Sunday, April 2, 2017

2017 MLS jersey rankings

It's been a long time since I've done this. After the dark ages of the '90s and early '00s, it seems like sports teams in general are favoring cleaner, more classic looks these days... but are they TOO classy? They're North American soccer teams, after all, not centuries-old vaunted European globetrotting franchises. Some would argue MLS clubs have gone from one extreme (take a gander at these inaugural 1996 MLS jerseys) to the other, trying too hard to feel like some established cultural pillar that they're not. You gotta keep a LITTLE fun in there, right?

But I digress. To be fair, even the weakest of these are fairly well designed, so kudos to Major League Soccer for improving over the years. Without further ado, here's my ranking of all 22 MLS primary jerseys for the 2017 season, from worst to best:

22. New England Revolution

New England is a founding member of MLS, and for its entire 21-year history, it's struggled with an awful brand identity. A terrible team name, an abysmal team logo, a bland color scheme taken straight from the New England Patriots, and a long history of ugly jerseys. The shirt sponsor United Healthcare can't seem to pick a logo either, so they've got THREE brandings on here: The UHC initials, the United Healthcare wordmark, and their logo. Can't they just pick one?

This season's look is doing the most it can with the cards it's been dealt (and minimizes the amount of gray in the shirt, which was more heavily featured in older uniforms), but I can't help but feel like this team is overdue for a total brand makeover. It's not the '90s anymore! At least the stripe down the middle of the shirt with the chevron in the negative space is unique? Maybe the only good part of this whole thing.

21. FC Dallas

In previous seasons, FC Dallas has worn some really unique red and white horizontal stripes, but they get a bit muddied up in the new shirt. What are these stripes even trying to do now? And it bothers me that they don't go all the way around the shirt--the side panels and sleeves are blank red.

The "LH" patch on the shoulder is an homage to the team's late owner Lamar Hunt, which is alright, I guess. I would normally take issue with the cheesy American flag in the bottom corner of the shirt, but it's Texas, so of course they're gonna be hyper-patriotic. I'm okay with it!

20. Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC used to have such a good thing going, but they got usurped in the "sky blue jersey" department by New York City FC down below, and they had to add that dumb collar. It's tough to make sky blue work in a jersey, since it's such an understated color--adding those little pale blue pinstripes don't make it look any better. I'm not opposed to the concept of collars on soccer jerseys, but this isn't some Portuguese team founded in the 1800s as much as the team name would like you to think so. And the team crest is such a blahhhhh, this all just looks like a preppy polo shirt.

I lived in Kansas City for a couple years (the real one in Missouri, not the fake one in Kansas) and went to see them anytime DC United was in town--SKC has passionate fans and their stadium is top-notch... even if it's on the *~Kansas~* side.

19. San Jose Earthquakes

I almost love this. This shirt isn't dead last because at least it marches to the tune of its own drum. This is almost embracing Major League Soccer's goofy '90s heritage in a way that still looks good... but it doesn't.

It stands out, but those asymmetrical gradient stripes are uuuugly. Maybe if it were a lighter shade of blue it'd look better? The team has played with shades approaching teal in the past, and those looked great. The whole shirt looks a bit too dark for a team playing in California of all places. Not to mention that in the Year of Our Lord 2017, the San Jose Earthquakes is a terrible team name that 13-year-old kids don't think is cool anymore.

18. Philadelphia Union

The current Philly uniform sticks pretty closely to the identity they've been rocking as long as they've been in MLS, since 2010. They get points for creativity--this is a Mexican soccer-inspired look through and through, from the team crest in the center of the shirt rather than on the left breast, to the Bimbo sponsorship. I wish the Bimbo logo had colors that matched the rest of the jersey, but it's kind of charming in its Mexican soccer throwback. I know the Mexican bread brand Bimbo draws jeers in the US, but it's the world's largest baking company, so it's whateva.

