By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 5, 2015) US Soccer Players – It’s easy to dismiss the 1990s when it comes to soccer shirts. That was the era of baggy sized tops, pushing the limits of the color wheel, and why not throw in some helpful zigzags. It was easy to find the puffy goalkeeper shirts from Euro 96 in Midwest discount outlets late in the decade.
With MLS season 20 starting on schedule, the pictures of the league’s early years show one thing quite clearly. DC United at home still holds up. Chicago joined them in the better than most category in their expansion season. So did San Jose eventually. Everybody else had to take a long look or wait for a supplier with a better idea of what a soccer shirt should look like.
There’s a good argument that it’s the uniforms that tell the story in MLS. The Colorado Rapids went through multiple outfitters and colors before finally settling on a look that suits their club. Even the LA Galaxy desperately needed their Beckham-era revamp. It’s not just that times changed. It’s that some of the MLS shirt designs never fit any time. They were for a future league that never arrived. MLS certainly wasn’t alone, but when almost every club is zigging and/or zagging it’s tough on fashion.
During the week of labor uncertainty, MLS clubs continued with their business as usual. That didn’t just include planning for their 2015 openers. It also meant announcing new shirts. On Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City debuted their latest look. It’s probably too easy to dismiss the entire Wiz to Wizards era even if it means overlooking the 2000 MLS Cup win. Those shirts were tough on the field and not a good look off of it. Like most of MLS short of tying compensation to revenue, times have changed.
“Fashion is an integral part of the Sporting Kansas City brand,” Sporting Kansas City VP of stadium and brand revenue John Moncke said in a press statement. “Due to the long lead time, we forecast trends several years in advance of rolling out a new look. Window pane is a strong fashion trend and it fits within the collection of jerseys that we’ve created in the past. The look is classic with a modern twist and we like to have a feature that we can make our own.”
MLS certainly has its own look in March of 2015. It’s a league that wants to talk about the future more than the present and certainly more than the past. There’s an MLS out there somewhere that’s elite by any standard. Whether it requires the collapse of the global club soccer industry as we now know it or MLS spending to scale, they’re publicly committed to being an elite league.
Recently, the league of choice has taken some public hits by denying reasonable free agency to its players, but the strategy remains in place. MLS wants change for itself and on its terms, change it believes means a bigger profile.
It’s the look of the league, moving away from anything that suggests it’s not first choice. That’s MLS commissioner Don Garber‘s league of choice talking point looming over everything the league does.
On the same day the league’s negotiators were in a room with it’s union, Sports Business Journal used a request for proposal to figure out MLS has a new deal with Audi. The league is signing TV deals overseas that pay them a rights fee. The players get none of that directly of course, with the league still insisting their vague version of single-entity is the only appropriate operating model for the highest level of North American pro soccer.
It’s that look that matters. A league that’s growing, prosperous even unless it’s the less flattering version they’re using in labor negotiations. Whether or not the public draws a distinction between the two isn’t really the league’s point. They know their business, how to zig and zag when it suits them.
Right now, what might be the biggest issue for MLS is perception. Is the league a fair place for players to work, the league of not even best but good choice? Is it treating its employees and its customers well? It’s easy to talk about design, but it’s difficult to get it right.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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