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U.S. Soccer needs an identity, and the Waldo jersey is the answer

The United States national soccer teams have lacked a traditional jersey for long enough. It’s time to pick one, and we know the best choice.

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Jerseys. The word is one that always is cause for adoration, ire and endless debate. Over the past 15-20 years, there is one team that has created constant material for discussion in soccer pubs and at sports parties: the United States.

For years, fans have debated the many looks of the men’s and women’s national teams as U.S. Soccer and Nike have introduced jerseys over the years. Some have been met with widespread acclaim, while others have seen people take to the internet in furious anger. It leads to endless debate about what people love in a jersey and what colors or designs they wish to see our national teams utilize. Still, the United States Soccer Federation is 104 years old and in that time, we have not created an identity that we can call our own.

We have had some wonderful jerseys, but they’ve been all over the place. Fans more and more are reaching consensus that there should be a consistent theme for the home jersey to create an identity that we can take into the next 100 years.

We want a U.S. jersey identity that screams, “AMERICA!”

So, let’s do that. The idea is to have a jersey design that the USMNT and USWNT wear when walking out to an entire stadium dressed in the same home jersey. We’re looking for something consistent that’s also able to stay fresh over time, where one day a fan can wear a 2018 jersey next to someone in a 2038 US jersey and it still looks like the same team.

Several nations have a century of tradition, history and soccer identity. We don’t have that tradition — ours is ever evolving. Over the years, we have had multiple designs on jerseys: the sash, plain white, a vertical sash, several vertical stripes, hoops, a throwback design and now white with baby blue sleeves.

We’ve even had several away jerseys that we wear more at home than the home jerseys: stars, sashes, bomb pops, gradients, and black. Our women have been in black, gold, and white with black and volt green trim. There is no rhyme or reason to our jerseys, and it makes for a crowd that looks more hodgepodge than unified in spirit and devotion.

It has been a long time coming for the U.S. to formulate a jersey identity that represents our nation and one that can be something that defines our teams going forward. So, let me dive into the colors, what the rest of the world uses and why there is a particular jersey design out there that is so damn AMERICA, it’s a no-brainer that we should make that our permanent home jersey.

The colors of the flag have meaning. Use them.

When thinking of what colors US Soccer should consider for their jersey identity, almost everyone looks at three: red, white and navy, the colors of the U.S. flag. However, those colors aren’t just the colors of the flag. Each color within the flag has symbolism and meaning behind it as well as the elements of the flag’s stars and stripes. The book Our Flag, published in 1989 by the U.S. House of Representatives, outlines the history of the flag and the colors of the national seal. Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress in 1777, declared the meaning behind the colors of the flag they adopted as our own.

The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & [valor], and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.

Another book published by the House in 1977 highlighted the symbolism behind the stars and stripes of the flag: "The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."

In addition to the historical symbolism behind the colors of the flag and the stars and stripes, the U.S. flag is the most recognizable in the world. The hardiness, valor, perseverance and justice that Charles Thompson so movingly described is exactly what our flag represents every time it flies. “These colors never run” is a saying that has held for decades. So, why do we run away from the elements of the flag when discussing our home jerseys? We shouldn’t. Those colors mean so much to our country’s history and we should embrace them — all of them — as a soccer nation.

White as the home jersey color lacks creativity and inspiration.

First, let’s discuss the color options individually and break them down, starting with white.

There are some people who would say that our jersey identity has already been established by wearing white at home. It’s true that throughout time, you can see that even with some of the very subtle or even drastic changes to our national team jerseys, white has been the predominant color. Still, it’s the drastic design changes from cycle to cycle that leads people to believe that identity is lacking.

So, what about wearing solid white at home or even white with navy shorts? There aren’t very many teams that wear white at home, only 41 teams. In CONCACAF, the United States is only 1 of 5 teams that wear white at home currently. Still, the identity of white jerseys has been claimed by European traditional soccer powers, namely England and Germany.

