Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

With the MLS season underway, we’ve now had a chance to get a closer look at the new batch of kits for this year beyond the leaked images and flashy (or sometimes weirdly dark) unveiling videos. So it’s time to talk turkey and decide which of the 29 new kits are among the best of the group and which are among the worst. To do this, Pablo Maurer, Felipe Cardenas and Brooks Peck were tasked with making selections for best and worst, with each selection counting as a vote. Although it was not planned, it worked out where there was only one unanimous choice for each category. 

(For a refresher on last year’s kits, click here.)

The Best

One vote 

San Jose Earthquakes’ “Active Fault Kit”

The Quakes describe this kit’s design as “seismic”, but it’s a look that doesn’t jump off the page. It’s just a great jersey. There’s a nice balance between San Jose’s colors, the dark blue and black contrasts and the patterned design. Maybe I like it because it reminds me of a kit my travel team wore in the late ‘90s. Shout out to the South Bend Jr. Irish.  — Felipe Cardenas

Portland Timbers’ “Portland Plaid Kit” 

Portland very rarely misses on kits. A handful of Timbers kits — from the NASL days through the present — are all-time classics, like their 2014 throwback-style third kit or any of their kits from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They’ve kept things interesting over the years, too, by consistently taking chances and incorporating unusual design elements.

This year’s plaid shirt isn’t an instant classic, but it’s a standout even amongst a stronger-than-usual class. Then again I’m 43, so maybe I just hold a soft spot for all things flannel and plaid. Maybe they’ll do a hypercolor kit next year. —Pablo Maurer

New York Red Bulls’ “Daniel Patrick Kit”   

(Photo: New York Red Bulls)

A quick aside in regards to the use of tie-dye in kit design: I spent a solid month last year reporting out a feature on the Denim Kit, maybe the most iconic jersey in the history of American soccer. I did about 50 interviews for it, and I had a few staple questions for almost every interview subject. One of them was based on some intel I’d gathered from a former Adidas designer, who told me that the kits were very nearly tie-dye. To me, that felt unthinkable, even by ‘90s standards, and nearly every person I spoke with agreed. 

“I’m gonna tell you something,” USMNT legend Marcelo Balboa told me. “If they would’ve used tie-dye, none of us would’ve taken the field in that uniform. I’m not even kidding. We had a hard enough time when they showed us the denim.”

Things have certainly changed in the past 30 years! —Maurer

While things have changed, I think NYRB fans would’ve been aligned with Balboa’s sentiment had they been told this season’s secondary shirt would essentially be tie-dye. And yet, I think the final product actually does look good. Kit designers these days seem to be trying to toe the line between what works for players on the pitch and looks that fans can wear around town in daily life. By commissioning designer Daniel Patrick to create this kit, NYRB appears to have put more focus on how the new shirt will look when paired with rare Jordans and $800 jeans than cleats and team-issued socks, but the achievement of turning tie-dye into high(ish) fashion is an impressive one. —Peck

NYCFC’s “Interboro Kit” 

When I first saw the images of this kit, I didn’t like it. I thought the shirt looked like the bottom of a swimming pool and it just seemed like an odd execution. But that’s why it’s always important to see a kit in its natural habitat before fully deciding on it. Once I saw it on the players in an NYCFC match, I completely changed my tune on it. Throughout the club’s brief history, they’ve had pretty basic home shirts, but this effort incorporates some unique elements without overpowering the club’s look. —Peck

Nashville’s “Man in Black Kit” 

I wrote about this one at length. Nashville’s kit works pretty well. The team found a way to weaponize Adidas and MLS’ thoughtlessness in their favor, rolling out what literally amounts to a black template kit and finding a creative way to pull it off. Maybe I’m giving NSC too much credit when I say this was their intention — maybe they just wanted to hop on the Johnny Cash bandwagon, which has been rolling for decades. Either way, I like the kit. But then again, I haven’t worn anything other than a black T-shirt and black jeans for over a decade. —Maurer

Two votes

D.C. United’s “Cherry Blossom Kit” 

This is the most-anticipated kit in D.C. United’s 28-year history and one of the most-anticipated in the history of MLS, too. Fans have been asking for this one for years, ever since we got our hands on some rejected concepts for United’s 2019 kits, a few of which were cherry blossom themed. 

