In my four part series covering MLS Jersey Week 2015, I wrote that the event, then in its third season, was “to this journalism major/marketing minor what Shark Week is for Discovery Channel enthusiasts”.
Fast forward one year, and I’m now dipping my toes into the waters of PR. As we all know, Major League Soccer pulled a BP oil spill of a PR mess-up and ruined their beautiful ocean after just three seasons. Jersey Week is dead in the water. It was sad. I almost cried.
Without any real degree of organization, and with a much larger timeframe (the Chicago Fire released their new home kit on January 25, the Colorado Rapids didn’t unveil theirs until March 3), this year’s jersey releases were from a buzz perspective underwhelming.
So instead of evaluating this year’s crop o’ kits, I’m taking you back in time through three seasons (2013-2015) of Jersey Week releases, highlighting the best and worst of the jerseys released during the event. Jerseys that were released at other points in those calendar years won’t be included in this step into the time capsule.
So shout out to the 2013-2014 LA Galaxy third jersey for being a dynamite shirt, but it and other midseason drops won’t be considered.
The Best and Worst of the Jersey Week Era
2014-2015 Portland Timbers Third Jersey
It’s hard to leave out this shirt, considering how warm a reception it got from Timbers fans. It seemed almost from the moment it was released that fans wanted to promote it to the regular home uniform.
The Timbers wanted to evoke a retro feel with this shirt and nailed it with their colour choices. The darker green and tawny yellow look like something straight out of M*A*S*H. Though the Timbers logo with the wordmark (now the secondary logo for 2016) has always been my preference over the plain old axe-in-a-circle, the simpler logo works fits the theme of this jersey nicely.
MLS is phasing out third jerseys this season, and last season marked the end of this jersey’s two-year cycle. Timbers fans hoping for more retro will, unfortunately, have to wait until 2017.
2013-2014 Houston Dynamo Home Jersey
Before the Houston Dynamo turned to Creamsicles for inspiration for designing their jerseys, they turned to the cookie-cutter Adidas template and the paint bucket tool in Photoshop.
Compare this shirt to Adidas’ Tiro 13 template. Apart from the club logo, the flag of Texas placed as the jock tag, and a “Forever Orange” motto positioned, of all places, in front of the left shoulder, the Dynamo jersey is identical to the template. Do you want more proof of how uninspired and lackadaisical the design team was on this one? Check out the 2013-2014 Dynamo away jersey that was also released during Jersey Week 2013. It’s the same thing with the orange and white inverted.
I’m no Picasso, but orange and blue are complimentary colours. Dynamo kits that have featured both the trademark orange and the “Space City” blue have a track record of looking better. Hopefully, a return of the blue accents is in the cards for the 2017 Dynamo home jersey.
2014-2015 LA Galaxy Home Jersey
As part of my digging for this article, I pulled up all of my Jersey Week reviews I wrote in 2014 and 2015 to see if my reviews at the time still hold true in my mind today.
Two years ago I gave this shirt a B, largely due to the lenticular crest- the weird-looking 3D/shiny/hologramm-y design applied to way too many crests on MLS jerseys in 2014 and 2015, for those who were lucky enough to forget.
But this shirt grew on me with age. I originally thought that elements like the colour gradient in the eleven-segment sash and the yellow accents on the sleeves and collar were flashy overkill. But strip some of those elements away, as seen in the cheaper, “replica” version of this jersey, and you feel that something’s lacking. MLS’ logo change in 2015, which added even more yellow accents on the sleeves in this shirt’s second and final season of use, helped this jersey even more.
And honestly, for a club that’s all about the flash and cash splashing, this jersey’s icon level was just plain nas(h)ty.
2015-2016 Portland Timbers Home Jersey
They’ve only been in MLS long enough for three iterations of a home jersey, but the Portland Timbers have struck out each time.
2011 saw a weird half-and-half two-tone green. 2013 was a bad blend of a retro collar with a strange-but-modern body. This one, which will be used again in 2016 with some minor alterations, was really out of the box.
I have a weird affinity towards chevrons. But they can be risky, with results ranging anywhere from trippy (the San Jose Earthquakes logo) to terrific (any Earthquakes jersey post-2014 rebrand). I like the idea of a big chevron on a Timbers kit, it blends well with the logo and the lumberjack PNW vibe the club champions. And the shade of yellow-green, which I originally called “the ugliest colour you’ll see on a kit that isn’t Super Cyan” isn’t brutal as a sparingly-used accent colour.
The problem is that it went well past the sparingly-used accent colour line. Putting the upward-pointing chevron on the body right underneath the downward-pointing faux v-neck collar makes it look like Timbers players have a target on their xiphoid processes. It’s incredibly distracting from up close.
2015 Columbus Crew SC Away Jersey (being used as the Crew SC Home Jersey in 2016)
Having bid adieu to the three hard-hatted stooges ahead of the 2015 season, the newly-rebranded Crew SC kicked off a new era by slapping the new logo onto two mighty fine pieces of fabric.
The 2015 Crew SC home and away jerseys were exact colour inversions of one another, and I graded both in the A range one year ago. But the black away jersey was the star of the set.
The yellow accents pop out marvellously against the deep black and make the shirt instantly recognizable as part of the Crew SC look. I wouldn’t be surprised if the thought of trying a more neon yellow accent colour was discussed during the design process, but sticking to the natural, proven shade keeps this shirt grounded and easier on the eyes. The sublimated checkerboard pattern that gets lost in the yellow 2015 home jersey stands out far better on this shirt. It helps differentiate this jersey from the rest of the black jersey crowd, which only appears to be growing with Atlanta and LAFC set to enter MLS in the years to come.
