U.S. men’s soccer will debut a fresh jersey at the 2010 FIFA World Cup inSouth Africa this summer. That’ll make it, oh, the zillionth redesignin 50-plus years.
Such is the fate of the American kit, one ofthe crappiest branding efforts in sports history. Whereas other teamswear uniforms as identifiable (and as sacrosanct) as national flags,the U.S. Men’s National Team is in perpetual sartorial flux, pointing atthe country’s aggressive indifference to soccer itself.
Thisyear’s look isn’t the ugliest, but it has to be the saddest. It’s aringer tee, of sorts, with a Nike swoosh embedded in asash over one shoulder. Away’s navy, home’s white. (The latterpremieres this month in the Send-Off Series Finale against the CzechRepublic.) 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-fiftywas the year the Yanks defeated England 1-0. It was a brilliantupset, soccer’s own Miracle on Ice. So recycling the togs 60 years onis U.S. Soccer lamely casting about for another miracle. It’s like aguy putting on his old letterman jacket and thinking he’s 16 again.The “national culture and identity of the U.S.,” it seems, ishopelessly stuck in a past that wasn’t all that golden to begin with.
It’sonly the latest attempt to rebrand Team America. As Michael J. Agovinodetailed 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, wavystripes, and shoulder stripes. There has been solid red, white withred-and-blue obliques, and stonewashed blue with white stars, whichAgovino calls “one of the most embarrassing jerseys in any sport of anytime.” Contrast that to Brazil, where players have worn a solid yellowjersey 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, thereisn’t one, it does reflect one longstanding American tradition: gettingpeople to buy more stuff.