Better know a kit: A history of the modern U.S. soccer jersey

USMNT Jersey 1984-2009

[UPDATE: a new, updated version of this history lives at Project-2010.net]

We’re taking a look at the USA men’s soccer jerseys of the last 25 or so years, not only to provide a bit of history, but also as a bit of a refresher before looking toward the future of the USA’s kit. My main complaint about the USA kit is that there’s no continuity. Unlike most national team kits, the design has changed drastically each time adidas or Nike has unveiled their latest designs. Whether it’s red, white, or blue, stripes, sashes or denim, you’ll see below that the designs are all over place. I know that I’m nowhere near the first to say this, but I really think that in order to develop a team identity, we need to have a consistent template for (at least) the home jersey.

I’ve always favored the red jerseys in general. It’s good, bright color for fans to wear. Really, I’d rather have it as our home color, but US Soccer seems hung up on having white home jerseys (which have always seemed kind of bland to me). I guess it’s fitting that the USA would wear whites at home since it’s the traditional home color in most American sports.

Below, we’ve got images of every home and away kit since 1984. I’ve offered a brief commentary and grade for each shirt. Obviously, I’m not attempting to be objective in any way. If you disagree, make it known down in the comments section or in the poll at the end of the post.

Alright, let’s get started….

1984 HOMEThis one is pretty good. The diagonal stripes are a bit of a nod to the classic 1950s USA jersey’s blue sash, though knowing adidas, that’s probably just a coincidence. No real badge here, just “USA.” It’s funny that the only image I could find of this jersey is of England’s Gary Lineker.GRADE: B+
1984 AWAYBasically the same as the home shirt, but in red. Unless I am mistaken, this is the last time the U.S. didn’t have a white jersey option. Interesting NASL-style logo that we won’t see again (different than the home jersey). Side note–you don’t see shorts cut like that any more, do ya?GRADE: B+
1988 HOMEThis one is a nice, classic adidas design. No real problems with it, it’s just not that distinctive. There’s a new round badge on this one. This badge sticks around for a few years. Sometimes, I think that I may prefer this badge to the current one.GRADE: B
1988 AWAYWe’ve got a royal blue away shirt this time out. This one is cool in that 80s adidas way–if they offered it for sale as a throwback I’d probably pick one up, but when it really comes down to it, I don’t think that I’d want that pattern or color on our new away jerseys.GRADE: B
1990 HOME Not into the giant v-neck, but at least they’re trying to do something kind of distinctive with the blue shoulder/sleeve thing, which they’ve kind of carried over from the 1988 model. Like the last one, nothing all that wrong with this, but somewhat bland in my opinion.GRADE: B
1990 AWAYThe same as the home, but in blue. Seeing this makes me glad that we’ve since moved from royal to navy blue.GRADE: B-
1992 HOMEWhen this was the current kit, I really liked this design. Simple, but bold. I can’t say that I’m still a fan of the giant three stripes. It feels boring and dated to me. Notice that we’ve reached a low point with the badge/logo. No badge at all really, we’re just left with that flying ball logo. I must say that I like that font and color scheme for the numbers.GRADE: C+
1992 AWAYMy opinion is the same as the home, but it’s even less interesting in two colors.GRADE: C
1994 HOMEThis was the low point in US jersey history…probably in the history of soccer jerseys in general. I really feel like this might be the ugliest jersey I’ve ever seen. Yes, I’m taking the 1998 Mexico jersey, the Cameroon unitard, and various camouflage jerseysinto consideration. Who thought up this idea? To think that entire teams of people signed off on this is baffling. I mean, I get it. Denim = Americanness. Such a shame that we had to wear these during a good World Cup run. Notice that this was the last jersey we saw from Adidas.GRADE: F-
1994 AWAYThis is an interesting one. I almost really like it. In fact, I really like the idea of having red stripes on our home jersey. Seems fitting. The one thing that keeps this from being great is the dizzying waviness of the lines. Even though you can’t see it that much when the jersey is on the field, it still bothers me.GRADE: B
1995 HOMEFirst Nike kit and I think they got it right. The first thing Nike did was change the color palette, a small but important change. Both the red and blue are darker than on previous jerseys (other than 94 away). This is a good move for two reasons–1) These are actually the colors on our flag (dark red and navy blue, as opposed to bright red and royal blue). 2) These colors look better on a jersey than the colors adidas had been using. We’ve also got a nice design element–the wide horizontal stripe in the center–that can set our jersey apart from many of the others on the international stage. Great jersey. One of my favorites. I’d like to see something like this in the future.GRADE: A-
