Roundtable: Best, worst USA soccer uniforms of all time
U.S. Soccer's new uniforms are out, with Nike and the federation revealing what the men and women will be wearing in Copa America Centenario and the Olympics this summer (and the friendlies and World Cup qualifiers before them).
While the reaction to a uniform reveal typically features a mixture of fierce passion and ambivalent shrugs, it marks another chapter in the history of the national teams. Jerseys are tied to eras, World Cups and memories, and part of a team's identity revolves around what it winds up wearing on the field.
So with that in mind, we've taken the most recent reveal to share some of our thoughts on the U.S. jersey's of the past. SI's Grant Wahl, Brian Straus, Liviu Bird and Alex Abnos offer up their favorite and least favorite U.S. uniforms of all time and first reactions to the new set.
For a refresher of U.S. uniforms through the modern era, scroll through these:
Favorite U.S. uniform of all time
WAHL: The World Cup 1994 denim kits may get more attention, but my favorite U.S. uniform of all time was the other ’94 kit with the wavy red vertical stripes. In fact, it was the first U.S. jersey I ever bought and the one I proudly wore as a fan to the U.S.-Brazil semifinal at the 1995 Copa América in Uruguay. The denim kits were great kitsch, but I always thought the wavy red vertical stripes were a nice mix of tradition and (because they were wavy) something just a little bit different. I also tend to think U.S. kits are better when there’s more red in them.
STRAUS: The U.S. has never had a great, timeless kit, and over the years Nike has done a pretty good job draining the national team of any consistent or coherent identity (buy more shirts! Here’s some fluorescent green!). It’s a shame, because soccer’s classic teams have one. Considering the absence of a great uniform, I’m going to lower the bar and look for one that simply gets the colors right. And to do that I’ve got to back to 2006, a year many U.S. fans would rather forget.
The U.S. is, or at least should be, dark blue and/or white with red accents. That’s what the 1980 Olympic hockey team and the 1992 basketball Dream Team wore. It’s what the 2002 World Cup quarterfinalists wore. Do a Google search for “Continental Army uniform” and you’ll see those were the country’s colors at its birth. It looks good and is relatively unique. A focus on navy and white is rare in international soccer and would be especially distinctive in the Americas.
The 2006 kits aren’t perfect, but they have color and class. The U.S. should wear white-navy-white at home and dark jerseys on the road with either blue or white shorts. The red accents add some flourish and feel very American. Apart from the socks on the primary, they’re a good start, and could lead to something like this designer’s concept from 2010. I haven’t bought a U.S. jersey since the mid ‘90s but gladly would shell out for one of these blue beauties.
BIRD: Even though it's the Canadian tuxedo of kits, my favorite U.S. jersey of all-time is still the 1994 World Cup home shirt. It's one of the more unique looks that you'll see, and it's iconic of an important moment in soccer history in this country. When you see it, you know instantly what it is and where it's from.
ABNOS: This is a really tough call for me, but I’d have to go with the 1950 World Cup kit, and its more-modern incarnation as 2004’s third jersey (for all intents and purposes, they’re exactly the same). Players probably hate the 3/4 sleeves, but in purely style-related terms, they’re distinctive and I like the look of them. Then there’s the sash, which has been present in a few different generations of U.S. jerseys, but has never looked quite so good. This jersey also has a close association with success: It’s what the team was wearing when it upset England in Belo Horizonte.
Least favorite U.S. uniform of all time
WAHL: The rarely-worn all-powder-blue 1995 shirts were pretty horrific, in the sense that powder blue is never, ever going to be a good color for a U.S. national team. This is one shirt I never see fans wearing, and for good reason. (Plus any jersey that leaves an obvious space for a number that doesn’t have a number just looks … bad.)
STRAUS: There are a lot of candidates, but using the same "just please get the colors right" standard, the worst uniforms in U.S. history were worn, unfortunately, at the 2014 World Cup. The all-white kit is plain, lazy and lacks any reference to a national identity. Any team in any sport from any country in the world could wear an all-white uniform. The garish red secondary, which features a vivid light blue, looks like it belongs on a player from Russia, the Czech Republic or a local rec team sponsored by Domino’s.
BIRD: My least favorite is the 2007 third shirt, the blue with Yankee pinstripes. It's my least favorite for exactly that reason: it just screams New York Yankees baseball more than anything having to do with our game. Thankfully, it only appeared for a short time and didn't see much use because it was the third kit.
ABNOS: One of my biggest complaints about some national team uniform rollouts is when multiple teams get the exact same treatment. It makes it abundantly clear how little specific thought goes into these jerseys sometimes. By that standard, I still think the 2002 set are the worst I can remember seeing. The triangular accents seemed awkward even at the time, and they haven’t gotten better with age.
Thoughts on the new uniforms
WAHL: Meh. I already said I didn’t like powder blue, and the away kit looks like a training top. Maybe I’ll feel a little better about things once I see the whole kit together with the shorts and socks.
STRAUS: They're bad, but could be worse. It doesn't look like Nike spent much time on these. The same jersey template is being used by a host of national teams this year, and the stripes on the primary sleeves look like sky blue from more than an inch or two away. We're not Uruguay. It's still preferable to all-white, however. The black secondary is better than the 2014 "bomb pop" uniforms, which says more about how bad those were. But the new set reflects American culture in a cynical rather than traditional fashion. Lots of teams, especially in college football, have adopted black uniforms even when the color isn't in their customary palette. They look cool, no matter how derivative, and appeal to 17-year-old recruits. The U.S. national team should be above that.
BIRD: I don't mind the new home kit that much. For some reason, the white with blue sleeves has a classic kind of feel to it—maybe a throwback of sorts—and I'm also probably in the minority when I say that the new crest is all right as well. However, the away kit is pretty atrocious. The black with two different color sleeves makes this look like something the Harlem Globetrotters would wear rather than a national team soccer jersey.
ABNOS: The home one is fine, though it suffers from the same “everyone else has the same design” flaw that the 2002 ones did. The away, though, is hideous.