After weeks of leaked pictures and rampant speculation, the 2014 U.S. home jersey was released this morning for both the USMNT and the USWNT. And, after weeks of hoping that what we saw wasn't true, our fears were confirmed. The new home jersey that we will see at the 2014 World Cup is...a polo shirt. Very simple (or bland, depending on your view), the jersey has a button front with a white oxford collar with red and royal blue trim. The sleeves have tiny red trim and the normal U.S. Soccer crest returns, except with royal blue instead of its traditional navy. The shorts are all white with red trim on the sides and the numbers will be royal blue with the U.S. Soccer crest on the bottom and "One Nation, One Team" visible on the lettering only in UV light.
Clearly Nike was seeking to capitalize on the euphoria created over the 2013 Centennial jerseys, but in my opinion they missed the mark completely. The Centennial jerseys were a look back at the 1913 jerseys that started it all, modernized for a fanbase that has grown considerably since the early days of U.S. Soccer. But, throughout it all, the one thing that the majority of fans have asked for is an identity...a jersey that no matter where you are, from 4 blocks away, someone sees you and knows you got on a U.S. jersey.
Identity. So many soccer nations have one. We're actually lucky in the sense that the rebirth of our soccer support with the 1990 World Cup allowed us to create a new identity. So far that identity has been...inconsistency. What Nike and U.S. Soccer need to realize is that they had some incredible hits and then they follow it up with terrible misses. They need to listen to the masses and forge our new identity in a way that will still allow them to make money. They need to look at what they're doing for one particular nation, in my opinion, as a guideline for how to approach the U.S. jerseys.
Croatia, in my opinion, is the single most recognizable jersey in international soccer. Why? They are always checkerboard-style. Always. Even the road jersey is normally blue while still incorporating the checkerboard elements. And, while you may not like the checkerboard, it's based on the coat of arms that's in the middle of their flag. It's their identity. And you know exactly what they're going to have on when they debut that tunnel. And, despite Nike's internal belief that not changing the style of a jersey will mean people won't buy it, Croatia's jerseys fly off the shelves in that nation and around the world.
Nike, in my opinion, nailed our new identity when they released the 2012 home jerseys, more affectionately known as the Waldos for obvious reasons. Hoops based on the stripes on our flag with blue trim incorporated each of the three colors of our flag in a way that embodied the symbolism each of those colors have. Each of those colors represents something very important about ourselves as Americans: the white signifies purity and innocence; red embodies our hardiness and valor; and the navy blue characterizes vigilence, perseverance and justice. Each of those colors means something and with the stars and stripes of our nation's flag waving in a design across our jersey, we made a statement. No matter where you went, you knew from a mile away that someone was representing the United States of America proudly. Keeping that going forward would have been the best option for the USSF to really create an identity that any sports fan in America--not just soccer fans--could get behind.
The U.S. had its best jersey sets in 3 cycles: the 2006 World Cup, the 2010 World Cup and 2014 World Cup Qualifying. They could have taken the best from each of those cycles: the 2006 3rd "Don't Tread On Me" jersey (for my money, the greatest jersey ever), the 2010 away jersey, the Waldos and the Centennial and seriously have a legit license to print money. The Waldos would serve as the primary jersey, a combo of the DTOM jersey and the 2010 away as the secondary, and a variation of the Centennial as the 3rd that we could wear during special friendlies and tournaments like the proposed 2016 Copa America. Each of them would also use the Centennial crest instead of the USSF crest as that is the freshest of the crests we've ever had. It would something for everyone, it would combine the 4 best jerseys U.S. Soccer have ever produced, and it would create an identity that all U.S. Soccer fans could get behind.
Let's make it clear. I will still get the new jerseys despite my disappointment in them and maybe that's playing into Nike's hands. But, I think if Nike were to listen to the waters, they'll better know what makes ripples and what makes waves. The Waldos, the DTOMs/2010 away and the Centennial are the waves most of us fans want to make when we follow our team around the country and around the world.