It’s finally here, and it’s not bad. I have a few complaints, mainly that the blossoms themselves are the palest pink possible and are growing on branches that, inexplicably, are the exact same color. I feel like the club (and Adidas) were going for something highly wearable and wanted to keep things muted. Instead they ended up with something that looks a little like a cordyceps infection. 

Still, the jersey is undeniably one of the best of this 2023 class. It benefits from low expectations. So many of us expected the club to roll out a plain white jersey with, say, a pink collar, and call it a day. They didn’t do that, but they could’ve done so much more. —Maurer

It’s definitely a highly wearable kit and I think it’s well-executed. It’s chic, too. It’s not easy to design a jersey using a cherry blossom as your prime form of inspiration. This was a heavy lift and while it is muted, Pablo, I still give it high marks. — Cardenas

Counterpoint: I didn’t vote for this one because I was disappointed that they didn’t go all the way with the motif. The faded look to the cherry blossoms made it seem like they were hedging their bet, which is weird given the years of vocal demand. If you’re going to do it, do it all the way. —Peck

Austin FC’s “Las Voces Kit”

Let’s get one thing out of the way here: I like this kit a lot. It’s imaginative and a little weird and there’s only ever so much I can bag on a design if it’s different. I had genuine concerns about seeing it in motion, as I’d never seen a team play a match wearing a QR code (if you watched Barcelona at home last year, you might disagree.) I feared this Austin kit might be nauseating, especially when combined with Austin’s post-goal lightshow, which drew the ire of a few folks on social media last year. I was wrong. They’re great.

Felipe and I recently talked to Austin head coach Josh Wolff, and he likes this kit. And it may prove unforgettable — Austin looked fantastic as they suffered maybe the biggest upset in CONCACAF Champions League history earlier this week, searing these kits into the collective memory of their supporters, I imagine. —Maurer

I struggled initially because Austin really over-indexed on vertical lines here. But it’s growing on me, especially after seeing the kit up close. Austin’s kit is similar to Atlanta United’s AC Milan-inspired design. I’ll give Austin credit for getting creative without straying too far from their original home jersey. —Cardenas

Counterpoint: My issue with this shirt is the same as the one I had with the Barcelona top that Pablo mentioned. It’s just all of the things. Like they couldn’t decide which pattern to go with, so they used them all. No. —Peck

Minnesota United’s “Northern Lights Kit”

I didn’t like this kit at first. I wasn’t impressed. But while watching Minnesota’s “snowpening” 1-1 draw with the Red Bulls last Saturday, I realized that I was into it. Perhaps watching 11 legless torsos on my TV made them memorable. Maybe I just like the name. Either way, this kit managed to get on my best list. —Cardenas

I’m honestly shocked this one wasn’t unanimous. This is my pick for best of the new batch. It’s different, it’s vibrant, and it has a local tie-in (I’m a sucker for anything with a northern lights vibe). Just a really fun, bold design that was well executed. —Peck

Counterpoint: I’m just sitting here waiting for the rest of MNUFC’s kit to load. I wish my parents would finally get rid of this dial-up. -Maurer

Chicago Fire’s “A Kit for All”

Going with a modern design that serves as an extension of the club’s latest badge was a good move here in order to reinforce the club’s new look after previous rebranding missteps. The central placement of the badge seems to reinforce that that’s what this kit is primarily about, too. I just think it works. —Peck

Counterpoint: I originally had Chicago as one of my favorite kits of 2023. The design ties in perfectly with the colors that represent the city. The kit stood out on match day, too. There’s a lot that I like about the club’s current rebrand. Still, the first rebrand was a complete swing and a miss and this new one is a departure from the color that made Chicago highly recognizable in MLS. The Chicago Fire should always be red. Go back to that. Please. —Cardenas

Consensus pick for best new kit: LA Galaxy’s “LA Kit”

Every year there’s a few examples of kits where the “clean” thing actually works. This new Galaxy kit is not just one of this season’s finest, it is probably a top 15 MLS kit, all-time. 

