Major League Soccer is 20 years old. The league was founded in 1994, and took the field in 1996. In 1997, it saw its first rebranding. In 1998, it set about two more logo changes. In the 18 years that soccer has been played in the United States under the banner of the Major League Soccer enterprise, there have been 18 rebrands or logo changes. It's so common, that one might say that soccer is rivaled only by rebranding as MLS's raison d'être, and more revision and honing of franchise identities seems assured to continue year after year for the foreseeable future.
This week the Columbus Crew, MLS's first team, will unveil its new crest. The unveiling of the logo that will symbolize the "New Crew" era, will leave only one team from the original 10 with a crest that has largely gone unchanged. This is a landmark moment, not only for the team and its supporters, but for the sport of soccer in the United States. Yet, in true Columbus tradition, the importance of this moment will likely go largely uncelebrated by the league, its corporate sponsors, its media partners, and the national soccer media at large. If so, that's fine. Columbus, Ohio has been the most important city for American soccer, and the Columbus Crew have been the most reliable pillar for Major League Soccer, since 1994. The league does not exist in its current form without Columbus. The league, most likely, does not exist at all without Columbus. These are truths, whether MLS 2.0 through 2.9 and the television networks acknowledge the essential importance of the Black & Gold, or not.
The original crest—a symbol of Columbus, Ohio's role as the structural foundation and the constructive character that's given a spine to American Soccer since 1994 and a home since 1999—is about to be replaced. The three workers on the crest of the Columbus Crew have done their work. They are moving on. We've known this was coming for more than a year, now. Some have welcomed it and some have dreaded it. Nevertheless, the day is almost here. It will be a momentous day. It will be a good day.
Earlier this year (May, to be exact), Steve Abreu, Gabe Shultz, Larry W. Johnson, and myself—long-time Columbus Crew and MLS fans, all—thought it would be fun to look back at the history of rebrands in MLS, and rank them from best to worst. Or, more accurately, we would rank them according to which ones we personally thought were most successful and which were least successful. We wrote what we thought, shared our thoughts with one another, and then we waited for October to share it with everyone.
In the mean time, one expansion team announced their rebrand (Orlando City), another expansion team started operating under their initial crest (New York City FC), and the whole entire league announced its new logo. We included our thoughts on Orlando City, but did not include NYCFC or MLS, because Orlando City was, like the others in this list, a rebranding for a team.
Gabe, a professional graphic artist in Columbus, identified the 18 major and minor rebrands in MLS history. Larry, also a professional graphic designer in Columbus, compiled and ordered our answers. Steve, a patent and trademark attorney in Boston, contributed his answers from a "posher-than-imaginable hotel room" while on business in Hong Kong (this project, literally, spanned the globe). Together, we're coming at you with a lot of American soccer history and fun, and, to quote a great man, if you're not careful you may learn something before it's done.
Here are the results of our rankings, 1 to 18. The final results are the averages of the rankings of the four individuals. Our individual rankings for that team are below each team, along with our explanations. I've ordered our individual explanations by which of us were the closest to the final result for that team going first, which of us was farthest from the final result being last.
1. Vancouver Whitecaps, 2011.
Steve Abreu. Vancouver Whitecaps 1st
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - The best rebrand in the history of MLS is the redesign of the mid-90's SURGE-cola reminiscent Vancouver Whitecaps logo to the timeless angular beautifully-fonted mountains and reflections of mountains in water crest. It just so happens that the reflection of the mountains forms a VW for Vancouver Whitecaps. A unique shape encapsulating a unique vision. Simple, breathtaking and deserving of the No. 1 spot.
Gabe Shultz. Vancouver Whitecaps 2nd
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - A self-contained logo that shows off the city's iconic landscape with a subtle "VW"—very clever. The use of the "it's everywhere" font Gotham is the only disappointment.
Justin Bell. Vancouver Whitecaps 2nd
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - The drop off from 1st to 2nd is big, but Vancouver's new crest is clever and clean.
Larry W. Johnson. Vancouver Whitecaps 6th
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - Did well here, better than Montreal. It's something fans will look back fondly on, won't tire as some others on this list.
