I knew I had seen it somewhere before. Not literally; in this era of leaks, Major League Soccer’s new logo was kept a secret until its official release early yesterday morning. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was familiar with this logo from somewhere else. Then it dawned on me. The new MLS crest felt like a Football as Football design. The designers behind that site took the time to redesign each NFL team’s logos as though they were European. And while designs are borrowed from four different countries, all of them have the sense of a sleek, modern minimalism. In a way, they’re too clean, well-designed but without the charm and detail of the authentic product.
MLS crests all have this feel to them, to varying extents. While they ape much older clubs, each crest is very clearly the product of a modern era. The same can be said of the lower leagues in American soccer, too. None of the computer-designed, modern crests have anywhere near the intricacies of Manchester City’s crest, to use one example. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing. For the league’s new crest, MLS has taken minimalism to something of an extreme.
The “big four” leagues have logos that have remained largely the same since at least the 60s. There was no recent guideline for making a modern sports-league logo in the U.S. Major League Soccer’s old logo was simultaneously newer and dated. And as such there wasn’t really a guideline to creating a 21st-century sports-league logo from scratch in this country. MLS could have gone in a lot of different ways, and surely they tossed out several designs before choosing the final product.
One of the advantages of minimalism is that it’s easy to re-purpose a logo like this, to be used in a number of different ways. The fact that the logo is designed to change colors for each club is a good example of that. But then, there was nothing stopping them from using the current logo (which had quietly gone from blue and green to monochrome in recent years) in the same way. Major League Baseball already does just that.
I think a lot of us, when we first saw the logo, were wondering: “shouldn’t there be something in that white space?” One of my first thoughts was to drop a maple leaf in there, as an acknowledgement of the league’s Canadian presence. Maybe the MLS Cup would go in there, as a logo for the playoffs. The answer to what we were wondering is a resounding “yes.” But now I’m curious if that was by design.
It began when a Reddit user named Oussan posted an image he had made: the crest in RSL’s colors, but with additional team branding in that “empty” space. From there, designs flooded in from fans of all teams. They ranged from the serious to the seriously funny, but in sum I think they changed a lot of opinions. MLS, a league with fan-made trophies and a supporters’ culture unique among American sports, produced a logo that fans could use as a blank slate, to turn into whatever they wanted. David Bruce, a marketing director with MLS who oversaw the rebrand, commented on this on the league’s podcast. “A modern brand, it shouldn’t be owned by a few people, it should be owned by many. So if people feel like it’s theirs, ultimately that’s a really good thing.”
Above all, what made me a fan of the logo was when I came across this page, from one of the companies that worked on the logo. There are a few inconsistencies on that page, but I was struck by this image:
After these next few days, we’ll be seeing a lot less of the MLS logo isolated on a white background. It will be used in apps and embroidered on team jerseys. And it’s going to be used in ads such as the above, where that empty space serves as a window. When viewed in that context, it’s almost enough to make you believe the designer speak on the league’s website: “the second half is an open white space that brings you in and out of the MLS world.”