There’s one very easy way to measure progress in Major League Soccer from the league’s launch in 1996 to now. It’s not the number of teams, though that’s almost doubled from 10 in 1996 to 19 in 2014 (and two more on the way in 2015). It’s not the salary cap, which has gone from around $1.2 million per team in 1996 to $3.1 million (plus infinity for Designated Players) in 2014. It’s not even the number of soccer specific stadiums, though we’ve gone from ZERO in 1996 to 13 in 2014, and plenty more in the works.
A much easier way to measure the league’s progress is by looking at team logos from 1996 and now. I’m no graphic designer, but I am a human with two working eyes (provided I have access to a -2.5 prescription). And I see the story of the league in the those logos.
The 1996 fire-breathing horse of the Dallas Burn, cartoon skyscrapers of the New York/New Jersey Metrostars and way-too-literal mountain of the Colorado Rapids speak volumes about teams that didn’t know who they were or how they were supposed to position themselves, while the 2014 logos of those Major League Soccer teams is all about the comfort and confidence those teams have in their own identity. Even if—maybe even especially if—that identity is a corporate owner.
Click the gallery above to see all 10 original MLS team logos and how the designs have changed in the nearly two decades since—and keep an eye out for the two teams that are standing by their 1996 logos, for better or worse.