USA’s run to the Round of 16 of the 2010 World Cup was one where they faced only teams that had white as their home jersey color: England, Slovenia and Algeria in the group stages, and Ghana in the Round of 16. It was the first time in World Cup history where a team faced only opponents that wore the same color home jersey.

In 2014, the United States faced Germany and Ghana, who each had white home jerseys. The USMNT’s 1998 group also featured two other teams that wore white primaries: Germany and Yugoslavia. In fact, since 1990 there has only been one World Cup where the U.S. did not face a team that wore white at home: 1994, where we wore the vertical red stripes as our home jersey.

Moreover, white home jerseys have failed to generate fan interest. In the past few jersey cycles, it’s been very rare that the home jersey has been more popular than the away jersey. When the home look has been more popular, it’s been because of the design that the jersey has been deemed the people’s choice (2012 Waldos, 1950 Sash, 2006 vertical sash, 2013 Centennial). Sometimes it’s because of incredible moments that happened while the team was wearing that jersey: 1950 upset of England, beating Mexico and the run to the quarterfinals during the 2002 World Cup, or Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.

While many people love the look of the Centennial — and despite the jersey's standing as one of the most popular U.S. Soccer jerseys ever — the look was great mostly because of the Centennial crest. That crest is not returning, so there’s no need to return to that look especially when it would look forced and would be void of the inspiration the Centennial contained.

Still, even with a white nominal primary jersey, more often than not the team will wear the away jersey at home or throughout a major tournament like the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Let’s make that change official. Nike’s jersey templates have looked much better on the more colorful away jerseys through most cycles in the modern U.S. Soccer era (1990-present), and shirts that are predominantly red and/or blue have been more popular with fans. U.S. Soccer should make the move away from wearing white at home.

Red as the home jersey color is popular, but isn’t unique.

Next, wearing red at home has long been a popular option among supporters of the United States. Dating back to the days of Sam’s Army and then the American Outlaws, wearing red in the supporters section has been something diehards of the team have longed to expand to the rest of the home crowd.

Some of our best jerseys have been primary red: the 2006 third jersey, famously known as the Don’t Thread On Me jersey, as well as the 2011 third jersey, which seemed to recreate the DTOM look in the style of the 2010 World Cup jersey cycle. Wearing red at home is still a popular option to this day.

Still, to create a unique look, a red jersey doesn’t do it. More than 75 FIFA sides wear red at home, including eight in the CONCACAF region. Several of those teams — Trinidad & Tobago, Costa Rica, Panama and Canada — are teams that we face often. Globally, most of the teams that wear red at home are located in Asia, where red is considered a power color, and in Europe.

Now, just because more than a third of the world’s soccer nations wear red at home doesn’t mean we can’t do the same. Still, there is a way to employ the red while still having jerseys that stand out from the large pack.

Navy is better as the away jersey color.

There have been times that the United States have worn blue as their primary jersey, most notably the first World Cup in 1930. Most times, though, blue has been the color of choice for America’s away jerseys. In recent years, that blue has been lighter than the navy blue that features on our flag.

There have even been occasions where the team has gone away from blue as an away color, opting for dark gray or, in the case of the 2016 away jerseys, predominantly black with red and blue sleeves. There is some historical significance of wearing blue, with the Revolutionary Army that fought for and won our independence wearing blue coats, a tradition that carried all the way through the Civil War.

Despite the significance of the navy blue in our flag and U.S. seal — vigilance, perseverance and justice — wearing navy would likely be better suited on the away jersey. The away jersey can be one that Nike takes risks with since the identity will rest in the home jersey, the one that fans will mostly wear the day of the game.

America’s true soccer identity is defined by the Waldos.

With solid white, red, or navy out of contention, that leaves a particular design that would scream America while not venturing from the flag colors and giving US Soccer (and Nike) a chance for an identity to be created without sacrificing creativity between jersey cycles. Ladies and gentlemen, that design is the white and red horizontal stripes, or the hoops.