Crew SC brass are getting a lot of flak for choosing to go with black home jerseys and yellow/white away jerseys moving forward. But if the club can continue pumping out shirts like these, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans start opening up to seeing their club play in black uniforms more often.
2015 Colorado Rapids Away Jersey
On the topic of yellow shirts, we also saw a great example of how not to do them last season.
In the grand scheme of the CMYK/RBG/whatever’s in your box of pencil crayons palette, yellow is pretty standard. But of those standard colours, yellow is a risky one. Pair it with a low-risk colour, like black, and you’re normally okay. Start taking some more risks and throwing in some other bold colours and you had better have your track-and-field legs on.
The neon red looks horrific when paired with the semi-neon blue on the logo, and that’s even disregarding the yellow backdrop. Because there’s little else to look at on the shirt (even when the TransAmerica sponsor logo was added, it was written in the smallest, thinnest text that was still legible), your eye is drawn to the crest. The sublimated “C” from the flag of Colorado gets lost and also doesn’t give you much of anything to avert your eyes to either.
Yes, the Rapids don’t have too much of a history to work with. But as thrown-together, as the burgundy, sky blue, and white colour palette is, it works. Hopefully, the club goes back to a white or sky blue away kit in 2017 because the simply-designed-yet-funkily-coloured state flag is too difficult a base to work with.
2014-2015 Sporting Kansas City Away Jersey
Full disclosure, just so we’re all clear: Sporting has been THE model small-market MLS franchise since rebranding ahead of the 2011 season. Real Salt Lake is finally cracking, and Portland was expected to thrive from the get-go. But in terms of a nothing-to-something surge of success, nobody can touch the team from the Midwest.
Also untouchable from Sporting KC is their jersey design team, who for the most part have churned out what I’ll summarize as “fashion-forward fire” since the Wizards moniker was dropped. Yes, I’m a big proponent of hooped shirts, but even eliminating that bias this shirt has a really nice balance of both of the club’s shades of blue. There’s enough of the darker blue to make it the distinct away kit, but plenty of the lighter blue to accent and add character.
Considering the franchise’s early days of rainbow patterns across the entire upper half of the chest, the on-field brand has moved leaps and bounds forward. As I said before, this shirt is the best of SKC’s recent bunch, many of which have been excellent. It’s an excellent example of Sporting pushing boundaries and trying new styles, but creating jerseys that still look sharp enough to work on the field, and be bought by fans off it.
2013 Colorado Rapids Away Jersey
The most incredible part of that last “worst” jersey was that it wasn’t even a one-off mistake.
Don’t ever doubt the head-scratching abilities of the Colorado Rapids, whose first attempt at turning their state flag into a soccer jersey was even more embarrassing than their second.
The individual elements on their own aren’t terrible, just like with their 2015 state flag shirt. I think the blue base, which is shaded somewhere between traditional royal and neon light, is kind of unique and stands out really nicely. But because it isn’t a traditional blue, it becomes a higher-risk colour. Combined with the similarly pseudo-neon red and regular yellow, it quickly descends from a “hmm, I could see myself wearing that” kind of shirt to a “hmm, how many drinks had the guy who approved this had that night?” dust collector.
I understand wanting to go a little outside-the-box and change things up, but was there (and IS there) anything wrong with the sky blue? It isn’t as wild as the semi-neon blue, but it’s still (at least for now, we’ll see when Minnesota joins MLS in 20_ _) not used frequently enough to require a lot of imagination to stick out. A simple design, either with a white or sky blue base, with a significant amount of burgundy accents, would work just fine in my opinion.
2014-2015 Portland Timbers Away Jersey
Very often, a jersey will take time to grow on me. But this one was love at first sight.
Using colour gradients, like choosing colours of the “electricity yellow” variety, is a high-risk-, high-reward move. The Portland Timbers hit the jackpot with this one and were able to create a unique look out of two of the most standard colours in Major League Soccer’s palette.
The horizontal rose thorn pinstripes are really subtle, but do nicely to add some character to the front of the shirt but also help the gradient look more gradual and easier on the eye. The Rose City jock tag fits the theme of the shirt and looks beautiful on its own. The bright red sleeves with the trademark three stripes of Adidas in black look sharp while providing a clean frame for the gradient.
This jersey set the bar for MLS clubs, one that in my opinion has not been passed two years on. This was a special, special shirt.
2014-2015 Chicago Fire Home Jersey
The Portland Timbers embraced the heart and soul of their city and supporters in designing their 2014 kits. The Chicago Fire worked in the opposite manner, ditching tradition and seemingly selling out to their most important corporate sponsor.
The era of Fire jerseys sponsored by Quaker Oats started in 2012 with the classic horizontal stripe on the front of the shirt switching from white to blue. In 2014, the club went one step further by putting the blue (which fans did NOT respond well to) on the sleeves and the upper half of the chest too. The club that was originally dressed to pay tribute to the city of Chicago’s firefighters was now dressed to commemorate America’s favourite oatmeal.
To seal the deal, the Fire added a small yet incredibly garish underneath the Quaker logo. The gradient features a strange zigzag pattern and a far too quick transition from purple (?!?!) to sky blue.
The Fire have returned to a more traditional look in 2016, hoping a change in look will lead to a change in fortunes. It’s not a fantastic return to the classic shirt, by my word is it ever better than the monstrosity that was their Jersey Week 2014 disaster.
That’s it for my trip into the time capsule. Next time you hear from me I’ll be back in 2016, likely talking more about the shirts than the soccer.
Main Photo: Steve Dykes, Getty Images