What is tradition in sports? Is it merely a shared history, the rise and fall of fortunes that unify disparate people? Is it the shared experience, a cycle renewed with regularity to reignite the past sentiments that are stirred up by the rise and fall? Is it the colors, crests, and stadiums that serve as semiotic identifiers to remind us of these experiences, of this history?
And what is the impact of losing these sanctified symbols, of drastically altering that which has come to be familiar?
The reveal of Major League Soccer’s new logo last week was understandably met with mixed reviews. The league’s veer away from the iconic boot-on-ball logo, which has retained its form with the barest of updating throughout the league’s two-decade history, is both a fresh start for the growing league and a turn away from a painful but essential part of the sport’s history.
The move essentially does two things. First, it has stimulated conversation within the community. Some love the new logo, some pine for the league to retain its classic look, but what it has shown is that anyone with any interest in soccer in the United States has an opinion on the matter. Few people have been neutral about the shift. And, to their credit, MLS has been smart about staying ahead of what is quite honestly a controversial and drastic rebranding.
The league seems to be trying to evoke a more staid image, something that will look more regal and official decades down the line. Which is funny, because the last time a league tried to rebrand itself this drastically the Bundesliga was shifting from its psychedelic soccer ball to a more cartoonish guy booting ball. Like the original MLS logo it has undergone cosmetic updates but retained the basic form.
But as I said, the MLS can be credited for embracing the discussion. Soon after the reveal of the new logo, the league’s website was featuring fan-generated updates of the logo for various teams. They’ve come up with a (frankly hokum) logic about all the various meanings of this new crest to sell it as the next generation of soccer in the United States. And the talk quickly dissipated away, small smatterings still out there. But mostly they did it right before another great week of action as teams wage tight battles for playoff position.
The league is also flexing its muscles in the CONCACAF Champions League, with four of the five MLS representatives still undefeated and atop their respective groups. (The fifth, the New York Red Bulls, lost its only match to fellow MLS side Montreal Impact in Group 3 action.) There will be plenty of time for this logo controversy to cool off ahead of the full relaunch in the league’s 20th season in 2015.
After all, what is a logo really worth? Ultimately MLS is competing not with other soccer leagues, where a logo is something to be tweaked and redesigned as necessary, but with an American sports market where the NFL has wielded its shield in its basic form since 1960 and the NBA and MLB have been utilizing the same logos for more than four decades. The NHL is even more iconic, having rocked its basic form since the league’s inception in 1917-18.
So what is MLS exactly trying to emulate? They turned away from the logo most similar to MLB and NBA, one that featured action from the sport it represents. They gave up the chance to be like the NHL and have one logo for the entire history of the league. That leaves one contender left.
Look closely at the logo again. I’ll put it right here for your convenience. Just take a moment and ask yourself what it most closely represents. And don’t overthink this… as much as the league will try to pan it off as new-age design genius that melds history and the future together as one, it is much simpler. This is Major League Soccer’s opening salvo at the NFL.
Think about it. That shield has been getting quite the workout lately, shielding the league from the ongoing research on both concussions and the long-term effects of subconcussive brain injuries and discussions about its tolerance of domestic and child abuse and owners run afoul of the law and its treatment of the past players that fueled the growth of its brand and on and on. For all the realities that soccer has its own concussion issues, the image for parents around the country is that football is dangerous and that futbol is a safer alternative.
The only reason that MLS would change its logo from the only one that has existed for the entire lifetime of the sweet spot of the lowest end of the 18-to-35 demographic is to more closely identify itself as the new form of football to sweep America. There’s its own shield for the battle right there, complete with the monogram and the stars and the red, white, and blue. Between the aggressive expansion just a decade after the league was contracting teams and the chrysalis into a new look, MLS is posturing for a long-term endgame strategy that they seem to be hoping emerges with soccer atop the American sports pyramid.
Perhaps that’s just conspiracy, the bloviations of a guy trying desperately to make sense of what is frankly a decision lacking any necessity from a pure business standpoint. The shape, the styling, the coloration, however, don’t seem like accidents, do they?
More importantly, however, do I like it? I don’t know… I was 11 when the World Cup was on U.S. soil, I was 13 when MLS launched in 1996, and I’ve grown to know the old boot-on-ball emblem quite well over the years. To me, this crest feels like you should see it listed as one of those customizable logos for the jerseys you buy for your Sunday beer league than the official logo of the league with the ninth-highest attendance of all professional soccer leagues worldwide. (I think) I understand the basic logic behind this shift in design, but that doesn’t mean I have to think it was especially well done.
Say what you will about the cartoonish old logo, but it certainly was better (and longer lived) than that flying monstrosity the Bundesliga is foisting upon its teams’ kits. Another redesign incorporating what has become an instantly identifiable symbol of MLS would have been far preferable to what was ultimately created. Recreating a corporate image isn’t necessarily a bad thing, when it is done in a way that enhances the brand. This just feels like a step back for a league that has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade and that frankly deserves more.
Catching Up Around the Globe
I’ve already written about the impact of the first set of Champions League matches from last Tuesday and Wednesday, so let’s discuss the events of this past weekend instead. Specifically, let’s look at the tire fire that has suddenly engulfed Old Trafford.
