U.S. men's soccer will debut a fresh jersey at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer. That'll make it, oh, the zillionth redesign in 50-plus years.
Such is the fate of the American kit, one of the crappiest branding efforts in sports history. Whereas other teams wear uniforms as identifiable (and as sacrosanct) as national flags, the U.S. Men's National Team is in perpetual sartorial flux, pointing at the country's aggressive indifference to soccer itself.
This year's look isn't the ugliest, but it has to be the saddest. It's a ringer tee, of sorts, with a Nike swoosh embedded in a sash over one shoulder. Away's navy, home's white. (The latter premieres this month in the Send-Off Series Finale against the Czech Republic.) Designed "with the national culture and identity of the U.S. in mind," it reeks of nostalgia for the team's 1950 uniform, seen here.
Nineteen-fifty was the year the Yanks defeated England 1-0. It was a brilliant upset, soccer's own Miracle on Ice. So recycling the togs 60 years on is U.S. Soccer lamely casting about for another miracle. It's like a guy putting on his old letterman jacket and thinking he's 16 again. The "national culture and identity of the U.S.," it seems, is hopelessly stuck in a past that wasn't all that golden to begin with.
only the latest attempt to rebrand Team America. As Michael J. Agovino
detailed superbly on Slate in 2007, U.S. men's soccer has blown through a closet full of uniforms, each its own little disaster. There have been horizontal stripes, pinstripes, wavy
stripes, and shoulder stripes. There has been solid red, white with
red-and-blue obliques, and stonewashed blue with white stars, which
Agovino calls "one of the most embarrassing jerseys in any sport of any
time." Contrast that to Brazil, where players have worn a solid yellow
jersey since time immemorial, and if they didn't, fans would flip.
Kits run $70 each, which means that every redesign is a chance to extract a bit of cash from fans' wallets. So while the U.S. jersey might not reflect a great soccer tradition, because, well, there isn't one, it does reflect one longstanding American tradition: getting people to buy more stuff.