, remember the one they used to have?
Yep, the Miami Fusion were MLS’s shortest-lived (so far) team, playing for just 4 seasons out of Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium, which is now home to the new Miami MLS team, Inter Miami CF. The irony of none of the Miami teams ever playing a game in Miami itself is lost on no one. Anyway. This badge featured a sunburst-inspired design and a very 90s cyberpunk-ish typeface that definitely didn’t look dated within 5 years. But, with MLS folding both Floridian clubs after the 2001 season, it didn’t even last that long.
CD Chivas USA
Hey, remember the “remember the thing” joke from the Miami section about a defunct team playing in a market and with a similar role to a new team that’s really popular with all those celebrities?
Before there was LAFC, the other Los Angeles team role was filled by Chivas USA, named and branded to match its parent club, CD Guadalajara, better known as Chivas. The idea was to grow the Chivas brands on both sides of the boarder, while hopefully drawing well among the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles.
Chivas USA updated their palette in 2006, and for a while, Chivas USA actually out-performed the Galaxy and the cooperation between the Mexican and American clubs actually seemed to be working out. But everything gradually went completely pear-shaped, and culminated in a series of protests (including that time /r/MLS crowdfunded a plane to fly a LED banner above the stadium), and MLS announced in 2014 that they had seized control of the franchise, and sold the rights for a second Los Angeles team to the group that would later form LAFC.
Real Salt Lake
Announced alongside Chivas USA was Real Salt Lake, with MLS expanding to Utah. The brand saw its share of mockery early (what’s so “real” about Salt Lake?), but the logo in general was sufficient, if a bit mid-2000s direct. The club leaned into the crown imagery and the claret-and-cobalt color palette, and quickly built a strong and dedicated following.
For 2006, the club slightly tweaked the color palette (a recurring theme, yes), to get a bluer blue, and a softer gold. The change worked well, and the palette would continue after the logo was retired. Wearing this crest, Real Salt Lake won MLS Cup 2009.
In 2010, Real Salt Lake began dropping the club’s full name in favor of the RSL abbreviation, and with that, removed the full name from the logo, resulting in the modern yet familiar and oh-so-clean crest. The color palette was also tweaked a bit, and continues to see some light fluctuations year-to-year, but RSL’s branding has been consistent ever since, even applying to their Real Monarchs USL team, and formerly to the Utah Pride in NWSL.
“Hey, everyone, look! John’s gonna mention the Earthquakes relocation again!”
Yes, yes I am. The Houston Dynamo weren’t founded in 2006, because there was nothing new to create. The team as a whole was moved from San Jose, CA, joining a long line of Californians moving to Texas because reasons. Originally, the team was to be known as Houston 1836, referring to the year of the city’s founding. However, because of the year coincidentally being when Texas declared independence from Mexico and fought a war for it (remember the Alamo?), there was a bit of controversy, leading to the name being scrapped very early on.
The team was instead named Houston Dynamo, referring to Houston’s long-standing ties to the energy industry, the defunct Houston Dynamos of the original USL (no relation) and Lone Star Soccer Alliance, and a nod to the Eastern European Dynamo sports clubs. Honestly, as much as I hate the team, its origins, and the city it calls home, it’s a clever brand. The logo is nothing particularly special, but it works, and feels sufficiently Houston that the team made it their own in due time.
Ahead of the 2021 season, the Dynamo announced a rebrand of their own, adding to the growing list of logo changes in recent years. In is a new hexagonal crest and interwoven letter mark, with inspiration drawn from the original 6 wards of Houston and the organization’s “founding” in 2006. Accompanying it is a corresponding hexagonal crest for their NWSL side, the Houston Dash. Honestly, they’re not bad. Black and orange are striking, and the Dynamo had been phasing out their use of blue more and more in recent years. Nothing spectacular, but it definitely works, and it’s honestly an improvement in my eyes.
MLS announced it was taking off to the great white north in 2005, with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment bringing MLS to Toronto. The Toronto FC name and crest were revealed in 2006, and really nailed it out of the gate. The crest is undeniably Canadian, yet distinctly Toronto, fitting in perfectly alongside the city flag and crest.
For 2010, Toronto tweaked the color scheme, going for a darker shade of red. Nothing else has changed since, because frankly, nothing needs to. With this crest, Toronto grew into one of the strongest teams in MLS, winning a Canadian treble in 2017, and becoming one of the most recognizable brands in MLS in the process.
Seattle Sounders FC
Seattle was announced as an expansion team in 2007, and in line with every major Seattle soccer team dating back to the 1970s, they stuck with the Sounders name. The latest iteration of the Sounders boasts the strongest badge yet, featuring a spectacular silhouette of the Space Needle, and given the strength and quality of the crest, hasn’t been tweaked since. The blue, green, and white date back to the original team’s founding in 1974.
Philadelphia’s team was announced in 2008, and the Union brand and crest were revealed in the Spring of 2009. The branding and crest are tied in heavily to Philadelphia’s role in early American history, with strong nods to the early Continental Army uniforms and Ben Franklin’s Join or Die cartoon. Another team that got things right early.