1995 AWAYSame as above. I think I prefer the blue shirt to the white one. Should have been the home shirt. The only flaw with this design was that the replica looked odd since the badge was moved to the center, where the number would normally go.GRADE: A
1995 THIRDYou didn’t think they could screw this one up, did ya? This isn’t terrible. A light blue third jersey isn’t a bad idea, but I just don’t dig the shade they used. Pretty drab.GRADE: B
1998 HOMEOther than the fact that this one reminds me of a last place finish at France 98, it’s pretty nice. Nike has continued the horizontal band element, this time making it thinner and moving it a bit higher.GRADE: B+
1998 AWAYWe get a red away shirt for the first time since 1984, and I think it’s great. I prefer this to the home version. As I said before, if I were designing the jerseys, I’d make red the home color. I think that it stands out more and is already the color most fans wear to the matches.GRADE: A-
2000 HOMEA solid effort, but pretty bland. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with it…but there’s nothing distinctive.GRADE: B
2000 AWAYSame as the home. Not much to say, but once again I prefer the red version.GRADE: B
2002 HOMEI have to try to separate this one from the success of the 2002 World Cup. It’s a pretty nice shirt, though I have always thought of it as a ripoff of the 1998 England home jersey. Even so, it’s a classy effort.GRADE: B+
2002 AWAYNot bad, but kinda bland. Without the collar and third color of its home counterpart, I find it lacking.GRADE: B
2003 THIRDI think that this one is fantastic. A near replica of the jersey worn at the 1950 world cup. I believe the only major difference is that the sash is blue rather than red. It’s just a shame that this wasn’t worn more often.GRADE: A
2004 HOME I put this one in the same boat as the 2000 model–a solid effort, but fairly unremarkable. My main memory of this was that nearly every Nike-outfitted team had this look that year.GRADE: B
2004 AWAYSee above.GRADE: B
2004 THIRDThis one is even more of a throwback than the 2003 third jersey, with a red stripe. Only flaw was the odd 3/4 length sleeves.GRADE: A-
2006 HOMEI really liked this one when it came out, picking up a shirt with Beasley 17 on the back (great choice, eh?). But in hindsight, I’m not as into it as I once was. The stripe is a nice nod to the sash of the 1950 shirt, but it looks a bit too Richard Petty to me–like a racing shirt or something.GRADE: B+
2006 AWAYAlmost a replica of the 1995 away shirt, so I’ll keep it short. Great design and an additional thumbs up for not being identical to the 06 home jersey but in different colors. This just serves as a reminder of what a good look we had back in 95.GRADE: A
2006 THIRDThis might be my favorite jersey of the lot. I only wish that I’d picked one up when they were for sale. Great update of the classic U.S. jersey design. And in red, no less. I’d love it if our home jerseys looked like this (but maybe with an updated badge). Shame they weren’t around for long. How many times did they wear this? Once? Twice?GRADE: A+
2007 THIRD I’ve gone back and forth on this one. Unlike a lot of fans, I don’t mind the pinstripes. They worked well on the new PSG home and Arsenal away shirts. It’s strange because it’s very similar to the 1980 France home shirt, which I like. But something is slightly off. Maybe it’s the shade of blue, it seems very bright.GRADE: B
2008 HOME I wasn’t a fan of this design when it first came out, but it has grown on me. It’s a good, clean, distinctive design. My main issue here is the total lack of continuity. If Nike wanted to go with hoops from here on out, I think that I could live with it. It’s just that I know that the 2010 model won’t resemble this at all.GRADE: B+
2008 AWAYAs with the home shirt, I wasn’t into this when it came out, but it too has grown on me. My first reaction was that graphite (or charcoal or whatever they’re calling it) is neither in the flag nor has it ever been used in any U.S. kit I’ve ever seen. Can’t we stick with one color for the away jersey? But you know what? It looks pretty sharp on the field. It’s pretty distinctive. Like the home shirt, I’d feel a lot better about it if I knew we were going to be wearing black away shirts from here on out. I’d never really considered it before, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.GRADE: B+

[UPDATE: a new, updated version of this history lives at Project-2010.net]

[UPDATE: a new, updated version of this history lives at Project-2010.net]

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40 Responses

  1. Great comprehensive write up! I’ve never seen such a complete evaluation of all the recent U.S. uniforms, and dating back to the 80’s was a nice touch. It’s also a nice way to get the Charlie Davies tragedy off the mind.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Your last one says “1984 Away”, but should read, “2008 Away”. Thanks for the great compilation … and memories. :D

  4. I’m with ya, those modern day THIRD kits need to be the new home kits! The 1990 WC USA Crest would be great to use with maybe a tweak of the design and a color update.

