Welcome to the United Soccer League. The nominal second tier of US soccer, the USL is home to a wild collection of clubs, featuring some of the longest-tenured US clubs alongside some teams new for 2019.
In this piece, we’ll be evaluating the crests from the 18 clubs in the USL’s Eastern Conference. They span from central Florida to the Lehigh Valley and from the Holy City to the City of Fountains. In fact, a drive from Charleston, South Carolina (home of Charleston Battery) to Kansas City, Missouri (which fields Swope Park Rangers) covers over 1100 miles and would take over 16 hours by car. This makes the USL’s Eastern Conference one of the world’s most expansive “regional” leagues, leading to a wide array of visual styles throughout the conference.
So buckle up and grab some car snacks. Let’s get this road trip rolling!
[UNRANKED] Tampa Bay Rowdies
One of the hallowed names in US soccer uses a crest that’s… not much of a crest. Established in 1975, the original Tampa Bay Rowdies were one of US soccer’s iconic early clubs, competing in the old North American Soccer League and winning the NASL title in their inaugural season. As such, their iconography has more history than any other team in the USL.
That being said, this word mark isn’t a crest in the traditional sense and is impossible to rank among the other “traditional” crests that are listed here. The typography is a ton of fun and they get points for the unique shape, but I can’t in good faith slot this crest among the other 17 listed below. Like the Rowdies themselves, it’s just too weird.
17. Birmingham Legion FC
This one isn’t BAD so much as it might be the most boring crest that I’ve ever seen. The shape is uninspiring, the colours are bland, the iconography is basic… you could easily construct this crest with a couple Google searches and Microsoft Paint. It’s just not doing it for me.
16. North Carolina FC
Two nice things about this crest:
1. I rather like the shape.
2. I like how it takes inspiration from the North Carolina flag.
Otherwise, it’s one of the least exciting logos I’ve ever seen for a sports team. Like, if this was the logo for a committee that was going to create a new North Carolina-based sports team, I’d take it. But sports logos and crests should be a little daring! Exciting, even! And that’s definitely not here.
15. Swope Park Rangers FC
I actually like several elements of this design a lot. The interlocking SPR is a timeless little piece of design, and the shape smartly references the crest of SPR’s parent club, Sporting Kansas City.
But the “Rangers” type on the top ruins the whole thing for me. It’s so cheap-looking! Take it off, and this crest would shoot up in the rankings.
14. Ottawa Fury FC
Definitely the most “sure, okay” crest on this list. Nothing particularly strikes me about this one, as the colors, shape, and design don’t inspire any feelings from me. The red flame(?) insignia is kinda interesting, I suppose.
13. Louisville City FC
There’s a noticeable leap in quality from here on. I’m a fan of the purple-and-gold colour scheme, and a lot of the individual parts of this design are interesting.
But it’s also very over-designed. A list of all the elements in this crest: a skyline, a 15-letter word mark, a fleur-de-lis, a bourbon barrel, and two outlines (white and gold). That’s a lot of stuff! When shrunk down to badge size, it’s not very readable and the eye doesn’t know where to look. Some simplification would do wonders for this one.
12. ATL United 2 FC
Circles make great crests. They’re naturally balanced and have easy-to-identify sections where information can be placed. If you need a good, reliable crest on short notice, circular badges are the way to go.
But a drawback to circular designs is that they can be lazily simplistic. And since the circle itself isn’t a particularly engaging shape, you can end up with a boring crest very quickly.
Atlanta United has a pretty solid crest. ATL 2? Not so much. It does basically everything the ATLU crest does, just much worse. Note the weird line that takes up most of the inside of the black ring. That’s extremely lazy, y’all.
The saving grace? The colours and background stripes still make it pleasant to look at. It just needs more.
11. Charleston Battery FC
One of the US’s longest continuously operating soccer clubs, the Battery have used this crest with only slight variations since 1993.
There’s a lot to like here, between the crossed cannons, stripes, and appealing layout from top to bottom. The issue is that it’s a bit dated for 2019, with extremely 90s type and inconsistent line work throughout. With a light refresh, I’d happily move it near the top of this list.
10. Charlotte Independence FC
This is an insanely American sports logo. Seriously, move it out of the badge shape and it’d totally work for a Minor League baseball team.
This is an amazingly okay crest. The colours are smart, just not particularly exciting. Some of the details aren’t bad, like the Charlotte crown on the top (appropriate for the “Queen City”) and horse rider (referencing Captain James Jack and the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence). The wavy text doesn’t really speak to me, though, and the drab gold colour in the background muddies it up a bit.
This crest is completely fine. And that’s okay! You could do a lot worse than this badge.
9. New York Red Bulls II FC
This is, factually, a good-looking crest. The Red Bull logo is one of the best brand logos in the world. Plus, the colours are quite nice. It’s good.
It’s docked here, though, for obvious reasons. For one, it’s virtually indistinguishable from the parent New York Red Bulls logo, just opting for a “II” in the middle. Also, making a logo is pretty easy when you just get to slap a corporate logo in the middle of it.
At least it’s a good-looking corporate logo, I guess.
8. Indy Eleven FC
There’s a lot I find compelling about this crest. Is it a stylistic twin to the Croatian Football Federation’s crest? Yes… but considering the influences of a lot of these other crests, that’s an inventive start.
