[Editor's Note: Today we have more guest-written soccer content, this time from Tim Newcomb, who's bringing us up to date on MLS kits. Enjoy. — PL]
By Tim Newcomb
For a league that was born in 1996 and looked every bit the part, the MLS’s recent expansion into soccer-embracing cities has infused the league with a strong set of kits featuring a mix of freshness, European influence, and club-specific detailing.
As with any young league trying to get noticed, early MLS kits largely represent a history worth forgetting, and a more recent pushback into a white-heavy blandness certainly doesn’t give MLS fans much reason to get excited. But the latest years of MLS jerseys showcase how a club can play to an energized fan base and create nuances within a kit to accentuate the identity of a club, a city, and a league.
In general, soccer kits around the world have more variety than most North American fans realize. Team logos are generally reduced to a crest on the breast, leaving room for a sponsor across the front. But beyond the sponsors, uniform designs range from horizontal or vertical bars to solid colors, sashes, or even checkered patterns. That global diversification allows MLS teams to explore the bridge between European and North American styles. Kit creator Adidas — teamed with MLS since 2005 — uses both local and global “creation groups” to “incorporate trends happening elsewhere while also still be locally relevant,” says Antonio Zea, director of soccer for Adidas America.
That European-style detailing has certainly crossed the ocean to North America. A few of those nuances include the thorns on the red away kit for Portland, the Rose City; a fleur de lis cross embedded inside the authentic Montreal kit; mountain peak-like logo silhouettes as a subtle backdrop in Vancouver’s dark blue away kit; and the “5280” on Colorado’s kit, referring to the altitude of Denver.
“These little details tell about the stories of a city or the club,” says Stuart Crystal, consumer products guru for MLS. “The clubs are more unique and have gotten stronger identities that represent them. … They build their brand and they know what their brand represents, but we are making sure every club has a distinct identity.”
MLS kits really started to take on new life in 2007, when the league caught up with global soccer trends and added sponsorships to the majority of its jersey fronts. MLS also started adding soccer-loving cities such as Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver to its roster of teams — cities where fans demand and expect those intricate kit details that might otherwise be lost in, say, New England.
Adidas also brings the same cuts to MLS as it does for top European clubs, giving MLS teams performance benefits and ensuring that fans have a consistent look, whether following a team in England, Spain, or the U.S.
Several MLS clubs have combined this global approach with North American-friendly nods toward jersey design. Houston, which opened a new soccer-specific stadium this season, has embraced a North American-specific orange, but with a textured pattern, so the kit doesn’t appear flat. The Los Angeles Galaxy has paid homage to an earlier day with a navy blue . Sporting KC, also with a new soccer-specific venue, has stylized its look with a complete rebrand and given new life to differing shades of blue.
Then there are the Seattle Sounders FC, the top-selling kit in MLS. Not only did they embrace “rave green” as a dominant color — certainly bold, but not outlandish and in line with colors already introduced in the Pacific Northwest — but the Sounders stayed on the cutting edge of European fashion by introducing fluorescent shades of green and blue in a third strip often worn during international competitions. Now other MLS clubs have introduced bold colors on third kits, and the L.A. Galaxy has even taken the lead on monochromatic logos.
Other MLS kit notables:
• Columbus offers a bright yellow kit and also a kit with black and yellow checkering across the shoulders of a white jersey.
• DC United has one of the most classic MLS looks, with a black and white base and a giant white Volkswagen logo. The red is saved for an accent.
• The New York Red Bulls have incorporated their sponsor into their logo, a distinct look that actually works in the soccer world.
• The Philadelphia Union may have the worst jersey in MLS. There’s a lot going on there, that’s for sure.
• Portland has a deep green that fits with the Timbers motif.
• Seattle, while popular, has odd strap-like bands of gray that mar an otherwise cool look.
• Vancouver’s white jersey is certainly the niftiest in MLS, with thin blue horizontal stripes giving accent and class. The sponsor’s blue lettering even matches — surprisingly uncommon — and the aforementioned details in the blue kit makes Vancouver the sharpest combo in the league.
Tim Newcomb is a contributor for Time, Sports Illustrated, Dwell, Popular Mechanics and other publications. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
ESPN reminder: Paul here. In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column takes a comprehensive look at players who’ve worn zero or double-zero. Enjoy.
Uni Watch News Ticker: New 1924 throwbacks for the Nationals. They’ll also have retro outfits for the grounds crew, retro scorecards, old-timey concession prices, etc. … The Padres have added a “48” memorial patch for bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds, who died over the weekend. … The Rays, who’ll be wearing their 1979 fauxbacks on Saturday, may add yellow sannies to the ensemble (from Cork Gaines). … Southern Miss will wear 1970 throwbacks on Oct. 20 against Marshall. … Good DIY project from Jake Sorg, who made himself a pair of Iowa Hawkeyes cornhole boards. … “On Wednesday, the White Sox hosted the Double Duty Classic, showcasing inner-city baseball talent from across the country,” says Anthony Zogas. “The game pays tribute to the Negro Leagues and the uniforms are inspired by that era.” … New sponsor and kit for the Garmin-Barracuda cycling team (from Bernie Langer). … Check out this groovy Quebec Nordiques leather jacket (from Paul Caccamo). … Is Serena Williams’s purple headband against Wimbledon’s rules? (Thanks, Brinke.) … WVU is adding the Big 12 logo to their football field (from Joe Sewash). … The NHL’s collective bargaining season is about to start, and several equipment-related issues are on the table. For details, scroll down to the “Equipment” section on this page (big thanks to John Muir). … “My seven-year-old son plays PeeWee Baseball for a team whose colors are purple and silver,” says Josh Nolan. “He didn’t dig the standard-issue solid purple socks, so, at his request, we found him some ‘cool’ socks. The rest he did all on his own. Sharpest-looking legs on the team, if not the league.” … Buncha new jerseys for Michigan State hockey (from Ryan Mandel). … You’ve Got to Be Fucking Kidding Me Dept.: You know how NFL coaches aren’t allowed to wear suits, because they’re required to wear NFL-branded apparel? A similar situation is brewing in Arizona, where Diamondbacks play-by-play man Daron Sutton has been suspended for wearing a suit instead of a D-backs polo shirt. Douchebags (Brinke again). … Looks like this Washington helmet was painted with the facemask still attached. “Bush league,” says Matt Lucas. … Hunter Pence was apparently wearing a pair of Phillies-branded compression shorts under his uniform pants yesterday. How do I know that? Because you can see the Phils logo right through his uni pants (good spot by Brian Skokowski). … Good story about soccer players wearing Kinesio tape (from Todd Davis). … The Giants have had the same cap design ever since moving to San Francisco, right? Not quite — here’s a really interesting discussion thread about some slight variations in their cap from the late ’70s and early ’80s (big thanks to Davian Almonte). … Here’s a fun little piece on the basketball uniform’s evolution (from Robin Edgerton). … I’ll be on the road for most of today. See you next week.