  5. I’m very open to a new US badge. The flying ball, much like the Toronto Raptors’ logo, seems to be stuck in the early-to-mid 90s. It’s not offensive, but I think we could find a design with a longer shelf life.

    • Couldn’t agree more… the real problem is the badge. It certainly isn’t necessary to put either “US” or a literal representation of a soccer ball in the design. It looks amateurish. Start by changing that, and let the design of the rest of the jersey flow from it. By way of example, the Dutch jersey of a few years ago and the English jersey this year look very smart, giving a clean, classic look with the only ornamentation being the occasional narrow stripe and a very cool emblem. The diagonal sash look would be perfect with a decent badge, or even no badge at all. I’m also a big fan of collars.

  6. The third color shirt from the 1995 era was made light blue because it was apparently difficult (referees were complaining) to read the numbers on the back of the jerseys with the other color schemes. The idea with the light blue was to try to make the numbers more visible. IIRC, it was only worn once (the 1996 US Cup finale vs. Mexico, a 2-2 draw.) The decision seemed to be that the light blue didn’t do enough to increase the visibility of the numbers.

    Also, you claim that 1984 was the last time we didn’t have a white option, but in 1994 the closest we had was the red and white stripes, which isn’t really “white.”

    Thank you for not repeating the error of the SI editor who claimed that it was a “lack of confidence” that had the US switch from the Denim and Stars to the Red and White stripes for the second round of WC94. It was, in fact, a motivational factor: the team pledged to not wear the stripes until the second round, giving an incentive to get there.

    • Thanks very much for the input. I always wondered why that light blue jersey appeared randomly, and then just as quickly disappeared. It’s odd that they’d go with a mid-value color to create more contrast. It seems like it would offer much less contrast. Navy on white or white on navy offer much more contrast than either color on light blue…but I guess that’s why it only lasted one game…

      RE: 1994 stripes–you’re completely right. I missed the fact that there was no white option in 1994.

      • The idea was not the overall color of the shirt providing more contrast, but the middle stripe. Since the blue away shirt had white numbers on a red middle stripe, the idea was that it might show up better white number on blue stripe. (The Home white had red numbers, so presumably they might have tried blue numbers on that instead of red?) But the white numbers didn’t really show up better on the blue than the original away shirt IMO (I have the one game it was worn on tape) AND, the numbers were *less* visible on the rest of the jersey because it had less contrast with the light blue, which was tacitly admitted in that the letters of players’ names were done in dark blue.

        All in all a strange attempt at a fix for the jerseys, I would agree. But the 1995-98 jerseys are my favorites by some distance (although that might be partially due to my memories of that era–Copa America 95, World Cup ’98 Qualifying and Gold Cup ’98–Wynalda, Harkes, Dooley, Ramos etc. That’s my era.)

      • I see what you mean. I remember watching that match and thinking the light blue didn’t really read well on my old TV. Strange jersey.

        I agree…that might be my favorite set of jerseys. I really like the red with the sash from a couple years ago, but we only got to see that for one game.

        I’d love it if Nike used that horizontal band motif on all our jerseys in the future.

      • Also, FWIW, one of the GK jerseys of that era was a red version of those shirts, and looked quite nice. The other was a sort of silvery gray which I didn’t think as highly of.

  7. I love the 06 red one, but I don’t think you can really even call it a third; it was a one-off that was auctioned off for charity after the game (one of the send-off games before the WC) and, I think, never actually made available for sale. It was the Don’t Tread jersey, which I think was the first time Nike actually incorporated the Don’t Tread logo into the design of the shirt.

    • You’re right. I was just calling anything that wasn’t a home or away a “third” for simplicity. I don’t really know what technically qualifies a jersey as a third…but it probably requires wearing it more than once.

      I do believe the Don’t Tread shirts were on sale for a short time before the world cup.

  8. The Don’t Tread jerseys were for sale, I believe. I’ve seen people wearing them.

  9. They were for sale, but Nike only made a small run of them and they sold out very quickly. I still kick myself for not picking one up, as they go for well over $100 on eBay nowadays.

