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Hearts of Pine: Portland’s First Pro Soccer Club

Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald

[Deputy Editor’s Note: Maine’s first professional soccer club will be known as the Portland Hearts of Pine. Our own Anthony Emerson takes an up-close and personal look at how the new team came to be. Enjoy! — PH]

Our long wait is over. 18 months after the United Soccer League granted Portland, Maine its first fully professional soccer club, five years after Maine soccer legend Gabe Hoffman-Johnson started drumming up connections and support for a team, we finally, actually have a club of our own.

There were so many directions they could go. Would the team name include ‘Dirigo,’ our state’s motto that’s on everything? Would it be a soccer-style name with FC or United, or an American-style name like the Sounders or Revolution? Would it be “Portland” or “Maine”?

For a while, I thought Hoffman-Johnson’s group, USL to Portland, was soft-launching the name “Forest City,” as USL to Portland sold a ton of merch with “Forest City” on it. When the USL formally announced it was expanding to Portland, though, the ownership group made clear that no decision on name, logo, or colors had yet been made, and that they would seek the input of community members before announcing anything.

So we have Portland Hearts of Pine. And I have some thoughts.


“I know what the name is already,” City Councilor April Fournier told me at the launch event Saturday. “You’ll be surprised, but I like it.”

Portland Hearts of Pine. You could’ve given me 1,000 guesses and I never would’ve gotten it. By my count, there are two other pro soccer teams with similar names: Heart of Midlothian, a team in Edinburgh, Scotland, that competes in the Scottish Premiership, and Accra Hearts of Oak S.C., based out of Accra, Ghana, which competes in the Ghanaian Premier League.

It is a completely off-the-wall choice, and for that reason I love it. Outside of a club in Ghana and a club in Scotland, there’s no other soccer team that has a name like ours. And it’s perfect for two reasons: the name takes something we’re known for nationally (our old-growth forests of eastern white pine), and something the people who live here love about our city that outsiders don’t necessarily know about (our “Valentine’s Day Bandit” tradition).


“This is brilliant work,” City Council candidate Joey Brunelle texted me after I sent him the Hearts’ crest. Brunelle, who’s a graphic designer by trade, actually replied to my text in all caps. “This design demonstrates a deep understanding of, and reverence for, its cultural and geographical context — specifically, the tight-knit, quirky, compassionate, proud city of Portland, Maine.”


The typeface is based on the signage of the Portland Company Building on Portland’s waterfront. The typeface, a custom design named “Pine Bandit,” is used on everything, and its inspiration is instantly recognizable to Portland natives.

The “Dirigo Heart”

With a team called the Hearts, of course a heart would feature in the crest. The bright red heart, a fixture on buildings throughout the city in mid-February, is surrounded by the starburst from the state coat of arms.

The other elements

Of course there is a pine tree — the team is called Hearts of Pine after all. And of course there are waves — the city is called Portland after all. The scroll at the bottom at first reminded me of the scroll at the bottom of the state coat of arms, and while the club acknowledges that inspiration, they also claim it’s “a nod to Maine’s literary contributions, from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Stephen King today.” Listen, even I rolled my eyes a bit at that one. But everything here feels organic and purposeful. Nothing feels extraneous, nothing feels outdated, nothing feels too corporate or slick or distant. The crest feels like it could be the crest from a club founded 95 years ago, without seeming dated.

Final Thoughts

At the launch event, I overheard two separate people say they were making plans to get the crest tattooed on them. I myself am setting up an appointment to do the same thing.

“The use of the Portland Company typeface, and the integration of the late Valentine’s Day Bandit’s moniker into the State of Maine’s iconography — things every Portlander would be familiar with — are nothing short of brilliant,” Brunelle tells me. “This branding alone will inspire pride in the team even among those who have no previous interest and exposure in soccer.”

And isn’t that precisely what an identity — especially an identity for an expansion team in a minor league of a second- or third-tier sport in the United States — should strive to do? Evoke pride and community? The response on social media has been almost unanimously positive. I was blown away seeing people not just from Maine, but from around the globe praise our club’s name and identity.

The people who live here love living here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. And it might sound silly, but looking at this logo and team name reinforces that sense of pride I’ve always felt in Portland. It’s why I call this city, completely unironically, the greatest city in the world.

I’m proud to be from here, and I’m proud of the Hearts.

Comments (19)

    Love it and what a wonderful write up on the meaning to the local community.

    Anthony, I absolutely LOVE this! Amazing write-up on a truly unique and wonderful team identity! Thanks for lending your considerable talents to sharing this highly enjoyable story with us.

    The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the team name was Hearts of Oak, which is one of my favorite team names in any sport. Some folks with deep knowledge of the beautiful game are obviously behind creating the identity for Portland’s new team, and their hard work and thoughtful efforts shine through. I might just have a new favorite USL team from our here in Denver!


    Under the “The ‘Dirigo Heart'” subheading, there’s a wonky hyperlink behind the word “buildings.” It looks like it’s probably pointing to an image with anti-hot-linking protection.

    I must say I did not expect the *better* Portland to ever be written about on Uni Watch, nor did I know Anthony also lives here.

    Congrats to everyone up there but especially Mainer (Lewiston native), NESN mainstay, and co-owner/driving force behind soccer in Portland, Tom Caron!

    We can only hope their shirts are just as awesome as the rest. Congrats, Anthony! It sounds like a dream come true.

    I love this a lot. The name, the logo: it has a good amount of individuality and character and lots of local references. Being Captain Obvious, superhero of the well-trodden paths and open doors, I will say: Dear MLS, this is how you crate an unique local team identity without all the Real, FC, United, SC, Inter, City or RB references that are so awkward. How cool if the Timbers would play a friendly against this team: Battle of the Portlands! For some nice charity.


    At least my MLS club (the Philadelphia Union) has a somewhat unique name.

    This is amazing. This crest and the actual, real “storytelling” behind it is more city connected or city editioned than anything that other leagues have foisted on us in the past. This is how it should be done. Amazing how minor league baseball gets the connections right in their one (or a few) offs when they actually represent something from their town and how a minor league soccer team nailed it like this, but the big leagues fail every time they try.

    Also, immediately brought to mind the exceptional Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ “Hearts of Oak” so that was a plus as well.

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