Towards the end of 1993, America’s Major League Soccer was founded as part of the bid to host the 1994 World Cup in the United States. This would prove to be the World Cup to show the world that the fever for the game in America was rampant, and it would set the tone for the new league in years to come.
The largest and most popular sporting tournament the world has ever seen was coming to the states, and the American fans were rumored to have a “could care less” attitude. Criticized by pundits worldwide, Americans were said to be completely oblivious about the impending tournament, but this was not the case. The world would soon know that they did, in fact care. So much so that the American fans braved the scorching, record heat wave and made it the most attended World Cup to date with just under 3.6 million people showing up to the massive stadiums to watch the best on the international stage go head to head in the blistering summer sun. Things were looking set for MLS to become a massive success across the country, but it had to be done right.
After the World Cup, MLS and the USSF had a job to do they needed players to play in their new league. So, they began calling superstars from around the world, and many answered that call. Among them, were Carlos Valderrama, Jorge Campos and Marco Etcheverry to name a few among many. In addition to these international big names, there was a mass pilgrimage of American stars from overseas back to the States. Players like Eric Wynalda, Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas and Brad Friedel all came back to fulfill what they felt was their duty as Americans to play in their national league in its inaugural year.
While players were being called back from the reaches of the globe, clubs were being formed and in turn, crests and kits. There were ten teams in the first year of the league and Nike, Adidas, Puma and Reebok were tasked with manufacturing the kits, with the latter two only producing for one club each.
The end of the 20th century was considered by many to be the golden age of football kits, and America’s late 90’s effort was no exception. The Tampa Bay Mutiny, New York MetroStars, San Jose Clash, LA Galaxy and Dallas Burn were all blessed by the powers that be at Nike with kits comprised of beautiful patterns and colors that would turn heads in the reveal and on the pitch. Although they were template kits, they were as good as templates get. With that classic nineties Nike collar, outlandish pattern on the sleeves and a standout colorway unique to each club, Nike created some serious kit gold. Adidas made the kits for D.C. United, Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wiz.
The kit designs were unique for each of the trio of clubs. These shirts were simple yet clean and classic Adidas designs, with the standout of the group being Kansas City’s shimmering rainbow-esque jersey. Stunning. While Puma made Colorado’s lackluster green and white kit, Reebok set up the New England Revs with an instant classic by producing a predominately blue kit complimented by a red, white and blue starburst pattern across the shoulders.
All of the kits were released in an interestingly unique fashion show style (if you haven’t seen the video, you are going to want to look it up) and were surely unique on the pitch, and still are in the closets of those lucky enough to have one now. In the years thereafter, Nike, Adidas, Kappa, Reebok, Puma, Umbro and even Atletica all created some amazing kits for the top clubs across America which are still the target of many collectors today, and rightly so.
Nike and Adidas continued producing the standouts, with Nike’s famous brilliant striped patterns and Adidas bringing more unique designs to the league. You know the ones. You can see it: El Pibe moving gracefully up and down the pitch, thick and curly hair bouncing as he glides past defenders in the blue and white striped Mutiny kit, or Etcheverry lifting D.C. United’s second MLS Cup in front of almost 60,000 wearing that iconic black kit with three horizontal white stripes. Now, 24 years on, the inaugural season shirts as well as the subsequent shirts released around the new millennium are a must have for any football shirt collector.
As MLS is currently under contract with Adidas for the production of every kit for all clubs in the league, it has surely made many of the original shirts all the more coveted. Looking back on these masterpieces, it also begs the question of whether kit creativity has been somewhat stifled, and if Major League Soccer clubs will be able to go forward with their choice of kit manufacturers in the future after the deal with the German giant is up. Although many think the league that was formed as somewhat of a single entity and continues to operate with some of those same facets won’t move in that direction. Regardless of what happens with regards to kit deals and manufacturing in the future of the league, MLS is responsible for some of the best-looking kits in the game. In the opinion of many, most of them came out of the first few years of America’s top league and are very much so worth seeking out and should surely be cherished if you have one.