2. Los Angeles Galaxy, 2007.
Gabe Shultz. Los Angeles Galaxy 1st
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - The shift of emphasis from a whole galaxy to a single star is just too perfect.
Larry W. Johnson. Los Angeles Galaxy 1st
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - Works, fits city without trying.
Justin Bell. Los Angeles Galaxy 1st
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - Clearly, the best rebranding in league history.
Steve Abreu. Los Angeles Galaxy 9th
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - LA Galaxy decided that its prior excellent history of winning cups wouldn't be enough to satisfy the legions of new fans Beckham was surely to bring, so they decided to emulate Real Madrid with no real reason. The 2007 LA Galaxy crest is totally without meaning. It's like eating air for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and fourthmeal.
3. Orlando City, 2014.
Steve Abreu. Orlando City 4th
2014 Orlando City - Orlando City, 2014. Now that's what I call a Logo (volume 17)!
Justin Bell. Orlando City 4th
2014 Orlando City – I think that Orlando City and its supporters are going to be generally hard to take for a few seasons. There seems a sense of entitlement is bubbling to the surface of Orlando City soccer culture that reminds one of adolescent rage and acne—or like the “We Deserve Butter” seasons of Toronto FC. Look, a billionaire ripped your team from Austin. You're about to take a bunch of MLS veterans from other cities via the expansion draft. Kaka was gifted to you by the league. He'll eventually feel like he's being held back by his teammates, and MLS will probably alter major rules so his years in the shadow of Cinderella's Castle aren't anything less than a fairy tale. Anyway, this logo is a pretty great update of the crazy red-headed lions that the USL side sported since leaving Texas. Yes, it's a little reminiscent of Disney's Lion King and has barely anything to do with soccer, but that's okay. It looks like Orlando. A purple team is welcome. We need a pink team, next. Seriously.
Larry W. Johnson. Orlando City 5th
2014 Orlando City - Maybe this one should go down as the only modern rebrand to be recieved well on social media. It works fine enough. Lesson here is that the meaning behind the 'solar flares' / lion main has already changed with the loss of Chivas USA. Ultimately... hey! It's purple and it looks sorta like something Disney would do for latest Lion King show off broadway. Which fits because of Orlando.
Gabe Shultz. Orlando City 10th
2014 Orlando City - The monolithic lion/sun illustration is a handsome upgrade in style and tone. Unfortunately the rest of the logo is hanging on for dear life—the shield shape seems to counter the roundness of the lion, and the type—despite the custom letter interplay—my god, you could fit a witch AND a wardrobe between that 'L' and 'A'.
4. Colorado Rapids, 2007.
Gabe Shultz. Colorado Rapids 4th
2007 Colorado Rapids - From everything wrong to a lot of things right. The color scheme upgrade was huge. The shield shape feels mountainous. Oops, how did that soccer ball get back in there?
Steve Abreu. Colorado Rapids 2nd
2007 Colorado Rapids - Colorado's 2007 change from black and blue (after having been green and blue) to burgandy and sky blue is the league's second best rebrand of all time. Colorado has always been the team comfortable in every color, and every league needs a team in burgundy, so why not Colorado? Colorado pretended to be Inter Milan for a few seasons and it didn't catch. Now it's up to Montreal to pretend to be Inter Milan. Colorado's always screamed out "Aston Villa!" to me, and clearly to whoever made this change. The chevron-shield badge design perfectly surrounds the mountain motif; the typeface makes sense. While the inclusion of the soccer ball is regrettable, in 2007 cities still needed to be reminded which sport their MLS teams actually played. A glass of burgundy in honor of this redesign.
Justin Bell. Colorado Rapids 8th
2007 Colorado Rapids - Has Colorado been in a constant state of rebranding since 1996? I like what they've had since 2007, but it feels like they're always itching for another change. The recent electric blue 2nd kits, for instance, and new-ish Colorado flag motif are great.
Larry W. Johnson. Colorado Rapids 10th
2007 Colorado Rapids - Better, stadium later but it is boring as all. What is interesting is that Colorado appears to be moving to new colors already, incorporating state flag now too.