My main issue with Philadelphia's look is that their color scheme just doesn't inspire much passion. The team logo with the snake is pretty great, but navy blue is tough to pull off as an interesting primary color--maybe they'd do better to include more of the gold. And the fact that the Adidas logo is also centered on the shirt gives it a bit too much of a traffic light vibe--I wish it were off to the side.

17. Orlando City

This team has SUCH a great color scheme, but they had to design the least remarkable shirt possible for it. So much wasted potential. The textured look on the solid purple jersey is nice, but I don't have any other positive words for this. Too matchy-matchy. Not enough contrast on the team crest to make it legible. Can you see the lion's head on the badge at this size? Neither can I.

Why is there an old-fashioned collar on this shirt?! It would work great for some teams, but not a two-year-old team from ORLANDO, FLORIDA. This team should have a fun, vibrant shirt! Not these authoritarian-looking gold Adidas stripes on the shoulders.

16. Chicago Fire

A plain red jersey. Not bad, not great, but it passes the test. You can see the Chicago flag embossed really faintly in the bottom corner of the shirt--but if you're gonna make it so subtle, why put it there at all?

The white stripe across the chest of the shirt sets it apart from other MLS jerseys (and they've had it since the league's inception in 1996), but is anyone really dying to wear this shirt? The sponsor, paint company Valspar, is alright but not nearly as fun as their previous shirt sponsor: oatmeal company Quaker!

15. Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake has a great color scheme--ironic that the colors are taken from Spanish giants Barcelona, while their name is taken from Barça's arch-rival Real Madrid--but they don't take advantage of the colors enough with this jersey. They could be incorporating the blue and the gold more, but instead, it's mostly a plain (but pleasant) red jersey.

The sponsor logo could've worked on this shirt if they made it gold, but the fact that it's white makes this yet another forgettable shirt. I wish the shade of red used for this uniform weren't so bright--in the past they've used darker maroons that feel way more classy. Last of all, what's that American flag doing in the corner? I gave Dallas the pass for this because it's Dallas, but Salt Lake City? Ehhhh...

14. Colorado Rapids

Going with the West Ham / Aston Villa style maroon shirt with sky blue sleeves--not that special in the soccer world, but it's popular because it's a great color scheme and it's unique among North American teams. PLUS it matches the colors of Colorado's other sports teams, which is a nice little bonus.

The Colorado flag on the jock tag (did you know that's what that thing is called on sports jerseys?) is a welcome addition--you know I love flags--but I wish it were incorporated in a more interesting way. This is just a "pretty decent" jersey for a "pretty decent" team.

13. Toronto FC

This is a well-designed shirt, with the nifty stripes down the sides that continue onto the sleeves and the red-on-red glossy/matte red finish on the main body of the jersey. But dark gray is too innocuous of a secondary color, and why does it have to say "The Reds" on the right sleeve cuff? If you have to proclaim your own nickname, maybe it's not as iconic a nickname as you think it is.

Not to mention the fact that Toronto's sponsor is the Bank of Montreal, the city of their arch-rivals. Whyyyy?

12. New York Red Bulls

They nearly ruined a great shirt. I've already moved on from the fact that this team is named after an energy drink--Red Bull sponsors tons of sports teams, including the much bigger Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. The Red Bull logo is actually a pretty great design element on the shirt, even if it's a bit redundant to have it on the team crest as well as on the chest as a sponsor logo. RBNY has rocked the white with red detailing well lately... until they had to ruin it with this '90s-ass red laser thing on the corner of the shirt this year.

Maybe it's really an embrace of MLS' heritage as a product of the '90s? Maybe it'll grow on me? My gut reaction is "it's terrible," though.

I've always had a tough relationship with the "names on the lower back" thing that some sports teams do, but at least it's a bit different.

11. Houston Dynamo

The solid block creamsicle primary color isn't my fave, but at least it's distinctive. The tiny little horizontal stripes do a nice job of breaking up the block of color (although I wish the stripes went all the way around the shirt), and the wide white cuffs on the sleeves help a bit too.

