What's in a lineup?

There are many things that MLS fans look forward to at the start of a new season. Will you like your team’s new jersey? Will your team’s new players fit into the system? Is this the year your team finally makes a playoff run? Who will be in the starting XI?

Over the last few years, MLS teams have come up with all sorts of different ways to answer that last question. Lineup graphics have become their big reveal. Each team comes up with their own unique look to tell fans whether their favorite player will make it into the starting lineup or be available as a sub off the bench. Some MLS teams do a fantastic job with their lineup graphics. Others, well, not so much.

It's become a yearly tradition of sorts here at Total MLS to do a review of lineup graphics at the beginning of each season. We first did this two years ago when we discussed the 2016 lineup graphics. We upped the ante last year by ranking the 2017 lineup graphics #1 through 22. We’re back again, looking at all 23 lineup graphics, letting you know who got it right, and who missed the mark.

23. The LA Galaxy

Okay, normally I have a “video lineups are the worst” rule when it comes to lineup tweets, but somehow the LA Galaxy have managed to do the unthinkable. They’ve created a worse way to communicate the starting lineup than a video. Seriously, are clicks that important that they force fans to click through to their website to see their lineup graphic (which to be honest pretty good once you actually see it)? I mean, just tweet the dang graphic like everyone else. Don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.
22. Montreal Impact

As I just mentioned, video lineups are terrible. They shouldn’t exist. The point of a lineup tweet is to quickly and clearly communicate the starting XI. The IMFC video doesn’t even begin showing the lineup until a few seconds in. It’s got weird background music trying to make it more intense than it needs to be, and then it has every player doing their best George Michael Bluth from Arrested Development impression until they dramatically lift up their head as they say their name. It just simply doesn’t work.
21. New England Revolution

Ah, the Revs. So close, but so, so far away with this one. Why unnecessarily turn this into a video? Had they taken the actual lineup part of this video and paired it with a compelling image on the left showing opponent, start time and TV info, this may have actually been pretty good. Instead, they have a video that shows each player’s face for a split second before moving to the next player too quickly. Not great, Revs.
20. D.C. United

Now that we’ve gotten the videos (and links?!) out of the way, we get to the actual graphics. And the fact that it’s a graphic is about all that D.C. has going for them with this lineup. I get what they were trying to do. Communicating starters and formation while also showing the players faces can be difficult. But, the way NOT to do it is by decapitating all of them and tattooing their names across their foreheads.
19. Toronto FC

A team as good as Toronto FC deserves a graphic to match. This one isn’t it. The giant XI is a bit too “HEY GUYS THIS IS OUR STARTING XI!” The diagonal text makes me want to tilt my head and gives me a bit of vertigo. The most important information—the actual lineup—seems like an afterthought and is just placed into the XI in much too small of font.
18. Vancouver Whitecaps FC

I’m a big fan of using white space when done properly. This is not an example of that. Vancouver seems to waste a lot of space in this graphic, and they made their crest far too big. The first thing your eyes are drawn to is the crest, followed by the giant “Starting 11.” The lineup list is fine, but it’s definitely not the focus, which is a problem for, you know, a lineup graphic.

17. New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls started down a good path with this one. A photo of a player, a simple crest v. crest to showcase the matchup, and a traditional player list. Pretty good, right? Then they decided for some reason that their lineup should be alphabetical. Look, if you’re going to do a traditional list style graphic, at least put it in some sort of formation order. Start with the keeper, move to the defense, then midfield, then forwards. Sure, die hards may know who will play where, but the casual fan gets little-to-know information from this other than here are XI guys who will be on the field.
16. Minnesota United FC

Oh Loons, how we love you at Total MLS. Last year the Loons were dead last in our lineup graphic rankings since they decided that a GIF would be the best way to post their starting XI. MNUFC clearly learned from their mistakes in some ways as this image is better than last year, but the names are just too small and the photos of the players aren’t arranged in any sort of formation. Baby steps, I guess.
15. San Jose Earthquakes

Credit to the Quakes for trying something a bit different, I guess. They designed the graphic so it would show up in the Twitter preview in its entirety, which is good. But the strange format of the lineup list is a bit confusing. It’s almost a formation, but not quite. I get what they’re trying to do, but it just doesn’t quite work. It causes more confusion than anything.
14. Real Salt Lake