5. New York Red Bulls, 2006.
Gabe Shultz. New York Red Bulls, 3rd.
2006 New York Red Bulls - It's unfair, but tacking the team identity to a cool brand did wonders for me as a spectator. I was excited when they rebranded. It felt legit.
Larry W. Johnson. New York Red Bulls, 3rd.
2006 New York Red Bulls - Full sponsor, links up with worldwide brand, probably better than Harrison NJ deserves.
Justin Bell. New York Red Bulls, 3rd.
2006 New York Red Bulls - The RedBull Energy Drink FC joke was always going to be a risk, but it's easier to deal with when you have a beautiful stadium and billions of dollars backing up your team.
Steve Abreu. New York Red Bulls, 17th
2006 New York Red Bulls - Everything about your favorite soccer team is for sale to the highest bidder. Every single detail is for sale. Everything you love about your team could be owned by your least favorite company tomorrow if enough money was offered. I give you Red Bull New York.
(Tie) 6. Montreal Impact, 2011.
Justin Bell. Montreal Impact 6th
2011 Montreal Impact - When one considers the xtreme! 90s-ness of L'Impact Montreal's USL crest, the current MLS crest is both classy and modern. Impact still seem to be trapped in fads, however, and it's going to need revision, soon.
Gabe Shultz. Montreal Impact 7th
2011 Montreal Impact - I remember being disappointed by all the trendy stuff jammed into this… the hipster type, the gradients, the ribbon thingy, the kinda-3D style. But they had the sense to lose the soccer ball YET SOMEHOW it looks even more like a soccer team logo. Huh.
Steve Abreu. Montreal Impact 8th
2011 Montreal Impact - I like Montreal's old crest. It came straight out of an era where you could name a team IMPACT! unabashedly. The new crest comes straight out of the era where three graphic designers sit in a conference room with a team's PR flacky and they read the city's wikipedia page for design clues. Unfortunately what came out was just a hodge podge of ideas, but hey, at least there's no soccer ball.
Larry W. Johnson. Montreal Impact 9th
2011 Montreal Impact - A more serious looking upgrade, not too bad. I remember a video that accompanied this when it was released and it worked but, again, feels too tight, too clean. It also moved colors close to a few other MLS teams out there. All have the same feel.
(Tie) 6. Portland Timbers, 2011.
Steve Abreu. Portland Timbers 5th
2011 Portland Timbers – Portland's modernizing of its axe seems reasonable to me. The new font is miles better. Why not? Welcome to MLS, Portland.
Justin Bell. Portland Timbers 5th
2011 Portland Timbers - Portland's MLS version of the USL version (great) of the NASL version (good) is fine, but the cartoonish axe is silly. And why does MLS insist on adding shadows and more colors to create the illusion of depth? It looks minor league, which is exactly the opposite of what they're trying to do. Stop. Don't do this to the Crew. Please.
Larry W. Johnson. Portland Timbers 2nd
2011 Portland Timbers - Just because they are sticking with what already worked. Do it right the first time, LESSONS.
Gabe Shultz. Portland Timbers 18th
2011 Portland Timbers - The old Portland logo was simple, recogizable, expertly composed and crafted (OK, not the type), symbolic, and still felt relevant in 2011—with only two flat colors. The new version—while certainly passable—is a hamhanded, naive attempt to improve all that original beauty with modern design trends. Bleh.
8. Houston Dynamo, 2006.
Steve Abreu. Houston Dynamo, 7th
2006 Houston Dynamo - Houston 1836, we hardly knew ye! I'm generally in favor of scrubbing racially insensitive material from crests, so I'm putting this change in seventh, though the resulting Houston Dynamo crest is basically San Jose's old horrifying crest, only in orange. Still, someone with some sense decided that the team perhaps should not be named after a great battle defeat of the team's likeliest fans, so you have to applaud some realism entering into the mix. Would it kill Houston Dynamo to rebrand again please?
