Established in 2010 with its first season in 2011 featuring 15 teams, the United Soccer League (USL, formerly USL Pro) is, as its name very much implies, a professional men’s soccer league in the United States. It’s a Division III league, meaning it sits under the North American Soccer League (Division II) and Major League Soccer (Division I), according to the United States Soccer Federation hierarchy. In 2013, USL and MLS entered into an agreement for the former to become a development league for the big league, with the MLS’s LA Galaxy being the first to set up a team, aptly named LA Galaxy II. The 2015 kicks off in March and will boast 24 teams, including seven MSL mini-mes, plus four independent expansion teams, and this week they introduced a new logo. The press release credits Red Antler and Steve Haslip for “their creative direction”. So who knows what that means.
As the principles of marketing change, our design is agile and iterative. Our new logo is not a corporate logo but a tribal mark to be worn with passion. We encourage everyone to take part in developing the new expression of our league - to celebrate their clubs and to unite as one tribe beneath the banner.
The new USL mark is the central pillar in a new design philosophy for our league. Inspired by the geometry of the field, its design cues are more akin to a 21st century startup than those of a monolithic sports league.
The simple shapes of the USL lettering appear as a stencil and hint at its flexible use. The new logo is not a corporate logo: it is a tribal mark, something to be taken to the heart of each club’s community, personalized and worn with pride. This new design system will be explored and developed by our clubs and their fans from this season on.
The previous logo was definitely Division-III-ish. Not very refined but not terrible either; it was clearly about soccer, though. Like the new MLS logo, the new USL logo does away with the soccer ball or any other soccer related gear and instead goes for a simple wordmark that could be for anything, including a “21st century startup” as the press release notes. Change the meaning of the USL acronym to anything — Umbrella Society of Latvia — and it would still work. I’m not advocating for logos to be overly literal but sometimes a hint at what it represents would be nice. The MLS logo, for example, at least stayed within the visual language of soccer crests. The one saving concept in all of this is the grid breakdown of the wordmark (shown on the right below) that does hint at the soccer field markings. As a wordmark, technically it’s fine; I like that the halves of each letter are all the same width, giving it a good rhythm, but overall it’s a little dry.
Also like its MLS big brother, USL is customizing the logo to fit each team. Whereas MLS was a simple color change, here it’s a much more deliberate integration of colors and textures, all using the grids. Some are interesting and cool — second row, last one; fourth row, last one — and some you want to punch in the jockstrap — first and second row, middle ones. Overall, the main logo lacks some oomph and the variations some finesse, but they do feel energetic and fan-pleasing, so there is that aspect to consider. Gooooool?