The 2012 home jersey, affectionately known as the Waldos for obvious reasons, is hands down the most AMERICA jersey we have ever produced. It also remains among our most popular jerseys, with diehards scouring the internet for the chance to find an old gem. It sticks to our incredible flag features and employed each color of the flag in all their significance: the red and white stripes with navy blue numbers, navy blue shorts and either white or white/red hooped socks with a navy trim.

There are only eight teams in the world that have a truly recognizable jersey feature that they maintain from cycle to cycle: Peru (white with a red diagonal sash), Argentina (white/baby blue vertical stripes), Paraguay (white/red vertical stripes), Croatia (white/red checkerboard), Guatemala (blue with a white diagonal sash), Puerto Rico (red with red/white vertical stripes), Liberia (white/red vertical stripes or hoops), and Malaysia (yellow/black vertical stripes).

Of those teams, Argentina, Croatia, Paraguay and Peru are the most recognizable. Malaysia and Liberia have recently abandoned their normal striped jerseys for solid black and red, respectively. Instantly, the U.S. hoops will be a jersey that will be identifiable from anywhere. Everyone knows what an Argentina jersey looks like, or Croatia or Paraguay. This is a chance for the United States to stand on that same ground.

With the many different designs of U.S. jerseys over the years, people wouldn’t know walking down the street what team you were representing when wearing a jersey. The 2012 hoops was the first jersey since 1994 (where the legendary Stars and Stripes jerseys completed our look as hosts for the 1994 FIFA World Cup) that anyone walking down the street or sitting in a bar or looking in the stands on TV would know exactly what team that jersey represented. It’s a perfect use of the flag elements, identifying the hardiness, valor, perseverance, vigilance and justice that the flag represents.

Having a consistent home look will allow for the team to take some risks with their away jersey. One year they could do navy with a sash, like they did during the 2010 World Cup. Maybe they can take it back to 1994 with the Stars jersey (though opting for navy blue instead of the denim blue).

In milestone years (think 2030 for the 100th anniversary of the World Cup, 2050 for the 100th anniversary of the greatest upset ever, or 2063 for the USSF’s 150th anniversary), they can unveil a jersey design that ties in that commemorative moment.

In the end, here is what would be my preference for our jerseys:

  • Home jersey – white jersey w/ red/white hoops, navy trim, navy numbers, navy shorts, red/white hooped socks
  • Away jersey (even years) – navy jersey w/ white sash, white numbers, white shorts, navy socks
  • Away jersey (Gold Cup years) - red jersey w/ navy hoops, white numbers, red shorts, navy socks

Using this, you would have a constant home jersey that can serve as the main identity, while the away jersey can change and take some chances while still maintaining the flag colors.

It will take a nation to implement this identity. Utilize the fans to inspire the masses.

So, won't the red and white hoops be hell for Nike’s creativity, you ask? It shouldn’t be. It doesn’t seem to affect them in creating new jerseys for Croatia, which always features the checkerboard design. Each time, they manage to slightly alter the design so that it’s fresh but still maintains their traditional look. Argentina and Paraguay have always had their stripes, but, again, Adidas has been able to still keep their look fresh every 1-2 years while making sure that a 2016 jersey keeps the same traditional look of a 2008 jersey.

The hoops for the United States can be done in several ways. The stripes can be thicker or thinner. They can number 13, matching the flag, or they can have fewer. The back can be predominantly white or red. The stripes can undulate or they can be straight. Numbers can be navy with navy shorts or they can be red or white depending on the back. The stripes can be slightly diagonal or they can be straight across the torso. The jersey can have a Henley collar, a polo collar, or have a normal crew neck (I always prefer the latter). It will be easy for Nike to fit the design within their various jersey templates as they already do with several big name clubs and national teams.

