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MLS starting XI card ratings

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Who does lineups right, and why does Toronto FC always start Jozy Altidore in net?

MLS: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Not all social media lineup cards are created equal. At minimum, they’re supposed to tell a viewer at a glance who is playing that day. Some of them do a very good job of this, while others barely meet that requirement.

I hate rankings, as often times they’re pretty arbitrary. I’ve tried to make these rankings as metric-based as possible, however there is a certain aesthetic that a lineup card should have that is immeasurable by metrics. The things we can actually measure are worth points, however. Points are given for the following:

  • Player full name (where applicable)
  • Player number
  • Player photo
  • Positions (or identifiability of the position a player is playing in formation)
  • Listing of the bench players
  • Listing of the captain
  • Match information (Date, time, location, and opponent are critical)

So let’s take a look at the lineup cards presented this week by MLS clubs, ranking them from worst to best. Bear in mind I don’t take into account the tweet accompanying the image, just the image itself.

Toronto FC 3/10

This is an example of what not to do with your lineup card. There is no way you can tell who is playing what position here - is Jozy Altidore in goal? Eriq Zavaleta? No it’s Alex Bono, however a casual fan would never know that by just looking at this. They do give the bench and some match information, but there’s no formation, no player numbers, no photos - nothing to help someone who’s watching from home.

New York City FC 4/10

For a club that likes to emphasize glitz and glamour of New York City, this is as basic as Seacaucus. Points are given for listing the players in formation, naming the captain, numbering the starters, and showing the bench, but that’s all that it does. A casual observer isn’t going to know what formation this is, when it starts, or what any of these players look like.

Vancouver Whitecaps 5/10

So this one looks pretty good at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. The player photos are not lined up by position (I can’t see Fredy Montero playing between Tim Parker and Jordan Harvey) and there’s no formation listed. Full names and numbers are used which is great, however points off for not giving basic match information in the graphic - who Vancouver is playing, what time the match starts, where it’s being played - however a point is awarded for including the television information.

San Jose Earthquakes 5/10

This is like Vancouver’s, except a little more confusing. Labeling two players in front of one picture is not good, as is not putting in players’ first names or who the captain is. Having the team motto faded and illegible in the background also adds to this being cluttered. Still, having the bench, player numbers, and some basic info about the game offers some redemption to this otherwise jumbled mess.

New England Revolution 5/10

This is like a bad knockoff of Montreal’s. The video concept is good, but using moving pictures and failing to provide sound is not great. Listing just the players’ last names in no real order and failing to name the captain when you are using a video (not a .gif but an actual video) is just puzzling.

New York Red Bulls 5/10

This isn’t bad, but it’s not great. Numbers and full names in position and the bench are great, but there’s no information on who the team is playing in the graphic. Writing the name over the lower portion of the numbers makes it look crowded and a bit hard to read (I thought Fredrik Gulbrandsen was number 0 for a minute), and not having the players’ photos or listing the captain is also less than helpful.

Orlando City SC 5/10

Overall aesthetically pleasing despite all of the purple, this has some significant flaws. The players’ first names and captain aren’t listed - although with the child-scrawl font that’s being used it might be and I’m just not able to read it. The head shots are good, but no discernible match information makes this one rather disappointing.

Seattle Sounders FC 5/10

This is aesthetically bad, however it checks a lot of boxes. Player photos in formation, captain is listed, bench options, and some good information on the match time and how to watch/listen are all here. But the proportions of the pictures to the names makes it appear full of wasted space. For a team as usually media savvy as the Sounders, this is disappointing to say the least.

Minnesota United FC 5/10

Much like the club itself, there are a few good elements in something that’s overall pretty bad. Full names are good, as are the bench, basic game info, and formation, but no player photos, captain, or showing a player’s position are all missing. A good touch is that the image is perfectly sized for a mobile device - a fact that raises it slightly in the standings.

Real Salt Lake 5/10

There’s so much going on here. Having the players in formation is great, but not labeling who they are and leaving Nick Rimando off to the side is not. There’s some basic information about the match and the bench is listed, but I can’t get over not labeling who the players are. Even cheating a bit and looking at the tweet isn’t helpful because it lists the players who are pictured forwards down to defense from defense up to forwards. It tries, but it misses the mark pretty badly.

Sporting Kansas City 5/10

This manages to be crowded and waste space all at the same time. The small pitch forces all of the names to be on top of one another, yet there’s so much open space out wide of the main graphic that’s just wasted. It lists the bench, some basic match information, and the captain, but this is just not well put together. Perhaps adding in player photos and first names would force them to use up some of that wasted space.

D.C. United 6/10

Aesthetically this is great. Clean and simple. That said, there are no photos (which admittedly adds to the simplicity), no first names, no numbers, and the captain isn’t listed. The game information is great and having the bench is a plus, but I can’t help but look at this and think it was published before it was finished.

Columbus Crew SC 6/10

This checks a lot of the boxes, but it’s like someone rubbed a highlighter into my eyes. Positions, profile pictures, captain, subs, and game information is all there. Missing the players’ first names is forgivable, but having this so incredibly yellow is not. I get that with the Crew you get two colors to pick from, but this just hurts to look at.

Houston Dynamo 6/10

It’s very orange, but it’s not as obnoxious as the yellow with Columbus. It shows player numbers, formation, the bench, who the captain is, and some good match day information but lacks player first names and photos. A decent effort from the Dynamo, but there’s much room for improvement here.

Chicago Fire 7/10

Chicago’s is pretty good, although the generic soccer pitch background is kinda basic (yes I’ve made one of these, but I’m also not a professional with a professional club). Points are also deducted for not identifying the captain or putting the players’ first names.

Philadelphia Union 7/10

This has most of the elements of a great card, but it doesn’t come together as well as some of the others. The player pictures are there and the fact that players are shown in the positions is good, but the absence of players’ first names, numbers, or who is captaining the team aren’t deal-breakers but would be certain improvements. Kudos to the Union for being brave and trying something a little different though.

FC Dallas 8/10

This one is pretty good. The player photos are a bit big, resulting in the names being a bit crowded (and thus leaving no room for full names), but other than that this has everything. Bench, captain, good information about the match, and superimposing it over a picture of fans is always a good touch.

Atlanta United 9/10

This is solid. The information is all there (save for the players’ first names). It looks sharp - I can tell who is doing what here. Using the outline of the soccer pitch in the black and gold is also a nice touch.

Montreal Impact 10/10

This is perfect. The idea to have all of the players tell their name and where they’re from is great - you get to see who they are, hear their name as they pronounce it, and learn a little bit about them. Following it up with a solid lineup card with formation, photos, names, bench, and match information in English and French is just flawless. The only knock is that the captain isn’t identified, however that’s forgiven due to just how good this is.

Portland Timbers 10/10

This too is great. The players are easily identified with their picture, and they’re numbered in position at the end - although a minor quibble with the positions not actually being listed or shown. Still, this is great and as a .gif it is easy enough to go over if you missed something the first time around.

Colorado Rapids 10/10

Much like the Impact and the Timbers, this too is great. The players all introducing themselves, the lineup card at the end with all players numbered, the captain clearly labeled, and info about the match.

LA Galaxy 10/10

Even though this is a static image, this is perfect. Players’ full names, numbers, captain, formation, bench, game information, and incorporating the player photos into the Galaxy’s stylized star logo is a nice touch. I don’t know what else you could want to add to this.