Again, it’s an example of a simple design that works. The Galaxy and Adidas simply extracted the bare elements of the LA city flag (the colorway, the unique, serrated pattern) and made a dynamite kit. It doesn’t hurt that the shirt also harkens back to the club’s original home kit, which remains one of the club’s most iconic. That serrated pattern they pulled out of the flag reminds me of the zig-zag design present on those earlier kits.

It’s also an example of how hilariously incomplete many of the league’s replica kits are. One of the things that makes this shirt so strong is the trim on the sleeve ends, which isn’t present on the replica version. There are other differences: no championship stars, no red accents, no sleeve sponsor logos. My friend Adam Snavely agrees.

In any case, I’m not spending $175 on any jersey. —Maurer

This LA kit very clearly stands out from the rest of this year’s new releases. The collar is awesome and that main shade of green is so unique to the Galaxy’s history. I really liked the all green combo that the Galaxy wore last Saturday against Sporting Kansas City. —Cardenas

Again, I don’t think this is the very best new kit of the year, but I can see why we all agree that it’s up there. It’s well executed, it’s a pretty shade of green and it has some nice flourish to it. The Galaxy have become very good at putting out simple but well executed kits. —Peck

The Worst

One vote

Inter Miami’s “La Noche Kit”

That guy’s pants are more interesting than the shirt. (Photo: Adidas)

My criticism of this Miami kit isn’t a new criticism of Miami kits. It’s fine. But with everything that Inter Miami has to work with, they shouldn’t be putting out kits that are just “fine.” Be bold! The Miami Heat have had great success with their City Edition uniforms in recent years by experimenting and leaning into the “vice” vibe. I would love to see Inter go more in that direction, too. —Peck

Two votes

Charlotte FC’s “Crown Jewel Kit” 

Charlotte is 0-3 to start the season, so this kit is the least of their problems. Nonetheless, it’s so unimpressive. It’s just a plain purple Adidas jersey. Generally speaking, this season’s MLS kit launch is a step forward from previous years when templated designs were the norm. Charlotte, however, didn’t make any progress. They have the colors to do some cool stuff, too. —Cardenas 

By all accounts, Charlotte has entered MLS with widespread support and a rabid fan base. What they’ve never had is a good kit, and it’s a shame. There are only so many clubs in MLS that can fill most of an NFL stadium with any regularity, and I’d love to see CLT do so in something a bit more memorable. —Maurer

Counterpoint: OK, so my criticism of Inter Miami’s kit is also my defense of Charlotte’s. It’s fine. Yes, it’s pretty plain, but the purple and the teal pop together, so for me it still works. Plus I kind of like the sublimated crowns. But yes, there’s definitely way more they can with this color palette going forward. —Peck

FC Cincinnati’s “River Kit”

Just the other day I was driving through Northern Virginia and I spotted a shopping center under construction. I eyeballed it and quickly realized that not only was the design of the place drab and uninteresting, it somehow already looked dated. It happens a lot with modern design, in my view — buildings, clothing, all of it. Designers mainly aim to make things inoffensive, and when they try and inject a little creativity into things it often feels uninspired and safe. 

This Cincy jersey is an example of what’s made so many MLS jerseys so bad in recent years: it’s a bland, uninteresting shirt plastered with a single deconstructed, weird element (in this case, it’s water.) Cincinnati is about to have their best-ever year in a terrible jersey. What a shame.

Maybe the river on the kit should’ve been on fire? Oh wait, that was Cleveland. Either way, burn this thing up. —Maurer

I agree with Pablo. —Peck

FC Dallas’ “Burn Baby Burn Kit”

I’m a fan of the intent here, which was to pay homage to the Dallas Burn. I don’t think they quite pulled it off, though. They’d have been better off going full Guy Fieri on this one, or maybe even just throwing it back to some of the early Burn kits themselves. Those were (by mid-’90s standards) classy and criminally underrated.

