MLS shirts are notoriously safe. The reasons for this are varied and complex; a league wide mandate that every team should have one dark and one light kit has lumped several teams with bog standard white shirts season after season, and the long-term, league-wide deal with adidas arguably introduces an element of complacency into proceedings…
Despite this unfortunate reputation there are signs that the tide is beginning to turn, slowly but surely. The league’s range of kits in 2020 included a smattering of bespoke graphics (even if most teams still shared the same template), and ahead of the 2021 season Philadelphia Union are looking to push the envelope even further
Union’s new away kit is anything but just another white kit. In fact, the story behind the design speaks very much of the desire for the team to go against the white kit mantra.
In one of the best examples of fan engagement I can think of, the team worked from the very beginning of the kit design process with a select group of fans. Too often clubs stick a poll up on Twitter and ask ‘fans’ (or more accurately, a hodgepodge mix of people that follow a team’s social account) to vote for which shirt the team should wear, proudly declaring that they have ‘engaged’ with their fanbase. What Philadelphia have done here runs much deeper.
Credit has to go to the club for taking up the idea of involving fans more deliberately with adidas, and indeed adidas themselves for not only accepting the proposal but running with it. A select group of fans was chosen and brought under the banner of the “Union Creators’ Collective”, and so began the long process from conceptualization to realisation (stay tuned as we’re lining up an interview with one of the members of the Collective, to find out more about what went down…).
Was the end result actually worth it though? In a word, absolutely.
The colour scheme of the shirt is immediately evocative, and for fans of the NFL it conjures up images of the fantastic powder blue LA Chargers jerseys (a personal favourite of mine). If you dig a little deeper though, the colours are actually a nod to the flag of Philadelphia, and the vibrant blue and yellow shades are a breath of fresh air for a team whose base colour scheme left something to be desired.
Then of course we have the lightning bolt pattern. The all-over pattern has a wonderfully chunky aesthetic, with the bolts almost looking like a neon sign (an idea suggested further by the promo imagery). If I was being greedy I would’ve loved to have seen some lighting bolt details on the neckline or cuffs, but that’s not to take away from the overall look of the shirt.
The Philly crest looks lovely in the light blue and yellow colours, and the simple sponsor is a reminder of the upgrade the team had whe moving on from the dominating ‘BIMBO’ sponsor of the past.
Interestingly this new Philadelphia Union 2021 away shirt design apparently beat out 3 other contenders by just “a couple of votes”, which has been chomping at the bit to see what the other options looked like. Based on what we’ve ended up with though, the Collective did good.
For the past few years, American teams from outsidethe MLS have shown up their higher-profile neighbours in a big way when it comes to shirts. There’s a long way to go for adidas and the league, and we’ll likely never see quite the same amount of freedom and creativity as teams like Forward Madison and Providence City enjoy, but at the very least I’m happy to see an MLS team actually step forward to try something different.
Here’s hoping more clubs follow suit.
What is FSC Approved?
What makes a football shirt good? It’s a purely subjective question, right?
Whilst there are indeed a lot of subjective elements when it comes to shirts, there are still factors to consider. Sometimes, a design is notable for its unique aesthetic. The colourway, pattern or construction may have gone where no shirt dared to go before it, or it might simply be a particularly good utilisation of a classic approach. Other times, a legendary player elevates a design to immortality, even if the design in question would’ve been hard to pick out of a crowd before.
Our series FSC Approved will be a lovingly curated list of shirts that deserve to be in the conversation as good, possibly even great football shirts, no matter who you support or what your taste in shirts is. Old classics, new contenders, if it’s FSC Approved it’s as close to a certified banger as you can get.
This shirt would look right at home in our Modern Classics collection. Browse our current Modern Classics here.