Justin Bell. Houston Dynamo 9th
2006 Houston Dynamo - This feels like the forerunner to most of the crests that followed through 2011 (San Jose, Toronto, Portland, Seattle, Kansas City). In lieu of a symbol we give you words. Lots of words. And over-stylized fonts. Lots of that. And, of course, a soccer ball. Over all, just, so, so very, very MLS.
Larry W. Johnson. Houston Dynamo 4th
2006 Houston Dynamo - Fine, part of the look works because they launched a new stadium plan around the same time. Without the shield outline and soccer ball it does sort of look like a TV show logo.
Gabe Shultz. Houston Dynamo 13th
2006 Houston Dynamo - This is not an indictment of Houston's current logo—In fact I think both of these are really good—it's just that the 1836 concept was way more meaningful. It's a shame "1836" was offensive to a key demographic.
9. Seattle Sounders, 2009.
Larry W. Johnson. Seattle Sounders 8th
2009 Seattle Sounders - I remember liking the thick black outline but I do think this one will tire sooner rather than later. Something that works in Seattle is that the pro teams sort of keep style/colors similar. Even the old Sonics still line up. There is a lot to be said with keeping it familiar.
Gabe Shultz. Seattle Sounders 8th
2009 Seattle Sounders - It's not like an all-type logo was ever practical anyway, but it's also not like two crazy overlapping shields is much better. It looks professional, so that's nice.
Justin Bell. Seattle Sounders 10th
2009 Seattle Sounders - Worst current outline for a crest in MLS by a mile. Seriously, what the hell shape is this? And we get it—Space Needle. Wow. What makes it even worse is that there was a circular crest design that a fan did back in 2007 that blows the doors off of this. It features Chief Sealth, the great chief for whom the city is named. It was simple, historic, and inspiring. But the Sounders are preposterous so the current crest is perfect for them. Good job!
Steve Abreu. Seattle Sounders 13th
2009 Seattle Sounders - Seattle Sounders had a reasonable word mark and they changed it to the weirdest shaped crest in the league. Why not just make the Space Needle the shape of the crest? What is going on here? Is the blue thing a pointy home plate? I don't understand this. It is awful. Die.
10. FC Dallas, 2005.
Justin Bell. FC Dallas 7th
2005 FC Dallas - The Burn was an insane name for a soccer team and it had an insane horse with insane lightning bolt legs and it was insanely exhaling fire. It was a Goyaesque nightmare in soccer crest form. In fact, a better name for the team would have been Dallas Nightmares. FC Dallas' combination of eurostyle name and Texas longhorn crest is an awkward mashup, but it's better than being insane. OR IS IT?
Gabe Shultz. FC Dallas 5th
2005 FC Dallas - No frills. A nicely composed shield, with a well-illustrated longhorn, with a quasi-occult homage to its predecessor stamped into its forehead.
Steve Abreu. FC Dallas 14th
2005 FC Dallas - I have fond memories of the Dallas Burn. Ariel Graziani, Jason Kreis, the Cotton Bowl full, etc. A real team. One of the originals. The Burn was a terrible name (not Wiz terrible, but terrible) but at least it wasn't lazy as all fuck FC Dallas. That is the worst team name in the league. I'm sorry. It is also awful. So is their dumb steer. The new crest is all kinds of awful. Awful awful awful. I hate it. Bring the Dallas Burn back.
Larry W. Johnson. FC Dallas 16th
2005 FC Dallas - Good for an NFL team, maybe it works in that way? The first one was so bizarre. Maybe underselling this one. Because it is a good design, just can't get past how non-soccer-y it is. Maybe that fits though, Texas and all.
11. DC United, 1998.
Gabe Shultz. DC United 12th
DC United 1998 - Also better in a sad way. The eagle is illustrated better, the shield shape is better, the type is clearer, but all those things are still not very good.
Justin Bell. DC United 13th
1998 DC United - For those who don't know, DC has a weird eagle on its crest that is neither inspiring, nor intimidating. This change in '98 made the weird eagle slightly less weird, yet no more inspiring or intimidating.
