Forget retro-inspired. We need ’90s MLS kits back in their true form, and sooner rather than later. As the league celebrates its “Jersey Week,” we examine why bringing back its classic kits could have both short and long term benefits for the league.
With the MLS season on an indefinite hiatus, plenty of teams have been broadcasting and live-tweeting classic games from their past. Many appreciate these matches for various moments and highlights — be it late game winners, hoisted MLS Cups, or vintage performances — but people like me have one thing on their minds: the kits.
The ’90s era of football shirts is widely looked upon as the best, and MLS’ in particular embodied everything we love about that time period. Brash designs, bold colors, and daring crests were rampant — a necessity for a newfound league trying to make a name for itself. In its early days, MLS had the difficult task of having to stand out in a nation crazy but loyal to its sports. In order to do so, the league adopted a similar strategy to that of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies, who joined the NBA a year before MLS kicked off: innovative and eye-catching aesthetics.
Twenty-five years later, MLS has grown at a steady pace and its attendance figures rank amongst the top 10 leagues in the world. Before COVID-19 put a damper on the 2020 season, MLS had plenty of plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Leading up to opening day, the league introduced a new logo and of course, unveiled special edition commemorative kits. Harkening back to the ’90s with the adidas EQT template, we’ve widely covered both the good and the bad from the 2020 offerings. And while there are a handful of wonderful kits from the range, it’s time we stop beating around the bush and give everyone what they want — the ’90s MLS kits in their original form.
This concept is neither new nor radical. Liverpool has done several retro kit collections, and there are a handful of brands dedicated to reviving classic kits from days past. Then of course you have Air Jordan, who to this day continues to retro coveted sneakers from their namesake’s playing days.
While we wish it could be as easy as just rereleasing the old kits, we run into some issues on the business side of things. (Something MLS critics are all too familiar with.) The league signed a seven-year, $700 million contract with adidas in 2017, and many of the ’90s MLS kits are made by competing brands like Nike, PUMA, and Kappa.
As we don’t live in a perfect world without licensing and sponsorship deals, what’s the solution? The most obvious would be to have adidas release their offerings from the original MLS line. That would include the legendary DC United, colorful Kansas City Wiz, and Columbus Crew jerseys.
But that leaves us without arguably the best of the lot, including the LA Galaxy, San Jose Clash, Tampa Bay Mutiny, and New York/New Jersey Metro Stars — all made by Nike. Those clubs would certainly be loath (and presumably contractually prohibited) to betray adidas and officially license a Nike product, and we simply can’t sanction any bootlegging.
That leaves us with two optimal situations. Either they mysteriously turn up in an old stock room in quantities and quality suitable for a re-release, or a third-party brand secures official licensing rights from the clubs. We’ll be realistic and say that the latter option is probably more likely.
COPA Football and Score Draw are just two brands who’ve made a name for themselves through retro revivals. They manufacture their kits themselves, creating mirror images of the originals sans logos. The lack of Nike branding would eliminate any conflict of interest from the MLS clubs, therefore making the return of the original designs possible.
While some purists would scoff at a non-identical iteration of the jersey (looking at you OG Air Jordan heads), a non-branded return would be better than nothing, or paying an exorbitant amount for an original kit that may not even be in wearable or washable condition.
Would adidas have some quips about losing out on some profits? Probably. But they could also look at it this way instead — a return of ’90s MLS kits would boost the league’s brand and standing across the world. And anything that grows the league should be in the Three Stripes’ interest. So while they may not be able to cash in right away, the long term benefits are what adidas should be focused on.
MLS is certainly not shying from reveling in the beauty of their early kits. The league’s ongoing “Jersey Week” kicked off with a bracket of every club’s all-time best shirt (even ones like Inter Miami who only have one year to choose from), and other festivities include a jersey swap challenge and collaboration with Classic Football Shirts. They already have their toes dipped in the waters of retro. So why not just go all-in?