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6ix on a Wave: Grading the 2020 MLS kit leaks

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Featuring our friends at the Vocal Minority’s Mark Hinkley!

MLS: MLS Works-Day of Service Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome, one and all, to another in the rapidly expanding series of Waking The Red (ok, 6oaW) x The Vocal Minority Podcast Collabs, or, how I learned to stop worrying and let ringers do the lion’s share of my column.

In all seriousness though, grading and rating kit leaks is basically Mark Hinkley’s M.O., and he often hijacks a few scant minutes on the official VM pod to indulge this nous in his unofficial “Kit and Stadium Podcast”—it has its own theme music and everything. Mark and I have spent many, many hours obsessing over football fashion. He’s one of my go-tos when kits drop and he’s always good for a deep dive into the minutiae. So when the assignment hit my desk to cook up something in the laboratory on this year’s crop of MLS 25th anniversary kits, most of which have leaked on the internet in advance of the official release event (FORWARD25 on February 5), I slid into Mark’s DMs and roped him into this exercise.

Eric Giacometti at TFC HQ recently reminded us just how much he loves kit leaks:

#sorrynotsorry Eric. We’ve been champing at the bit for a taste of the new not-very-onyx TFC away kit (more on that later). So let’s get cracking.


Adidas x 25 Years—Details & Overall Thoughts

As always, Adidas is the exclusive kit sponsor for the entire league, which means this will be free of Puma branded sausage casings, Nike style U-Collars, Hummel Chevrons, and Kappa Slappas. Greater minds than us have set up camp to die on this hill, so we’ll veto any discourse on “Is this exclusivity good or bad for the league”.

Adidas and MLS are doing things a bit different this year, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Major League Soccer, they’ve (for the most part), adopted a unilateral style template for this crop of kits, regardless of if the team in question gets a refresh of the home or away stripe (MLS teams alternate between a refresh of home/away per season, and obviously, some teams fall on opposite ends of this switcheroo any given year).

Adidas has designed a throwback template that alludes to the mid-90’s MLS kits, a nod to the bizarro NFL mash-up that was early MLS and a look to the future in terms of the subtle detailing we expect in a modern kit. Basically, this means a thick upper (Collar/Shouders/Sleeves/Cuffs) that presents like NFL/NHL shoulder pads tacked onto a standard kit. The results are ... interesting. Also, the famous Adidas three-stripe has moved to the right shoulder, and there’s a brand new font. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

And yet, it looks like some of the leaks are missing this new shoulder stripe (Chicago Fire, Inter Miami Home, Nashville SC) so kudos to Adidas/MLS. B+ for effort.

Mark’s got his opening statements, too (Mark gets his stuff italicized because legibility, I also gave him some Bolds because that’s a good approximation for how dude talks):

Overall, I very much like the collars and cuffs. I am not a fan of the three stripes over the right shoulder or the fact that the front pattern doesn’t copy to the back. Also, if the kit uses only two actual colours, it is mediocre and unimaginative and looks discount. So that’s half right off the bat.

Regardless of the design process, the logistics, the MLS Competition Committee, Adidas, the overarching question that I use is to measure these kits against all those around the world: if you’re going to charge me $120-150 for a kit, comparing against all other similar kits, is any one of these actually worth it? No. Nevermind comparing these kits against other Adidas kits, last year’s kits, other big clubs, compare these against smaller clubs, smaller firms, lower prominence leagues. Are these nicer than Southampton and Burnley? Are these nicer than Angers and Nantes? Are these nicer than Club Tijuana and Dorado’s? Not a chance.

Are these the kits of a major manufacturer of a *cough* top 10 league? No.

Do other major leagues offer such homogeneity? Other sports? No.

Was the offerings 3 years ago better? Yes. 5 years ago? Yes.

So full disclosure, unimpressed but comparing them against each other, some are better than others.