Larry W. Johnson. DC United 15th
1998 DC United - Really don't think it was it needed, and love the old one because I feel it was the only one someone put some time in with in 95. Also, why does the new one have a soccer ball in the belly? It looks like the Trans-Am logo from the late 70s was shot in the belly with a soccer ball, complete with the clipart star and all.
Steve Abreu. DC United 3rd
The change of DC United's crest in 1998 made their quasi-nazi motif less nazi, and that's good enough to make the podium. The crest hasn't been changed since.
12. San Jose Earthquakes, 2008.
Steve Abreu. San Jose Earthquakes 12th
2008 San Jose Earthquakes - San Jose in 2008. This change was utterly meaningless. Everything listed below here is a change so pernicious that it ranks below San Jose missing the opportunity to retire its Kindergarden-classroom crest.
Justin Bell. San Jose Earthquakes 12th
2008 San Jose Earthquakes - Didn't I just get done talking about this crest? I actually thought the recklessness of the seismograph worked. I mean, if the big one's coming, why not go nuts? It's crazy that in between 2000 and 2008, the 'Quakes left for Houston, came back (kind of), and still didn't take the opportunity to change their crest, identity, or anything, in any real way until 2014.
Gabe Shultz. San Jose Earthquakes 11th
San Jose 2008 - It's a bummer to make a few minor tweaks to upgrade something when it really needed a great many major adjustments. It's better but in a sad way.
Larry W. Johnson. San Jose Earthquakes 14th
2008 San Jose Earthquakes - Never be afraid to change, no matter how small. That said. You made a mistake the 1st time. Be more careful.
13. Sporting Kansas City, 2011.
Larry W. Johnson. Sporting Kansas City 11th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - I think this one is giving Crew fans pause. It stays as high up on my list as this because the team has been so successful in generating excitement around the team. The logo is bloated and the interlocked "SC" commands way too much space and just floats there. There is too much design for design sake with the elements.
Steve Abreu. Sporting Kansas City 16th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - Sporting Kansas City didn't have to be way down here. The change from KC Wizards to Sporting Kansas City was necessary and is an example of everything that can go right when someone who cares buys your team, but this crest is really, really dumb and it's just such a shame. Sporting KC is the best Gillette can get?
Justin Bell. Sporting Kansas City 17th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - This should be last, honestly. For all of the plaudits and praise that this overwrought, pointlessly complicated, repurposed deodorant logo of a meaningless rebrand gets, this should be last. It's horrible. And it's swollen. Why in the hell is it swollen? Someone lance this boil on the corporate brain of MLS before it needlessly affects Columbus' 2015 rebrand.
Gabe Shultz. Sporting Kansas City 6th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - Everything's about to burst, the type is tiny and stretched, the "SC" has to be explained to, like, everyone, I assume, and "Sporting" is just such an eyeroller. BUT, it feels like a brand now, where Wizards never did. They have nice clothes [never say, 'lifestyle brand'], and their commitment to the color scheme has a lot of merit. I also like the subtle state line.
14. San Jose Earthquakes, 2014.
Larry W. Johnson. San Jose Earthquakes 12th
2014 San Jose Earthquakes - Poor 'quakes, just can't get it right. so dark, so... nothing. I have this ranked with Sporting KC because they are both corporate looking and very stuffy.
Gabe Shultz. San Jose Earthquakes 16th
San Jose Earthquakes 2014 - What a dud. The new Quakes logo goes out of its way to cover up every interesting idea had somewhere in the design process with safe, expected, blandness. And a soccer ball right in the middle, mocking me.
Steve Abreu. San Jose Earthquakes 6th
2014 San Jose Earthquakes - San Jose's logo has been a total disaster ever since they buried the Crashcorpion and adopted the sunshine soccer ball. This year's redesign, while not perfect, finally allows for the registration of the logo as a copyright, since it is now no longer just a mashup of public domain soccer ball and sun ray clip arts. Also, I like chevrons. Nice change, San Jozy.