This crest takes a few risks, and they mostly work out. The shape of both the badge and Lady Victory Statue in the centre is dynamic, and the subtle checkerboard pattern in the background is a nice touch.
The drawbacks? There’s too much detail on the statue, so it looks blobby from a distance. Also, it just doesn’t pop out to me. Perhaps a more dynamic colour scheme would help?
7. Loudoun United FC
I rather like this crest! Founded in 2018, Loudoun United is the reserve team for DC United of MLS. They share a colour scheme and wordmark (as far as I can tell) with their parent club, but I appreciate that Loudoun has an original brand that separates it from DC United.
The color burst of red and white inside this crest is quite pleasant, and the Pegasus on the interior is a lovely mark. Notice, by the way, that the Pegasus wing bears a resemblance to the DC United eagle’s wings! That’s a great touch.
The shape isn’t the most engaging and the words on the top aren’t groundbreaking, but this is a good crest. In fact, starting here, I would call all these remaining crests Good Crests. And Loudoun is a great way to kick them off.
6. Bethlehem Steel FC
Just like Loudoun, Bethlehem Steel is an MLS feeder club that’s been allowed a unique identity. While the gold colour and snake iconography is carried over from parent club Philadelphia Union, Bethlehem has one of the most unique crests in the USL.
You don’t see many crests that use this stretched hexagon shape, and it immediately sets Bethlehem apart. Why use it? It’s a reference to the logo of the now-defunct Bethlehem Steel Corporation, where the crest draws most its influence. The red I on the bottom half is also from the BSC logo, and the snake that intertwines with it is super badass.
Honestly, my biggest knock might be that it doesn’t draw enough influence from the old logo! The hierarchy in the crest is a little off due to the odd shape, awkward wordmark placement, and weird lug nuts on the edges. It just tries too many things, where the BSC logo nailed the simplicity. Plus, the bevelling of everything on this crest is not going to age well. It’s a cool-looking crest in total, but there’s limitless potential for improvement.
5. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
There’s just SO MUCH happening here. It’s mostly good stuff, but there’s SO MUCH of it.
A list of things happening in this circular badge: the long Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC wordmark, checkerboard straight from the Pittsburgh flag, steel girders, a badge inside the badge with a soccer ball and a paw on it, the year the club was founded (1999), and some water-like marks at the bottom of the interior.
This badge only needed, like, half of those elements. While this is definitely the best way to display them all, I can’t help but feel it got focus grouped to death by different people who all wanted THEIR element included.
The colours are just about perfect and many of the visual elements (the checkerboard, paw/ball badge) are really nice. But some simplification would go a long way towards making this one an elite USL badge.
4. Hartford Athletic FC
This logo is simple, but oh so pleasant. The blue-and-green colours are appropriately drawn from Hartford’s beloved defunct hockey team, the Hartford Whalers.
I love how simple this crest is. It’s going to age super well, and the old school HA emblem in the middle looks lovely.
I’m just not in love with the red star. While it adds a nice colour pop, it also throws off some of the spacing in the centre area. If the star wasn’t there, then the HA emblem could better fill the white space.
This crest looks wonderful on a shirt. And it’s definitely one of the top four here.
3. Nashville SC
Now we get to the real heavy-hitters.
This is a wonderful example of how to do a circular badge right. The diagonal guitar strings both reference Nashville’s famous country music scene and provide some dynamism to the familiar roundel shape. The yellow throughout the crest pops with energy, and the N in the centre is vaguely shaped like both an eighth note and a guitar clip.
While I don’t love that the outer circle is white, that’s about all I can complain about here.
This crest will remain for only one more season as the club transitions to their new MLS identity in 2020. It’s a shame, really. This one’s a great one.
2. Saint Louis FC
Of all the crests on this list, this one is the one that’ll age the best. With elegant styling and smart colour usage, Saint Louis FC has a hell of a badge on their hands.
Founded by French explorer Pierre Laclede in 1764, St. Louis, Missouri has long been associated with the fleur-de-lis, a mark of French royalty. The flour-de-lis is the central figure in the St. Louis flag, so when officials began designing this crest in 2014, it was an easy starting spot. Behind the shape lies some lovely green-and-blue stripes, with white being interspersed throughout for pop.
This is a simple crest, but it’s a tasteful one. While others on the list take more risks, this one very clearly sticks to its roots and it does so with aplomb. If Saint Louis ever gets the MLS call-up, I hope they stick with this look. They got it right on the first try.
1. Memphis 901 FC
This is a perfect example of taking a calculated risk and it working out.
Memphis is the dive bar capital of the United States. It’s home to more blues and soul music than anywhere else, with an authentic charm you don’t get in Nashville. As such, this crest (for new-for-2019 Memphis 901 FC) mimics the old-school neon signage that characterises Beale Street.
I’m in love with everything about this mark. The white lines make the team name pop off the dark background, making everything readable. The blue circles mimic the shapes of sound waves and vinyl records. The red lines add character throughout, and the yellow lines provide the perfect capper (literally) to a memorable crest.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an online shop to visit.
WESTERN CONFERENCE RANKINGS COMING SOON...