This is a team that brought in World Cup stars Angel di Maria, Daley Blind, and Marcos Rojo along with the Colombian who was injured and missed his team’s run to the quarterfinals, Radamel Falcao to bolster the talent available to new manager Louis van Gaal. Summer friendlies seemed to show promise against other European competition.
Yet United has slumped to 12th in Premier League play through the first five weekends of the season after throwing away a victory against Leicester City and falling 5-3. They’ve already been dumped from the league cup by Milton Keynes Dons, a club that controversially packed bags and moved away from the Wimbledon of its birth. Now, with midtable mediocrity looking more like a real possibility and no European competition at all to use as a crutch, the Red Devils will have to surge up the table quickly if they hope to regain footing among the elite teams of England.
Qualifying for next January’s Africa Cup of Nations is in full swing, and some favorites are reeling two games into the process. Nigeria and Ivory Coast are both mired in third place right now, dependent on tiebreakers were the qualifiers to end today. They’re at least in better shape than teams like Egypt, without a single point after two matches and buried at the bottom of their group.
Then there is a team like Ghana, which has been decent enough and is tied on points with Uganda at the top of Group E. Yet the Black Stars enter the next phase of the qualifiers next month without a coach, after Kwesi Appiah walked away and/or was relieved of his post as Ghana manager. The national federation has said that they will put an interim option in place for October matches against Guinea, but as of now there is no permanent solution on the horizon — and with Appiah being questioned by the World Cup commission for his efforts, fewer viable options are going to surface.
The question stems around nationality. Should a national team coach be from the nation he is coaching? What is the value in having a native son versus the best possible tactician available? Ultimately the Ghanaian FA has a responsibility to give its players — who predominantly work with European tacticians in their club careers — the greatest chance to succeed as a cohesive group. Because national teams have so little time to work together, especially those outside of Europe, jingoism in managerial hiring ultimately leads to stagnation in the modern game.
Could Carlos Tevez be in the plans for new Argentina manager Gerardo Martino? The 30-year-old striker has been on solid form as of late with Italian club Juventus, recently ending his five-year goal drought in the UEFA Champions League with two in the opener against Swedish side Malmo FF. And with World Cup finalist Alejandro Sabella no longer pulling the strings for the Albiceleste, Tevez might just start to see his first international experience since 2011.
Martino has already hinted that Tevez could see his international career revived. Yet actions speak louder than words, and the forward was left off the 19-man squad selected for upcoming friendlies against Brazil and Hong Kong. The new manager has looked much like the old manager in his selections, depending heavily on the core group of players that took Argentina to the World Cup final in July.
One wonders what more Tevez might have to do to resurrect his spot in the national team. He put 19 goals in the net last year for Juventus as the club won its third straight Serie A title, and he already has lit up the net four times in four matches this season — the winners against Udinese and AC Milan in Serie A play, and the aforementioned brace against Malmo in the Champions League. With players like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain failing to find the net but once this summer in Brazil, could a player that currently sees the pitch as well as Tevez be worth a look?
Matches of the Week
- TUESDAY/23 September 2014
- Real Esteli at Sporting Kansas City (CONCACAF Champions League, 8:00 pm Eastern)
- Alpha United at Portland Timbers (CONCACAF Champions League, 10:00 pm Eastern)
- WEDNESDAY/24 September 2014
- Tigre at Rosario Central (Copa Argentina, 2:00 pm Eastern)
- Peñarol at Deportivo Cali (Copa Sudamericana, 8:15 pm Eastern)
- THURSDAY/25 September 2014
- Udinese at Lazio (Italian Serie A, 2:45 pm Eastern)
- Santos at Atletico Mineiro (Futebol Brasileiro, 7:30 pm Eastern)
- Racing Club at Boca Juniors (Primera Division de Argentina, 8:00 pm Eastern)
- FRIDAY/26 September 2014
- FC Porto at Sporting Lisbon (Portuguese Primeira Liga, 3:30 pm Eastern)
- New England Revolution at Sporting Kansas City (MLS, 8:00 pm Eastern)
- SATURDAY/27 September 2014
- Aston Villa at Chelsea (English Premier League, 10:00 am Eastern)
- Spartak Moscow at Zenit St. Petersburg (Russian Premier League, 10:30 am Eastern)
- Hellas Verona at AS Roma (Italian Serie A, 12:00 pm Eastern)
- Sevilla at Atletico Madrid (Spanish Primera Liga, 2:00 pm Eastern)
- Atlas at Monterrey (Mexican Liga MX, 8:00 pm Eastern)
- SUNDAY/28 September 2014
- St. Etienne at Marseille (French Ligue 1, 3:00 pm Eastern)
- River Plate at Lanus (Primera Division de Argentina, 3:00 pm Eastern)
- New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS, 8:30 pm Eastern)
- Independiente Medellin at Deportivo Cali (Futbol Profesional Colombiano, 8:30 pm Eastern)
- MONDAY/29 September 2014
- Djurgarden at IFK (Swedish Allsvenskanliga, 1:05 pm Eastern)
- Hibernian at Rangers (Scottish Championship, 2:45 pm Eastern)