It looks like I still have a little time left, so I’ll use it to talk about ISLAMICO, the Dallas Burn’s earliest mascot. The inexplicably-named ISLAMICO was a horse (with accompanying trainer) that the Burn culled from a local Medieval Times restaurant. He’d trot out onto the field before each match to the tune of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” and perform some bizarre dressage routing for the 3,400 people in attendance at the Cotton Bowl. I miss the days where we didn’t take everything so seriously. Also I just realized that ISLAMICO debuted 27 years ago and the average horse lives for maybe 20 years or so and now I’m depressed. —Maurer

FC Dallas has one of the better social media brand personalities in MLS. The club launched a retro landing page as part of their teaser campaign and they’ve maintained the look and feel of an outdated Microsoft FrontPage website to promote this new kit. Honestly, great execution all around on that. But that’s where my praise ends. —Cardenas

Counterpoint: Yeah, this feels like an attempt to recreate Philadelphia’s lightning bolt kit but the execution just isn’t there. Still, it’s kitschy and an effort at something fun so I have a hard time giving it the thumbs down. Also, if you need more ISLAMICO content, check out the U.S. soccer mascot battle royale fanfic from Pablo and I that is somehow still on this website. —Peck

Real Salt Lake’s “Beehive State Kit”

Gold is a really difficult primary color to design around. But honestly, are we really calling this gold? This is a shade of yellow. Want to see a gold kit? Check out AC Milan’s 2013-2014 third kit. Or Venezia FC’s gold look. That’s how you do gold. RSL’s version falls short. I know, AC Milan is a standard that’s far too high and Venezia is high fashion football. No need for RSL to try to replicate those brands. Just try again next year. —Cardenas

I absolutely agree with Felipe here and am reminded of something a designer at Adidas told me years ago — that he absolutely, positively tries to discourage any team that wants to roll out a gold jersey. His argument was that the color is nearly impossible to execute on a jersey because it always looks like one of two things: the color yellow, or gaudy, awful gold foil. RSL’s kit falls into the former of those categories, and is unimaginative to boot. —Maurer

Pablo didn’t actually vote for this kit to be among the worst, but sounds like he’s moved into that camp now. Anyway, I did for two reasons: One for the not really gold and two, because they didn’t utilize the beehive element more. How cool would a honeycomb design look instead of this blah effort? What a missed opportunity! —Peck

Philadelphia Union’s “For Philly Kit”

Philly wins the award here for biggest drop-off. Their 2021-22 offering is one of the league’s all-time greats, a light blue and yellow shirt covered with lightning bolts. It’s one of the recent designs that actually managed to look better on the pitch. Every time I saw that thing I was smitten. Their 2023 offering? Still keeps that same, almost hand-drawn look but looks like something out of a Simpsonswave fever dream. Or maybe it just looks like terrible camouflage. Either way, this is a rare, rare miss from Philly. —Maurer

Yeah, I’m with Pablo on this one, too. With all the cool things associated with this city and this team, you’re going with weird camouflage? Really? No thanks. —Peck

Consensus pick for worst new kit: LAFC’s “Smokescreen Kit”

Hell yeah, they finally did a kit as a nod to climate change and all of the wildfires out west. Oh, no? This thing is awful. How hard is it to execute a kit if your primary colors are black and gold? The color palate that LAFC has available to them is among the easiest to work with — it’s the one responsible for the Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am, for crying out loud. And this is what we get? No thank you. —Maurer

Yeah, I’m not impressed at all. LAFC is an MLS glamor team. Act like it. To be fair, gold, or in LAFC’s case, California gold, has its limitations. Grey is similarly challenging. I don’t think anyone would complain if LAFC’s secondary look was predominantly white. That would give them the freedom to really lean into black and gold for home and get creative with that look. —Cardenas

This LAFC kit is vaguely similar to the RBNY kit that I had on my best list, but this just goes to show how fine the line of execution can be. You can make a smokey design look really great, but this ain’t it. Many have compared this kit to Mucinex’s Mr. Mucus and that’s now all I can think of when I see it. —Peck


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