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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The Worlds Game (According To Us)


Back when we started a recreational soccer team, August Casuals FC, in North Carolina, we helped invent the club's crest. A few local artists dug into the history of heraldry. We put a wolf, a symbol of endurance, in the top corner and a standing lion in the middle to represent the team's kingly future. And while the August Casuals lasted only a few years, its crest is eternal.

So we were happy to see that the newest MLS team, the Philadelphia Union, took its symbolism seriously. Its logo, released the other day, borrows a snake symbol and an awe-inspiring motto from Ben Franklin's political imagery in support of colonial union. ("Jungite aut Perite" translates as "Join or Die.") It has stars for each of the 13 colonies and a traditional state color, as well as the old-time chic that we like in a team badge.

Many of our favorite soccer logos incorporate traditional, local imagery in an attempt to express the pride of the place the team represents. They don't have to be snakes or lions. Blackburn Rovers, for instance, has a rose, the symbol of Lancashire, and a Latin phrase which used to be the town council's motto, "Arte e Labore." (The basic elements of soccer: art and work.)

AS Roma has the legend of Romulus and Remus depicted on its crest, reminding you that Rome is the Eternal City. Don't think, though, that these classic-looking European logos were designed in the 19th century. Most of them are recent. Until 1997, Roma had a different look: a wolf that was more "Little Red Riding Hood" than Aeneid.

When the MLS got started, most of its crests were designed by sportswear companies and looked more like bland corporate logos than ancient symbols of team and place. We could do without New England's childlike U.S. flag (Is it for a charity walk-a-thon?) or, our least favorite, the beefcakes of the Columbus Crew. Blame that one on adidas.

One of the league's first expansion clubs, the Chicago Fire, refused to allow Nike to name the team. The Oregon-based sneaker company wanted to call them the Chicago Rhythm (we can hear the "rhythm method" and Miami Sound Machine chants). Nike had already designed the logo (with a cobra, incidentally), but the team brass stuck with the Fire, a name with Chicago history, and came up with a firefighter logo that stands as one of the only classics in the league.

Some of the more recent MLS crests have gone soccer-traditional. The Colorado Rapids got rid of their Mountain Dew stylings and got a simpler badge. Toronto FC has a classic look with a big "T" and an ornament on top that mates a soccer ball with maple leaf. Chivas USA essentially borrowed Chivas' regal logo.

A more recent expansion team, Real Salt Lake, didn't bother digging into local history, but instead tried to borrow it from marketing partner Real Madrid. Never mind that Madrid, like Real Sociedad, Real Zaragosa and all the other Reals, got its name through the patronage of the king of Spain. Last time we checked, there was no king of Utah. Salt Lake wanted to treat Real like a brand, and their crest, with its cartoonish crown, follows suit.

Thankfully, Real Salt Lake eventually received the appropriate royal patronage: they signed a marketing deal with Burger King.

EXTRA TIME