In 2018, the Union decided their badge needed to be brighter, shinier, a little simpler, shinier, and overall, just a lot brighter and shinier. The muted dark gold was replaced with a bright-and-shiny gradient, and the backdrop behind the shield was changed to just vertical stripes. Not entirely sure why they did this, to be honest, but fine, OK, it’s not bad. For whatever reason, this color palette never appealed to me as much as the original. It’s probably the very 2000s looking gradient. That said, though, the club has taken to using variant colors quite a lot, and some of their monochromatic variants have been sharp.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Vancouver joined MLS for the 2011 season, and like fellow Cascadian heritage brand Seattle, kept the name and color the city’s teams had used for decades. Also like Seattle, they nailed it with their crest out of the gate, featuring a striking symmetrical design of whitecapped mountains and ocean surf. It encapsulates Vancouver oh so well, and still looks just as amazing as it did when it was unveiled. They’ve never changed a thing either, because again, they haven’t needed to.
Joining the trifecta of Cascadian teams, Portland was announced as an MLS expansion franchise just two days after Vancouver. And when the team revealed the logo above, the reaction was mixed. Quite frankly, I see why. The team had been known for simple, clean, and classic crests, and this one is just far too busy and 2000s. It’s jagged, the contrast feels a bit lurid, and it broke with a long established tradition.
So they changed it before the team even began play, and what an improvement it made. The unnecessary flourishes and jagged edges have been cleaned up, the color contrast is more pleasant, and it feels like there’s so much more room for the design to breathe. It wasn’t perfect, but it definitely made a lot of the fans happy.
Continuing to bring the MLS-era crest more in line with the team’s history, the Timbers dropped all text from the logo and extended the treetop lines to the edges. For such a subtle tweak, it worked so well, and made what was already a great, clean design even cleaner.
And finally, in 2019, the club swapped the yellow for classic Timbers gold, and darkened the green to more of a forest green shade, giving us the badge they continue using to this day. It’s among the best in MLS, and draws praise from soccer fans all over the world.
Montreal Impact/CF Montreal
Montreal joined MLS from the revived NASL for the 2012 season, updating the Impact branding for their latest iteration. The crest just screams Quebecois to me, from the fleur-de-lis, the use of blue and white, and of course, the French motto “tous por gagner” – all for victory. Despite the slightly 2000s gradients, the crest was sharp, modern, and fit both the team and city perfectly.
At some point between 2014 and 2020, Montreal began phasing out their original crest for a simplified, flatter design. Gone were the gradients and the motto, in were slightly muted colors. It worked just as well as the original, and retained the majority of everything that worked with the original.
Unfortunately, all good things came to an end for the 2021 season. The Impact changed their name to Club de Foot Montreal, which not only sounds stupid in English and in Quebecois French, but is also objectively worse. The distinct and unique crest was replaced with yet another roundel, bringing even more unnecessary homogeneity to the league, and a color palette already on the verge of being too muted now features even less contrast. Reaction was, in line with other recent rebrands, hostile, but it doesn’t seem like the club has any plans to undo the changes.
This concludes the intended portion of Part II of the illustrated history, but since the posting of Part I so long ago, one of the previously included teams has rebranded. So instead of wrapping up here, instead…
It’s time to talk about Columbus.
I attribute precisely three positive changes to the Columbus Crew under Anthony Precourt’s operation: the hiring of Gregg Berhalter as head coach/sporting director, the rebrand, and the sale to the current ownership post-#SaveTheCrew.
The logo unveiled in the Fall of 2014 was excellent. It still is, and the jerseys worn by the team still use it. They wore it as they won MLS Cup 2020, and the club looked to be set for success under new management. And then this happened.
I have several questions, and they’re all “why?” There’s no need for this, and every single person consulted by management agrees. We’ve seen some vitriol against rebrands in the past few years, from some annoyed Houston fans, to angry Impact fans, to the outrage over the Chicago Fire rebrand, but none of it compares to the abject fury among Columbus Crew fans at this. It’s entirely justified.
The team wants to build a globally recognizable brand that will become a historic name, and yet they’ve sacrificed a historic brand that had already built serious brand recognition in the process. All the goodwill built up by the Haslams and Dr. Pete during the #SaveTheCrew saga is at serious risk of evaporating. The team has already put out vague, corporate-speak apologies, and I’m betting that the pressure might be strong enough to actually get them to join Chicago in rolling back a rebrand. Add in the risk of legal issues (identified by fans consulted by the team back in January!) as a long-standing youth soccer team in Columbus, Nebraska, has been using the name for decades, and this rebrand seems doomed to failure from the start.
If MLS and its investors had one lesson to learn from the #SaveTheCrew movement, it’s that soccer fans in Columbus are not to be taken lightly.
This concludes, for real this time, Part II of the illustrated history of MLS crests. Part III will be a quick run through the brands adopted by the latest expansion teams. While there isn’t much to talk about since none of those teams have rebranded, there’s still a lot of interesting history of soccer brands in those markets that I’ll cover.
As always, thanks to Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos for the vast majority of the images used here. I love that site, and spend literally hours scrolling through the various logos and brands used by teams across the world over the years.
Hopefully, the next installment will take less than 16 months to get uploaded.
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.
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