The new MLS logo: American soccer’s latest lightning rod

As a scientist, I am familiar with polarization in terms of electromagnetism. Fittingly, there is a strong polarization in the field of American soccer, a sport I have come to love.

Promotion/relegation vs. none. Single entity vs. individual clubs. Playoffs vs. no playoffs. Just about the only topic that everyone agrees upon is the lack of quality in MLS refereeing.

A new polarizing topic was introduced last week when MLS rolled out the latest target for the league’s lovers and detractors: a new logo. While it appears that this is more than just a symbol (the project is known as MLS Next), the design itself was enough of a controversy to keep people talking for a few days.

Feeling bad about not liking something

When I heard that the league was looking for a logo, I was excited. Obviously the old one has taken some heat. It was somewhere between distinctive and tacky, maybe some of both. Many argued that the ball in the logo was outdated. I thought it served its purpose, but was ready to be spiffed up in a way that was fitting for the start of the league’s third decade.

When the new logo was released, my initial reaction was not very enthusiastic. But almost immediately, I had this sense of, “Why do I always gravitate towards the negative when it comes to this league?”

I doubt MLS really cares that people love or hate their logo — they tend to like any reaction at all, since it creates discussion about a league that needs it. They can’t seem to get much love on Sportscenter, local newspapers, or other broadcasts. The rancor over a logo spills onto many Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines, at least creating a little buzz.

What did I like about the logo?

I probably would rate the new logo in the 2.5/5 stars range, which means I’m not completely negative about the design.

There’s something to be said for taking a different direction with a logo, and one way you can do that is to skip the frills of most league logo designs. It’s bold to go simple, because it becomes an easy target for criticism. The crest style is the epitome of simple, aside from the diagonal line. The text style is simple. Even the color scheme (red, white, and blue) and presence of stars is simple in American terms.

This simplicity begets a whole bevy of offspring logos, recolored in the style of each franchise for their own use. The league seems to think this is an important aspect of the rebrand. While these benefits aren’t that apparent to me at the moment, I’m willing to hold off a few years to see it all play out.

What didn’t I like?

The “tail,” primarily. Call me OCD, call me a purist. I would prefer the symmetry of a crest without the piece of that diagonal line hanging off. I understand it could give a 3-D, “jumping off the page” effect, but if you can’t evoke the effect without people squinting their eyes, it’s not working.

A better interpretation for the “tail” relates to the league’s inability to stay within the lines of existing rules (a la, the “crest”) when dealing with player acquisition (another lightning rod topic).

And for that matter, interpretations are weak. It’s tough to tell what came first, the design or the labored explanation for the design. My feeling is that the design ought to speak for itself. If you believe you need to explain it to everyone, your creation might not be a finished product.

Giving it time

Rarely do I find myself liking something creative right away. It often takes me 10 or more listens to an album to appreciate its artistry. That’s probably an innate part of one’s makeup — some people are more prone to embracing novelty, while others prefer normalcy.

Maybe that’s why MLS is such a polarizing league. They have done a number of creative things in terms of soccer league management. It’s one of the few sports whose establishment overseas flies in the face of typical American sports investment. It’s the league that challenges the boundaries advocated by FIFA (multinational, will exceed 20 teams when Atlanta joins, no pro/rel). There is tension created by such departure from the norm.

So like MLS itself, this logo may take some time to grow on all of us. And even if it doesn’t, the soccer can speak for itself.


  1. I’m just not sure why half of the crest is blank. The fan versions are great.

  2. The new crest is very Ikea. I don’t like it, I don’t hate it. It looks like the thing that wins the designer a ton of awards then becomes completely dated in 3 years necessitating the need for a new crest…

  3. I like the shield theme, but there are 3 glaring problems with this logo:
    1.) Why is this crest wearing a seat belt? Chop off that tail, it is useless.
    2.) Get rid of that “TM”. Do you really think someone is going to steal this logo, MLS? I don’t know of any other league that sticks that useless, distracting marking on its logo.
    3.) Let me get this straight–there is space for 3 stars in the logo, but nowhere that a soccer ball could fit in there?
    Overall, it’s a logo. No one is going to tune in or out because of a logo. So, MLS needs to keep making improvements where they count, and the league will continue to grow.

    • 1) If you need me to answer this one, try again.
      2) I thought it was a subtle plea to TM Howard to return to MLS. Pleases?!?
      3) I thought it was for club, country, and soccerballs. I think it’s covered.

  4. If the main logo takes a backseat to all of the team specific versions, I actually like it quite a bit. The team versions, and fan alternatives, are great.

  5. Earl, I think like you and I are of like mind here. I love this concept as much as I hate it, and keep going back and forth, finding new things I like/dislike, then finding new reasons not to like/dislike them.
    I don’t mind the “tail”, although it doesn’t give the impression of “moving forward” the way MLS wants it to. What I dislike the most is the empty white space, or “window” that “brings you in and out of the MLS world.”
    Had this convo with Greg Lalas on twitter:
    – ME: “I know (@MLSmuppet’s logos) are meant to be silly, but simple additions to the “window” make for such a better looking logo.”
    – @Gaetjens: “That’s actually always been the thought for that blank space. But you need to establish the canvas so everyone can get creative.”
    – ME: “Nice thought, very metta, but it’s a brand. Farmers don’t brand cows so others can get creative. That said, it’s growing on me”
    – @Gaetjens: “True. Tho, I’d like to think the MLS marketing guys are a little more metaphorical than your average brand-wielding farmer.”

  6. my biggest problem with the new logo is the minimization of the most important (remaining) element on it: MLS. with the loss of figure (foot) and context (ball), all that remains relevant for the read is the acronym.

    the MLS text is approx 1:8 the entire footprint.
    compared to:
    NBA 1:8
    MLB (w/o text) 0:0; (w/ text) 1:6
    NHL 1:3
    NFL 1:2

    text-wise, it’s closest in this comparison is the NBA. at a glance though, the NBA is a second-rate MLB logo in read (not ranking the aesthetics here). by that i mean, it doesn’t need or implement well the NBA text. it’s a great read of figure-in-action. it can be recognized by just the 3 colors and figure-with ball. it’s very strong.

    it could’ve taken influence instead from the NFL: shield, RW&B, and half of it is the brand name.

    it’s closest by design elements is the NHL logo. really don’t think people would be complaining if the MLS mimicked the NHL in its simpler shield and character placement. at most the comparison would be acknowledged and it’d be less of an issue.

    i believe the sunsetting logo could’ve been refreshed, retaining most of its elements —foot, ball, text — and still been successful. a clean read like MLB.

    i also believe this new logo could’ve been laid out better. in 30 second dissection, any of these would’ve advanced this to a better place:
    – text outside the shield, width of it.
    – three stars laid out across the top of the shield or above it
    – with the team-specific coloring, elements of that team’s crest in the white space (as we saw in the fan-made comps after it was announced).

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    Eh. It’s a logo. I think the 2.5/5 given above is the perfect rating. And I do agree that the ones created by the fans are WAY BETTER.

  8. Formerseasonticketholder says:

    I don’t like the new logo…however I had the same feelings about the old logo and it grew on me.

  9. Damn shield is a bit snappy. Something about it. I keep coming back to the page and it is strangely growing on me. Hmm. Marketing minds. A smart folk they tend to be.

  10. There’s just something cheap/undercooked about the logo that bugs me. I like the flat direction and think the fan/team interpretations are neat, but the main logo just lacks something. Part of it is that empty space. Part of it is the font for MLS, which could not be more plain. I think they could have done better with MLS and three stars and ditch the empty crest thing.

    It’s not as good as the EPL lion logo….

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