NEW YORK — It’s hard to keep a secret in soccer these days, whether on or off the field. So Adidas and MLS weren’t surprised when renderings of this year’s new jerseys started showing up online before anything became official.
The real stuff got unveiled Wednesday night, when the league and its longtime apparel partner threw a Fashion Week-style soiree in Manhattan. In the days before the big event, The Inquirer got behind-the-scenes access to some of the people involved in the creative process, to answer questions about how this year’s jerseys were designed.
One of the first things people noticed when the renderings got out is that almost all the new jerseys have a similar element: three big, bright — some might say garish — stripes on the right shoulder. It’s a longstanding Adidas design theme called EQT, short for “Equipment.”
The Union’s stripes are gold on a blue shirt, with the snake from the team’s crest drawn into the front. You might have seen a form of it already, because EA Sports accidentally pushed it prematurely into its hugely popular FIFA soccer video game.
That did surprise Adidas folks, and they were quite annoyed about it. EA is debuting all of this year’s new jerseys with a midseason patch to the game — the first in its history — but not until later this month.
What Union fans saw in the game leak wasn’t quite the real thing. The virtual version lacks the commercial sponsor, and the snake seems to be almost a shadow. It’s more visible when you see it in person, though it might not be on TV.
The decision to use those three big stripes league-wide drew criticism from fans who have long complained that MLS restricts teams’ creativity by having a jersey deal with one supplier.
Maribeth Towers, MLS’s senior vice president of consumer products, has heard the criticism and doesn’t hide from it.
“That is one of the exact conversations we had when Adidas said, ‘We want to do the EQT stripes across all the clubs,’ ” Towers said.
She added that Mike Walker, the league’s vice president of licensing — who came there from Adidas — told his former employer, “You know that we’re going to get dinged with the template word if we don’t get ahead of that story, and we don’t make sure that everybody understands that we did it for a reason.”
The reason is a pretty big one: This season is MLS’s 25th. The league and Adidas wanted to have some retro elements in this year’s jerseys. So Adidas pulled out an old design with ties to American soccer and the world’s game.
In the early ’90s, the U.S. national team wore Adidas jerseys with three similar stripes. So did the national teams of Germany and France, among others, and club teams including England’s Liverpool.
“This is iconic to Adidas football,” said Riley Mahoney, a senior merchandise manager at Adidas who works closely with MLS. “When we were in talks with the league about what we were going to do for their 25th [season] celebration, we wanted to go back into our archives and find something that could help bring that story to life.”
The only team that doesn’t have the big stripes is Chicago, because the Fire changed their crest and colors after Adidas had already done a new uniform with the old versions.
When you see the jerseys in person, you’ll notice that the collar and sleeves have some thicker material than what you’ve seen in the past on soccer uniforms. Mahoney said those elements are also meant to be part of the throwback vibe.
“This helps tie into that ’90s story without taking any benefit away from the player,” he said. “It’s still a performance jersey, but the extended cuff execution gives it that heritage look and feel that’s so different from any other jersey we brought to market recently.”
Another 25th-season element will be unique to the league’s original clubs. Only those nine — Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, D.C., Kansas City, the Los Angeles Galaxy, New England, the New York Red Bulls, and San Jose — get an emblem of nine silver stars inside the bottom of the jersey.
(Yes, San Jose gets the honor even though the current Earthquakes are technically the second iteration of the team. The first, which moved to Houston and became the Dynamo, played in the league’s first-ever game in 1996.)
The most-talked about jerseys by fans belong to much newer teams.
Inter Miami’s uniforms for its first ever season have been widely panned as too bland for a team expected to be a vibrant juggernaut with South American flair — and David Beckham in the owner’s suite.
Miami’s home kit is all-white with pink stripes on the shoulder and embossed herons from the club’s crest on the front, and that’s it. The road kit is black with pink trim, including the three big stripes, and the same embossed heron pattern.
Mahoney said Beckham was deeply involved with the design process, which lasted almost two years.
“When we sat down with David, it was really important to him that you have a trend-relevant jersey and something that can showcase the pops of color … and it’s important to us that we have a jersey that looks just as good in the stadium as it does in the street,” Mahoney said. “I think there’s always a temptation to go and to introduce other colors, but when a team is in their inaugural season, it’s about laying that foundation.”
Mahoney said the white kit was inspired by Real Madrid, because Beckham’s “fondest memories were at Real Madrid playing under the lights of the Bernabeu, and he wanted to bring that to life for his players, for his club.”
That might surprise Beckham fans who most fondly recall his time at Manchester United, but it’s the story.
Miami’s most vivid gear is its pink training shirt. Mahoney said “that’s where we start to bring more of the color, and it really lays the foundation in the future to get even more aggressive.”
Many fans will hope Adidas lives up to Mahoney’s word.
There’s been no such disappointment, however, with Minnesota United’s jersey. It brings back the wing on the front of the shirt that was a cult hit in the club’s last year in the now-defunct second-tier North American Soccer League.
“It’s about finding the right time and the right moment to introduce it,” Mahoney said. “We looked at our design story for the season being the unification of art and football. That was the right moment to bring this winged kit to life.”
Perhaps the answers here will satisfy you, or perhaps they won’t. But at least Adidas and MLS were willing to be open about what they did and why.