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What’s in a jersey? U.S. Soccer values variety in kit creation

Apr 8, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; U.S. Women's Soccer midfielder Carli Lloyd (10) celebrates after scoring a goal against Mexico National Team in the first half of an international friendly women's soccer match at BBVA Compass Stadium. This was Lloyd's 100th international goal. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

When the United States men’s national team takes the field for a friendly next week, it will not just introduce some new faces to fans.

It will also introduce a new look.

The USMNT is set to debut its new home jersey during a Memorial Day match Monday against Bolivia. The light-colored jersey — which was unveiled to the public in March and worn first by the U.S. women’s national team in April —  and its dark counterpart previously worn by the men are much different from past U.S. kits.

Horizontal lines fade from the base white color to blue and then red. There is also a diagonal flow in the color schemes of those lines, created as a nod to the sash design the Americans previously sported.

Yet therein lies a constant criticism of U.S. Soccer jerseys. While other nations like Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Croatia have created traditional looks that are easily recognizable, the U.S. has not. Instead, the North American side constantly makes drastic changes to its kits, be it with the design or color scheme.

In the last decade alone there have been stark differences in looks. The Americans have gone from wearing a white home jersey with a gray sash in 2010 to one with big vertical red hoops two years later. The primary top used at the 2014 World Cup was white with very thin gray horizontal lines, and more recently a white jersey with a lighter shade of blue on the shoulders and sleeves.

Throw in the road jerseys, which are tinkered with even more as is the norm for most countries, and the often-introduced third kits — and you have one giant pool of vastly different-looking U.S. jerseys. Do not expect that to change.

“I think it’s impossible to make everybody happy all the time, so what we do is we try to experiment,” U.S. Soccer director of marketing Mike Gressle told Pro Soccer USA. “I think what you will see going forward is there will probably be a little more cohesion or a little bit of more common thread to the jersey design, although that doesn’t mean it’s going to be uniform like some of the other countries that have chosen to kind of stay with a steady path like the Brazils and the Italys and the Hollands.

“Those are all very, very distinctive and have lots of tradition. We respect that, but for us we think the variety is really what the majority of the fans want, so we tend to allow a little more leeway in that regard for the designers.”

Which jersey details will be retained to offer that common thread in the future are unknown, but one thing that has been incorporated more is the use of stars. The 2017 kit created specifically for last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup had stars down the sleeves, and the new top has a graphic of an eagle and 13 stars, though that is on the inside the jersey.

Read about MLS’ kit creation process

Incorporating those elements, which draw from the country’s flag, provides even more of a patriotic feel for fans. Having the jerseys represent the “American spirit” is core to what U.S. Soccer wants from its kit designs, as well as having them epitomize the federation’s style, according to U.S. Soccer brand director Kay Bradley.

“The other piece that we look at and work closely with Nike on is how do we convey our brand tone and personality, which is really around being modern, youthful, aggressive but also timeless,” Bradley said during an interview with Pro Soccer USA. “We’re making sure when we’re working with Nike and looking at the jerseys that those elements of our personality are coming through because we know that’s what excites fans.”

This U.S jersey and the ones before it were made through a collaborative effort with Nike that takes roughly 18 months. The development process begins with a series of team meetings, in which U.S. Soccer briefs the sporting apparel juggernaut on its goals and how it wants the brand to be perceived by fans. Nike then goes back and internally creates concepts for jerseys. Those are later presented to the federation, and there is dialogue between the two parties.

How the players feel matters too, of course. Late in development, usually about a year before the jerseys are unveiled, Nike makes a presentation to the national team players while they are in camp. The players also test the product for performance. The players do not always wear the finished product or get to see the color palette, but they wear the exact cut and design of the kit and provide feedback from a technical perspective. Nike then takes that information, makes changes if needed, and ultimately comes to agreement with U.S. Soccer on what the finished product will look like.  

What typically follows is public outcry.

American soccer fans usually express disdain for new kits. It happens almost every time, which is an understandable response given that drastic change in any circumstance normally requires an adjustment period. Supporters of Argentina, Brazil and Peru, for example, do not squabble as much over how their home tops look because they know more or less what they are getting with each new uniform, save for a few minor tweaks.

“A jersey launch can be polarizing,” Gressle said. “A lot of fans have opinions, which we think is actually very positive because it means that they care.”

Public opinion is not all that matters when it comes to gauging how successful a jersey is, though. Retail is an important aspect, as it can provide U.S. Soccer with a hefty chunk of change. Some people think this is the true driving force behind the drastically different looks. However this year, sales will undoubtedly take a hit with the U.S. men’s national team not qualifying for the World Cup.

U.S. Soccer stresses its main priority when creating jerseys is to come up with looks fans are excited and proud to wear. The jerseys may not be as similar as some sections of the fan base would like, but if those supporters feel pride for their country and national teams in the kits, then that is a success as far as the federation is concerned.

“That’s a big element for us, that when fans are walking down the street or they’re walking to the stadium it’s something that makes them feel a part of something bigger,” Bradley said. “It’s something that they are proud to be a part of and proud to say. ‘I’m a U.S. Soccer fan.’ I think that’s the most important element from my perspective.”

 

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