Somehow the Texas flag on the jock tag here doesn't bother me nearly as much as the Colorado flag on the Rapids jersey--maybe because the rest of the shirt is less busy than the Rapids shirt?

10. Columbus Crew

This is a classy-ass jersey reminiscent of Borussia Dortmund, but not so much that it feels like a ripoff. Columbus has always toyed with how much black to show on their jerseys vs. the amount of yellow, and I think they hit a good balance here--the thick black cuffs on the sleeves are key. The true highlight of this shirt, though, are those taxicab checkerboards up the sides! Unnnnffff.

Columbus gets a minus, though, for wearing yellow shorts with these yellow shirts--way too matchy-matchy, especially for such a gaudy color. They should've gone with black shorts to compliment this great yellow shirt.

9. Atlanta United

One of the two new MLS clubs this year, this is a pretty solid look overall. The red and black with gold echo the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks--I always give points for color scheme consistency across a city's sports teams. Atlanta seems to often pick these colors to represent the burning of the city during the Civil War. The simple, circular "A" crest is meant to evoke the city's Olympic history, hosting the Summer Games in 1996.

The vertical stripes are a good look that's unique in MLS, and the gold Adidas stripes on the shoulders are classy (although a bit too German for my tastes). The sponsor, American Family Insurance, is a bit ehhhh, but at least its logo is gold to match the rest of the shirt. Overall, a well-executed debut jersey, although nothing here really wows me.

8. Minnesota United

The second new team in the league this year, Minnesota is trying to stand out a bit. And they get a lot right: the color scheme stands alone not just among MLS clubs, but in sports in general. The crest is well-designed, the diagonal stripe is unique (the only other American team to use it is LA), and the sponsor is pretty perfect--Target is one of the most widely-recognized local Minnesota businesses, even if it makes players look kinda like walking targets.

There's just something a little off, though. Gray and light blue are great colors, but they're tough to work together. Contrast will always be an issue, and because the team crest doesn't have a black outline around it, it sort of fades into the blue stripe... you can barely even see the North Star above the main body of the logo. And unfortunately, the gray primary color just ends up looking a bit too much like a practice jersey--I'm usually all about minimalism, but maybe this shirt needs a few more details to stand out? The little collar is a nice touch, and I'd like to see more stuff like that. Overall, this look has great potential, and I'm excited to see where Minnesota's jersey designs go from here.

7. Montreal Impact

This jersey is on the verge of being a classic. I'm all about civic pride and flag incorporation, and Montreal does it right: the blue and white come from the provincial flag of Quebec, and the symbols on the jock tag come straight from the city flag of Montreal: a Fleur-de-lys for Montreal's French heritage, a rose for its English heritage, a thistle for its Scottish heritage, and a shamrock for its Irish heritage. The local Bank of Montreal sponsor is a plus as well.

I just want to see this look simplified even more: there's a bit too much extraneous piping, and the shirt has the problem many striped jerseys do, where the stripes only exist on about 60% of the shirt: they're absent from the sleeves or the back where the jersey number goes.

6. New York City FC

It's difficult to judge this jersey on its own merits, since it borrows almost entirely from its older sibling club Manchester City. It's actually a slightly better uniform than Man City's weird speed cycling look this season, but all the design elements are the same. With that said, it's a great design! Classy colors, logo, and minimalist aesthetic.

Being the Big Apple's second MLS club after the New York Red Bulls, I love how petty NYCFC are by rubbing in your face that they actually play in New York City (the Red Bulls play in New Jersey). The NYC city flag on the jock tag is a nice touch, aside from the fact that no one cares about the NYC city flag--but it's a nifty subtle touch to continue the orange from the flag onto the tiny stripes on the sleeve cuffs.

5. D.C. United

Okay, maybe I'm a little biased here. Like Columbus with their colors, DCU has always played around with how much red to show on their shirt vs. the amount of black, and usually I'm in favor of as much red as possible. But the red showing up mainly on the Adidas stripes on the sides (in addition to in the team crest) is a stroke of genius--it's enough to make me a believer in the black. The thin red/white cuffs on the sleeves and the subtle black-on-black matte/glossy striping round out the A+ look, and I love the "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" on the inside of the neck.