Before we fully dive into a selection of this years leaks, there’s a thread circling the twitterverse that does a pretty great job explaining the design and production process of kits. I would call this required reading for context:


2020 MLS Kit Leaks

Columbus Crew 2020 Away

MH—Black with yellow stripes. Pixelated pattern in the chest. Not sure what that is supposed to represent - top down Google images shot of Columbus? A close up of Higuain’s face? If I can’t tell, will it be interesting when I do? GRADE: C-

JPN—An interesting place to start. Bonus Points: It’s an away kit and It’s. Not. White. This is good. The visual disconnect between the shoulders and the kit proper, while not as pronounced as in some of the other designs, is still an issue here. Also - What makes this a “Russian Pattern”? GRADE: C-

Atlanta United 2020 Away

JPN—Gold details doth not make an all-white kit less boring. Next. The only positive here is that the all white all whiteness smooths out the transition between the shoulders and sleeves to the kit proper. Small Victories. GRADE: C

MH—White with gold/copperish stripes. Could you see this worn with some gold chains? Would you wonder why someone would wear this with chains, or in public at all? Me neither. If you aren’t over 95% white kits, this isn’t super terrible, but rather dull. The (only) colour is ok, but American Family Insurance isn’t cool enough to be embossed in that colour. GRADE: D

Minnesota United 2020 Home

MH—Dark grey with sky blue stripes. I do appreciate that someone is getting some of their iconography used in elements of the kit with the loon’s wing detail in the chest. This offering could have leaned on different coloured cuffs and collar. The sky blue might be too much but the black from the loon’s wing would make everything jump. Definitely one of the better ones. GRADE: B+

JPN—This one gives me feelings. It’s a very smart looking kit with an excellent colour palate and I really dig the subtle two tone between the top and bottom. Very much on point. You really can’t go wrong with blue/grey. GRADE: A

New England Revolution 2020 Home

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

JPN—I dig the blue and red, I’m not bothered by the upper/lower mash-up. It’s nice and simple, but I hate the shirt sponsor informing that white paint blot detail. GRADE: B-

MH—Navy with white stripes. Kinda boring but, woah, is that a white paint brush band across the chest? The press release (will likely) call it ‘bold’ if not ‘dangerous’. I like it, but maybe have the brush strokes go vertical in a slightly lighter navy to give it some real personality. It is sad that the red comes in the form of the sponsor to tie into the pallet of the club, but here we are. GRADE: C

New York City FC 2020 Away

JPN—Big time departure from established City Football Group norms. Do I like this? i’m not even sure. Still dealing with the lack of baby blue and orange. The kit itself is nice, but is it NYCFC? GRADE: B

MH—Navy with white stripes. It’s an interesting Bavarian diamond pattern in the chest (should have saved this for Cincinnati since we’re leaning on that but whatever) that does not make its way to the reverse of the kit, but it’s white and navy. Couldn’t make the monocolour badge and Adidas logo orange? Like not one or the other? GRADE: C+

Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 Away

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

MH—Navy with light blue stripes. The chest pattern has waves. Wow. Like NYC, how about a third colour? White sponsor would work great. But it doesn’t. Or how about the proper colourized logo? Nope. The light blue cuffs are a massive improvement on a breathtakingly ordinary kit. GRADE: D

JPN— want to love this so bad, and I really did, at first-glance, for about five seconds. It’s common knowledge that many of us at WTR HQ have an ongoing love affair with the 2019 VWFC Home kit, so it would have been great for them to do the double, but, nope. The upper looks like an entirely different material than the lower, which presents like sheer blue silk. This may be the best example from this years crop of a kit that looks great on a hanger but like a screaming garbage fire on an actual human person. GRADE: B-

Houston Dynamo 2020 Away

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

JPN—OMG no. That is going to look TERRIBLE on Live TV. It’s already giving me motion-sickness in the photo. GRADE: F-

MH—Black with orange stripes. Leftover training top pattern for the chest but, is that the use of a third colour? White Adidas and sponsor logos? Be still my disappointed and bored heart. Could’ve used the orange cuff treatment on this offering. GRADE: D