If I had to pick one word to describe RSL’s lineup graphics I guess it would be “bold.” Just like last year, they have giant pictures of the players in the graphic, but also like last year, it doesn’t quite work. There are certainly some improvements over the 2017 version; they actually include the names of the starting XI. But, the awkward staring off into the distance is a bit strange and the names are just too small to read without squinting.
13. LAFC

LAFC’s first ever lineup graphic isn’t quite as successful as the team has been on the field, but it’s not bad. They tried to include a lot of information on the lineup, but they made everything just a bit too small. The lineup itself should be a bit bigger, but the gold text on black and white background looks pretty good. Not a bad first effort, LAFC.
12. New York City FC

Is this a bad graphic? No. Not by any means. Is it exciting? No. Not by any means. NYCFC has an effective, efficient lineup graphic here that does exactly what it’s intended to do: tells you who is starting in a very clear way. It’s just kind of… boring. I’d like to think that NYCFC could be a bit more creative than this.
11. Colorado Rapids

Rapids, what are you doing? You had the top graphic in our rankings last year. It was so good. It was clean, it showed formation, it was simple. Now you’ve created a list graphic that is only slightly more interesting than NYCFC’s. We’re disappointed in you, Rapids.
10. FC Dallas

FC Dallas is close to having a truly successful lineup here. It actually has all of the elements that a great lineup graphic should have. Had they made some minor tweaks, they would have probably moved up into the top five. Unfortunately, the formation is just a bit too small and is hard to read. Shrink the “Starting XI” text and sponsor logo a bit, increase the size of the formation and this would be a fantastic graphic.
9. Houston Dynamo

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That was the motto for the Dynamo with this graphic. It’s essentially the same as last years, only they changed the background to more closely match their new jerseys. The only problem is the new background is a bit distracting, especially with all the white text.
8. Columbus Crew SC

Back-to-back-to-back Texas teams to start off our top ten. Like FC Dallas, the Crew are soooo close to having one of the top graphics. The biggest issues here are the grey on black is just a bit difficult to read, and there’s no apparent reason for the players to be staring westward. Oh, they’re looking to Ausin? Makes sense.
7. Atlanta United FC

Look, this is not a bad graphic by any means. It effectively shows the lineup, the formation, and the players. There are just some minor details that keep it from being one of the best. The vertical text forces you to turn your head to see important information like kick time and TV info. The background grid is distracting. The strange glow from behind every player makes it look like they have an interrogation spotlight on them. But overall, not bad work from ATLUTD.
6. Philadelphia Union

This one may be a surprise to some. The graphic isn’t that different from last year’s, which came in at #16 on our list, but a few tweaks make all the difference. The right side of the graphic shows the formation and names of players in a fairly simple manner. The biggest change came to the left, where the players are actually facing the camera and positioned into formation. Much better than the avant-garde illustration they had last year.
5. Orlando City SC

This is a good, clean graphic from Orlando City. They clearly read our critiques from last year and got rid of that awful font. The biggest problem now is the names are just too darn small, and the numbers are impossible to read. It also makes no mention of kick time or TV channel, which isn’t required in a lineup graphic per se, but it’s highly recommended considering most other teams figure out ways to work that info in.
4. Chicago Fire

The Fire took the same idea they had last year and just made it better. A lot better. Gone is the strange depth of image problem they had last year. They put the best aspects of last year’s graphic on a clean white background, and it really looks sharp. The names are still too small, but that’s really my only complaint here.
3. Portland Timbers FC

Classic list format, organized properly. It’s crisp and clean. The lineup is the first thing you look at, and there’s nothing to distract you. It has everything you need and nothing you don’t. The soft forest background screams “Portland” but doesn’t draw your eyes away from the lineup. Well done, Timbers.
2. Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC generally has pretty good graphics, and this year is certainly no different. Slight tweaks from last year’s graphic make the 2018 version even a bit better. Like the Timbers, there’s nothing really distracting here, it’s just the formation graphic that gives SKC the slight edge. It’s nearly perfect, but the only thing missing is pictures of the players.
1. Seattle Sounders FC

Without question, the Seattle Sounders FC take the top spot in the 2018 lineup graphic rankings. I mean, they just about nailed this one. It’s simple. It’s clean. It’s easy to read. It shows the lineup, the formation, and the players very clearly. There’s the right amount of negative space, and it includes just about every piece of information about the game you’d need to know. Well done, Seattle. Well done.