Over time, the hoops should become the jersey the team and fans always wear at home. Even if fans can’t afford the cost of the home jersey, there are plenty of places to get striped shirts or flag t-shirts that can be worn on gameday to the stadium or to the bar. The main concern in confirming the hoops as part of the official U.S. Soccer identity is whether we will succeed in getting fans to wear the home jersey to matches. Of course we can. While we Americans are proud of our right to express ourselves freely through our outfits, we are also a nation that has come together in other sports to create a particular atmosphere intended to intimidate the opposing team.

There are several instances in other sports of teams successfully lobbying their fans to wear a particular color to games. Some do it for rivalry games, some do it for every game. Others make it a playoff tradition. However it’s done, we have sports where as many as 100,000 people can coordinate to wear the same thing on a given day or a combination of colors to create a pattern in the stands. We have whiteouts, blue outs, blackouts or even color coordination within sections.

These traditions add to the identity of the team or school. In North Carolina, fans know whether they root for Duke or UNC based on the color blue they are wearing. Fans of the Golden State Warriors know their “Strength in Numbers” slogan includes wearing yellow at each home game. Each time the Miami Heat make the playoffs, fans know that each home game is a white out and their most popular jerseys are the home and alternate white jerseys that fans know they will want to wear during a playoff run. Finally, college football Saturdays see millions of fans around the country wearing their team’s home colors to games or even around town so that other people know without hesitation which school they represent. We can do this in supporting our national team, too.

Outfitting the entire stadium in the same colors isn’t a stretch. U.S. Soccer normally announces matches a couple months in advance, sometimes longer. This would have to remain consistent, as the more time allotted for communication about plans for the match, the bigger the reach. For bigger tournaments like last summer’s Copa America Centenario, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, or the World Cup, fans have advance notice of when matches will take place months in advance. Then, the team can mount a push for fans to wear the main home jersey to the match. There are endless merchandise possibilities for U.S. Soccer as well. They can create replica shirts in the pattern of the home jersey, give out scarves for people at the matches or rally towels modeled after that style, anything to create a sea of hoops.

Anyone can get a cheap flag shirt, whether it’s at a souvenir shop in D.C, or online. The point to hammer home will be to wear hoops to the game. It should become ingrained in every fan that on gameday, you wear the home jersey. The identity can only prosper if it’s a priority each match and if U.S. Soccer creates the product necessary to allow fans the chance to create the identifying atmosphere. Wear your old jerseys or your U.S. Soccer shirts in various colors whenever you want, but on gameday, represent and show support by wearing your hoops, united as one.

The establishment of this identity won’t happen overnight, but it must start with the U.S. coming out with jerseys that announce the adoption of this new identity. 2018 seems like a perfect time to do that. From there, it will take coordination at each match (possibly with free shirts or scarves for all match attendees) and merchandise to reflect the new tradition. They can’t deviate or give up on the goal. They can’t give in to superstition or sentimental desires. They must persevere in getting the idea to stick and become a no-brainer among not just current U.S. supporters but the next generation of kids and young adults who are just now starting to watch and dream of attending matches.

Let’s sum it all up.

With a fan base that pledges allegiance to the flag, belts God Bless America every 50th minute and sings the national anthem with more pride than any nation on earth, it’s about time we have a jersey identity that allows us to represent even when our national teams aren’t taking the field.

The Waldos are what we want. The Waldos define us. And while it will take some time for it to sink in, I look forward to being in the stands for the opening match of the 2022 World Cup, when the USMNT emerges from the tunnel with an entire nation behind them wearing the horizontal stripes of our flag. I equally look forward to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, where the USWNT emerges as the two-time defending champions and their raucous fans take over the stadium creating an epic display of U.S. pride.

Maybe then, we can finally realize the incredible power the last two lines of our Star-Spangled Banner employs in a crowd that holds it tightly to let the world know that the Americans are here: “O! Say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"