Philadelphia Union 2020 Home

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

MH—Navy with gold stripes. At this point, it really feels like some teams just told an intern to pick something close from the catalogue and grinned at the profit margins. At least they got a full colour badge on this one. The white sponsor wins the day having it fly off the chest. GRADE: F

JPN—Best/Worst shirt sponsor in the league depending on how much Shadenfreude you enjoy on the regular. Like the Black and Blue with gold accents. One of the better ones for me, but absolutely undeserving of the “stunning” tag given by Footy Headlines. GRADE: B+

New York Red Bulls 2020 Away

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

JPN—This. This is the winner for me. Why couldn’t this be the TFC kit? I’ll concede the overall look is a bit General Hux, but DAYUM. I love this. It’s fantastic. If I had the time/money/want, I’d buy this one and kitbash (get it) a new TFC away kit. GRADE: A++

MH—Black with red. Just two colours. If you had seen any of the other kits released and I described it with the first two sentences, whatever you have imagined would be 100% accurate. It also looks like the marketing and demographics reports got together and determined that this is what males 16-25 would want in a shirt. The inverse would be better, only slightly. GRADE: C-

Los Angeles FC 2020 Home

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

MH—Black with black stripes and gold logos. Very close to the Red Bulls kit with the correct badge and sponsor instead. At least this aligns closer to their initial branding than the others. Is black with black a bold choice? The answer is no. Oddly, based on their previous kit, this isn’t terrible. GRADE: B

JPN—I adore this kit, maybe tied for my fave with NYRB or a not very distant second fiddle. Love the black and gold and the subtle black on black shoulder stripes are just delicious. Why can’t we have nice things? GRADE: A+

Sporting KC 2020 Away

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

JPN—What fresh hell is this? Looks like they mashed up a $20 H&M hipster button-down with the 25th anniversary upper. Wow. I’m impressed with the cajones required to unleash this mess on the world. GRADE: D

MH—Navy with silver stripes. This is where we are with these cookie cutter kits where we have to talk about how nice the white polka dots look. Polka dots only equate with charm and personality in these kit offerings. Silver monocolour badge and sponsor complete the kit. This definitely a top of the class kit in a remedial classroom. GRADE: B-

Seattle Sounders 2020 Home

MH—Green with white stripes and blue collar and cuffs. If you ignore the things that make you scrunch your face when looking at it, you can’t deny that Seattle’s colours are awesome. Almost such you can overlook the weird broccoli/decopage pattern from the last year. Like ALMOST how you can overlook the watermelon striping going on here. This might look ok from a distance, but I’m not optimistic. Love the cuffs and collar. GRADE: C

JPN—Are we going alphabetically again? I’m so lost. This kit, despite the rave green, which I love, is trash. The wave (?) detail on the lower gets lost against the solid green upper, and I hate the cuffs and collar - they are from an entirely different, and much better, design. GRADE: C-

Los Angeles Galaxy 2020 Home

MH—White with silver stripes. The sash comes from the same pattern (it appears) as the character-filled white stripe from the New England kit (wow!) except it is now silver. The logo is full colour and the sponsors are both navy. I feel like this kit would be considered new and fresh, but the theme of the entire league using the identikit template diminishes what could’ve been nice, but it’s rather unimpressive. GRADE: D+

JPN—Ho-hum, it’s the same kit LAG trot out every refresh, so it’s possibly the most successful and understated of the new shoulder stripe design. Doesn’t make it good. But it doesn’t scream bad, either. Decidedly middle of the road, and the silver accents look like stickers. GRADE: C+

D.C. United 2020 Home

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

MH—Black with white stripes and red cuffs. Was this so hard? Was this the case of overcoming difficult obstacles to make something nice? It’s the same as most of the other kits offered except the badge is definitely in full colour and the cuffs are a different colour than the should striping. And that makes the world of difference. This looks nice. This looks like effort. This cannot be imagination, because, well, look at it... but it’s passibly nice. GRADE: B

JPN—Just wow. Another home run. Simple and elegant. The white stripes (get it?) and red cuffs are so on point. No detailing, just black (ish) on black (ish). Great. GRADE: A

Portland Timbers 2020 Away

JPN—Usually the Timbers win the kit games outright, so I’m filled to the brim with happiness/doing backflips/turning that frown upside down that this year, they lose sooooo bad. This kit is an abomination. GRADE: F

MH—White kit with gold shoulder stripes and green trim.