Justin Bell. San Jose Earthquakes 18th
2014 San Jose Earthquakes - Like this, for instance. The only reason why this new horrible San Jose Earthquakes crest exists is because people in positions of influence within MLS think the SKC rebrand is great, as money is the most important thing in the business of sports and sincerity in sports is for saps. While I wasn't fully on board with his vision for the skyline-adorned Columbus Crew redesign, M. Wills' reboot of the San Jose rebrand was like most of his work—excellent. In that project, he showed how a little creative thoughtfulness can go a long way.
(Tie) 15. Kansas City Wiz(ards), 1997.
Justin Bell. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 16th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - Wiz, we hardly knew you. Wizards, welcome. We'll hardly remember you.
Larry W. Johnson. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 18th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - A goddamn mess of a rebrand, original was God's gift to soccer in the USA.
Steve Abreu. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 10th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - The WIZ to Wizards change was so necessary that the people who thought up WIZ should have been fired, hunted down, spat upon, towel dried, spat upon again, taunted, and hung to a flag pole by their boxers. The only reason that this change is so low is because they had an opportunity here and they picked "Wizards." Whatevs.
Gabe Shultz. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 9th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - There is no wrong direction you can run when you are running away from that Wiz logo.
(Tie) 15. MetroStars, 1998.
Steve Abreu. MetroStars 15th
1998 MetroStars - New York/New Jersey MetroStars had a reasonable crest in 1997, it was quirky and it was MLS 1.0 but it was unique. They changed it to a crest that could be designed by a person who you explained soccer crests to, but who had never seen one before, and who was blindfolded, and had their dominant hand tied behind their back. The 1998 crest sucked hard.
Justin Bell. MetroStars 14th
1998 MetroStars - No more taxi cabs and skyscrapers. This and the DC United changes are of a piece. Of course, DC United is still living with their 1998 changes. I love love love love love love that the soccer ball on the MetroStars crest and the Kansas City Wiz(adds) crests were exactly the same. Single entity, single soccer ball.
Gabe Shultz. MetroStars 17th
1998 MetroStars - Something to nothing. That psychotic Radio City 90s redux may have been ready for a change, but it had life… Its replacement had nothing of the sort. I hate critiquing design this way, but brevity is a rule in POWER RANKINGS, so: it looks like clipart.
Larry W. Johnson. MetroStars 7th
1998 MetroStars - They saw a need to fix the original, but to something that means absolutely nothing? Bold in the laziness.
17. San Jose Earthquakes, 2000.
Steve Abreu. San Jose Earthquakes 18th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - San Jose had a cool-ass scorpion and a reasonable team name and then they changed it to some cartoonish nonsense that was vaguely reminiscent of some soccer team that came before. Ugh. The change to Earthquakes stilted the team's growth, caused it to move, and then stuck around like a cockroach through two further rebrands. Go away San Jose Natural Disaster Crests.
Gabe Shultz. San Jose Earthquakes 14th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - I always felt like the Earthquakes logo was trying to appeal to guys on choppers. Also shout out to the Clash for having the only lowercase letters in the POWER RANKINGS.
Larry W. Johnson. San Jose Earthquakes 13th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - Ok, but now getting down the list. Means some of these efforts are really questionable.
Justin Bell. San Jose Earthquakes 11th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - Here's where it gets bleak. If the drop from 1st to 2nd was big, the line from 10th to 11th is an event horizon beyond which is Nothingness. But SJ going from Clash to the 'Quakes at least had historic inspiration. The SJ crest, however, has been a mess since 2000.
18. Colorado Rapids, 2001.
Larry W. Johnson. Colorado Rapids 17th
2001 Colorado - Do want to go back and try to make that circular logo better, something good there. This looks exactly like something I would have designed in Quark or Pagemaker back in the early 00s.
Gabe Shultz. Colorado Rapids 15th
Colorado Rapids 2001 - The choice to contain the worst color scheme in soccer history within a circle was essentially a matter of public safety. That giant soccer ball makes me cry.
Justin Bell. Colorado Rapids 15th
2001 Colorado Rapids - Not much to say here. Another turn of the tube in 20 years of kaleidoscopic crest changes.
Steve Abreu. Colorado Rapids 11th
2001 Colorado Rapids - Colorado went from a crest that featured rapids to a crest that featured a Spacely's Sprocket. Just NO.