I've only got two complaints: first is the shirt sponsor, Leidos. Replacing our super classy longtime sponsor Volkswagen, Leidos is a fucking shady defense contractor, and makes me feel like I'm supporting a corporate killing machine.

My second complaint is the DC map with the DC flag in it on the jock tag. I know what you're saying... "Jake, your city pride is through the roof, you've even got the DC flag tattooed on you! You should love this!" But I think it's a little overkill in this jersey. Hear me out: the DC flag is already represented in the body of the eagle on the team logo, so it's redundant to put the flag on the jock tag as well. And I'm never a fan of "flag in a map" imagery--if the flag is supposed to represent the city, why do we also need a map of the city? Again, it's redundant. If they wanted to do a cool local touch on the bottom of the jersey, they should've just featured Taxation Without Representation more prominently--or maybe a "51" to support statehood as the 51st state?

4. Los Angeles Galaxy

This is nearly a perfect shirt. The diagonal blue and gold stripes are simple yet distinctive, and stand out among other MLS clubs. The color scheme stands on its own. The blue Adidas stripes are classy. BUT: two small things.

First, I wish the stripe went all the way up the front of the shirt. The fact that it stops at the seam around the collarbone is real weird.

Second, and more egregious: that dumb jock tag. Most people are never even going to see it. But "THIS IS LA" feels like your dad trying to be cool. "LA" already appears in big letters on the team crest. Why you gotta ruin it??

3. Seattle Sounders

Seattle's got some of the most insufferable fans, but they probably encapsulate Major League Soccer better than anyone else. Their games are packed, and they hit the perfect balance of embracing the weird '90s heritage of American soccer while keeping a clean, classy look.

That neon green that's a bit obnoxious (in a good way) and connects to Seattle's other sports teams; those blue sleeves that keep the shirt from looking boring and the team crest that's pretty close to perfect. And unmatched sponsor integration(?!?!?)--not only is Xbox a local Washington state brand, but its wordmark is simple and to the point, and the colors match perfectly! Baba booey, there's not much else you could ask for.

2. Portland Timbers

It pains me to rank Portland so high. As long as they've been in the league, they've consistently always worn some of the best jerseys in North America. The pure simplicity is staggering: a minimalist crest that doesn't even feature the team wordmark. A simple sponsor logo that matches the color of the rest of the shirt (even if it's a little strange to see Alaska advertised on a shirt for a team from Oregon). Little flourishes like the buttoned neck, the subtle green-on-green striping, and Portland city flag on the jock tag, that all make the uniform stand out without feeling too gimmicky.

This jersey is similar in many ways to Orlando's, so what makes this one so much better? I think it's a few things. The sponsor logo is incorporated way better. Orlando has a decent team crest, but it's a bit too busy for the lack of contrast in the colors, so you can't really identify it from afar while Portland's axe is identifiable immediately. Most intangibly, I think this shirt fits the quiet, wooded city of Portland better, while sunny Orlando deserves a brighter look than they get. Context matters!

1. Vancouver Whitecaps

WHAAAAAA the Pacific Northwest with a 1-2-3 knockout punch here on this list! Everything I said about Seattle mixing '90s weird North American soccer heritage with a refined modern look applies to this shirt times ten. I'm sure some people HATE the Rocko's Modern Life triangles on this jersey, but I think they're perf. Without the triangles, this is a clean, classic looking jersey with a good crest, a well-integrated sponsor logo, and a fantastic color scheme that's able to make white work as a primary color.

WITH the triangles, this is... THE RAIN JERSEY. Seriously, click that link--Vancouver made a whole video on why the triangles on the shirt represent the rain. Not many cities can own rain as a point of pride, but Vancouver makes it work. It's wonderful. The only downside of this entire jersey is that the rain triangles don't continue onto the back of the shirt.

There you have it. Tell me how 100% correct I am in the comments?!?!?