    I’ve heard that Nike is looking to go retro for this world cup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a white with a red or blue sash home shirt next spring.

    • I’m still kicking myself, too, for not picking up the don’t tread shirt.

      I’ve been liking a lot of Nike’s jerseys lately, so I’m hoping they will come up with something good for 2010. I hope you’re right about the retro idea…it would make sense since Umbro’s (now part of Nike, no?) big push lately has been more of a classic/retro feel (England, Man City, etc)…

  10. […] tournament. That sounds like a pretty cool idea, so I’ve donned a vintage U.S. jersey (the 1995 home version, if you must know) and am now prepared to dispense with the latest and […]

  11. […] that I’m not usually one to perpetuate rumors (and this may totally be a hoax), but we love discussing the USA’s jerseys here at Project 2010, so this seemed relevant. Over at Big Soccer, we saw some mock ups of what […]

  12. I so loved those 2006 Third Kits, I was at the farewell game and thought they would be the WC kits. I was wrong and am an idiot for not getting my hands on them when I could. By far the best jersey we ever had. Great design, great color.

  13. Missing one jersey

  14. I love our current jerseys right now, they’re clean, not too amateurish, modern, a bit unique, and they keep the american tradition of wearing white for home games, but i would like something just a little bit more retro, to give that classical distinct feel. I think trying to incorporate the american stars n stripes would be great, but not something that looks like we put holes in some flags and made it a jersey. I really want our national team to have a unique jersey that says ” I’m an American, and I’m proud of it” , because i hope one day i get the opportunity to play for my country.

    Peace I’m Out

  15. The USA Team should use the 1950 Shirt. Classic and timeless taking us back to a great time in US History and the greatest US victory.

  16. Good post!

  17. I would love if we kept with the same jersey from here on out. I absolutely loved the 2008 home kits, but if we didnt keep them, at least keep with that theme. a clean white jersey for home with some subtle design that could be altered every so often, and we need to pick an away color and stick with it

  18. does anyone know the number font of the 2008 home jerseys?
    thanks

  19. so they’re making new jersey for this year?

    • yup. i think it’s supposed to be released this month. maybe it’s debuting at the Netherlands friendly…? seems like something they might do.

  20. The home jersey’s should stay white. White shirt, shorts, socks. In its own way its distinctive, as is navy blue for the away kits. My gripe is that every country seems to wear red these days, just look at all the teams in Euro 2008, you couldn’t tell one from the other England, Switzerland, Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, etc. We’d just be a clone of the others, like when every NHL team switched to black/super-dark home (i still consider them away) jerseys a few years back. USSF should just settle on a design and color scheme though already. The sash works, I just hate it when they dramatically change the designs (graphite?) from year to year just so Nike can make a buck off of our backs. (Nike does make pretty good jerseys though – even the bad ones).

  21. I found the 1984 in white on ebay and also two other adidas on ebay as well ill be glad to show u the pics

  22. Dont know how old this is but thanks for doing it. I bought the ’04 away on ebay for 20$ new and had no idea when it was from (though I love it). Glad they went retro, hope it sticks. USA.

  23. a really good history lesson of the USMNT soccer jerseys!

  24. nice history of the USMNT jerseys..

  25. I know this is an older post, but I must disagree with us wearing red. I like that our unis are white or blue – think of it this way, in North America there are three big countries, all of whom have red and white on their flags. Canada has just those, so leave red to them. USA have blue as a third color, and Mexico green. Mexico plays this up by wearing green home shirts. We tend to use blue for the secondary color (shorts, stripes, etc) at home and main color on the road, with just a bit of red throw in on either. Maybe some odd logic, but that’s why I prefer the USA to be more blue than red.

  26. I suppose you could call the 2002 jersey a rip-off of England’s jersey, given both use similar colors. But I believe that was Nike’s standard jersey for 2002 and used by many countries, including notable teams such as The Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, and Portugal.

  27. USA should use blue because that was the color of the uniforms of the continental army, while Britain used red

  28. just a heads up…we have an update version of the USA jersey history here:

    http://project-2010.net/?p=1275

    That’s also where this blog currently lives.

  29. […] the new uniform is 23 percent lighter that previous numbers.A brief history of the U.S. shirts is here. And some more here.Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Which is your favorite version of the national team […]

  30. […] brief story of a U.S. shirts is here. And some some-more […]

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