”OK, let’s take that boring overused template and instead of making everything green, let’s change up the shoulder stripes.”

[crowd nods in approval]

”We’ll put thin green horizontal stripes to fill it in with subtlety”

[crowd murmurs positively]

”The collar? Green”

[crowd’s excitement increases, starts to clap]

”The cuffs, green too”

[crowd swells with enthusiasm and more clapping]

”We’re going to put topographical maps of probably Portland in a very light grey”

[crowd reacts confused, like they’ve just been told they’re about to be held hostage]

”That topographical map pattern? Yeah, they’re going to be in stripes too, so there’s a white gap between this unnecessary and unidentifiable element and the green stripe”

[crowd begins to boo mercilessly, throw half-filled coffee cups towards the stage]

They navigated the hard parts so well and then went stupid ‘pattern for pattern’s sake’. Aside from a cartographer, could anyone identify what those rings were suppose to be? They should’ve stopped. They went too damn far. GRADE: D+

FC Dallas 2020 Home

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

JPN—I dig this one - mostly because it’s not quite red as the primary colour. Groovy. You can put this in the wash without fear because it’s already faded right out of the box. GRADE: B+

MH—Red with white stripes. This is much better than the rest of the mess that we’ve seen thus far. Marketing keeps screwing with this club’s identity so much, I don’t care if they have hoops anymore or not, but they’re back. Predominantly red kit, with navy horizontal streaked paint brush style, as seen in other kits, that increase in thickness as you work your way down. The sponsor and adidas logo are white, the crest is full colour. Make the cuffs navy and you have a winner, but this is good enough I guess. GRADE: B-

Toronto FC 2020 Away

WWW.FOOTYHEADLINES.COM

JPN—Meh. I’m staring this down for the umpteenth time and still find no Onyx to speak of. Why? Why? Why? Should’ve been Onyx. NEEDS TO BE ONYX. Aside from my “no onyx, no party” protest, it’s a decent kit - despite the lack of Onyx. Did I mention I wanted an update of the 2014 Onyx away kit? I did and still do. All that being said - I absolutely hate the one crosshatch on the lower torso, makes it look like a kimono/sarong/sari/crap. GRADE: a solid B+

MH—White with red stripes. I have been bored to tears with these kits and this one, on the surface, should be in the bottom half. But... I like it. The red cuffs add balance to a very white/light grey shirt, which can be rather dull to the eyes. That background makes no discernable sense, six white and grey thinner stripes, then two white then grey thicker stripes. My first reaction was that they found a zany windbreaker from the 80s and stripped away all of the colour, then dropped it into the background. It has personality. In my eyes, this might be one of the best kits in the lot. GRADE: B


Final Thoughts

So there you go - we missed some, we omitted some. we were going to rank them, but then realized we already have a monster article here, so perhaps in the comment thread?

Mark’s Final thoughts:

After reviewing these and taking a hard look at them, based on what you, as a passive gear head, have seen in the past, the hard ask will always be, is this still worth your hard earned money? This isn’t about the collector. This isn’t about the super fan. This is about the fan who’s been on the fence about whether this is the year to buy a kit. For about five of them, a hard maybe. The rest, not a chance and definitely not at full price.

Some of these kits individually look great against the other clubs in this release, but in the pantheon of kits around the world, these are passable at its peak, and mediocre overall. The most laughable part of this is that the launch is during some Fashion Week in New York and whatever basement/warehouse/barista lounge this is taking place in, it has to be a very open bar.


THIS WEEKS PLAYLIST:

Is a full takeover - when you rope Mark Hinkley into your orbit, you double down on the playlist.

Yes, I gave him carte-blanche, and yes, I’m still going to put him on blast for all the Ska. Love you buddy!