One thing is for sure when it comes to jerseys, the Philadelphia Union are blessed. Blessed because navy and gold are such a nice color combination that even on templated kits and hot-topic sponsors, it still works. Maybe I’ve just grown an aversion to red over the years of being a Union fan, but many of the other jerseys around the league seem so much harder to get right simply because of their respective team’s colors. It just is easy to look good in blue and gold — oh, and white too, I guess.
That’s about as much as I will say about the new primary jersey right now. I mean, we’ve all seen it, we all understand the flaws it has.
Nearly all the MLS jersey talk this year came back to one thing: the template. This template was used for all MLS teams’ new 2020 jerseys (except for Chicago, I guess they got excused because everyone already hates their new logo so much that a cookie cutter jersey would just be too cruel). This template takes inspiration from kits of the ‘90s as a pseudo-retro look due to it being the 25th year anniversary of MLS soccer. The fact that literally no team from the inaugural year used this look doesn’t come up as much as I think it should. I get those were Nike designs but it feels a little disjointed; was this an anniversary for Adidas or MLS?
Nonetheless, there are actually some decent ones; San Jose, Minnesota, and Vancouver had solid looks, to name a few. I do think there were some flaws to this year’s rollout however, flaws that stem from a much larger issue.
If every team is going to have essentially the same kit, the marketing for it has to be exceptional. In other words, they really needed to sell us on this shoulder-stripes-for-all concept to get us on board. The league launched them in a fashion show that replicated the ‘96 launch of kits. This event wasn’t streamed so fans couldn’t get to experience a show that was being teased from the league’s social media for weeks leading up to it.
Afterwards, we were just left with a few images and maybe a clip of each team’s “model” in the jersey. That’s it.
Previous years, the team’s had more control of the release of their jerseys. Most teams, Union being one of them, have really great marketing departments so fans were treated to clever leaks and creative launch videos (remember when Mo Edu rapped?). The jerseys might have not been any better than this year’s but the fans were at least treated to a more fun and anticipated reveal.
What I’m saying is this: if the Union’s excellent marketing team was able to launch this kit by themselves, we’d all probably be a little more convinced by the product. The subtle snake design would be given some reasoning as to why it was a better decision than the fan favorite center stripe that would be so obvious to use on a kit that is supposed to reflect upon origins on this anniversary year. MLS should try to trust their teams more and allow them to tell their own story —and maybe even pick their own jersey manufacturer, what a thought.
There have been evolutions of standards on the field; I think we are somewhere around MLS 4.0 by now? Now I feel there should be a similar sort of evolution off the field. I know single-entity is a large and complicated concept to tear down just for some better jerseys but after 25 years, a lot of teams have struggled to create a strong brand identity. This an area that the league has stalled in even when it is grown in the right direction in so many other areas.
Many teams have struggled to create substantial connections with their cities, especially ones desperate to compete with goliath-like NFL teams that consume the city’s attention (oh hey, Boston Scott). If teams were given the chance to create their own unique identity on their own terms, the results might be a bit more fruitful in the long run. I think it’s at least time to test this idea.