Remember 1999, when Groove Armada wisely observed, “if everybody looked the same, we’d be tired of looking at each other?”
Well, they were right, of course they were, but if you ever needed proof as to the validity of that statement, then we beg you to look no further than the proliferation of white MLS away jerseys of the past few years.
Our problem with the “Cookie Cutter” designs delivered by adidas as part of their league-wide deal, has always been that despite the marketing blurb, they just don’t do enough to separate one club from another.
In 2019, adidas and Minnesota United even told us their white secondary shirts were, “inspired by the ice and snow of the region’s frigid winters.”
Come on now.
Further down the North American soccer pyramid, Stateside clubs are leading a charge of expressive, individual designs that have only served to rile fans of MLS clubs further.
Why can’t we have a piece of that optimism and creativity?
Why should I pay more than $100 for a dull white shirt?
After all, it wasn’t so long ago that MLS kits were among the world’s most exciting, with adidas throwing all their energy and invention into the league.
So imagine our excitement to see a little break from that uniform conformity with the release of Philadelphia Union’s new away shirts this week.
Two years in the making, the “By|U” secondary shirt is the product of a successful collaboration between club, manufacturer and a creative collective of fans, that delivers a unique jersey, telling stories of the City of Brotherly Love’s most famous son.
Benjamin Franklin was a signatory to both the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution and is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
From politics, to printing, philosophy, science and invention; the multi-talented Franklin was one of those annoying people who was great at just about anything he turned his hand to.
Franklin is also famous for an experiment he conducted during a Philadelphia thunderstorm to demonstrate the connection between lightning and electricity, which saw him fly a kite with a metal key tied to the other end in a dangerous attempt to catch fire from the sky in a jar.
Contrary to popular belief, Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity that day, but the great man’s key and kite, as well as the bolts of lightning he hoped to harness, are cleverly woven into this outstanding Philadelphia Union shirt.
The Union’s chief marketing officer Doug Vosik knew that another white jersey was not going to cut it with fans’ groups like the Sons of Ben or fit the community ethos of the club.
“We have to always ask ourselves, are we delivering on that brand promise of ‘By the community, of the community, for the community? Let’s not make this thing a schlocky fan voting contest. Let’s actually go up to the community and say, how do we bring you into the process from square one?”
Vosik and Philadelphia Union drew together a diverse group of voices to form the Union Creators’ Collective, gave them a blank canvas to work with, and it was their ideas that helped influence adidas’ final design.
Having supplied their input, the fans were presented with a choice of four visions for their 2021 away shirts, with the By|U jersey selected as their favourite – but only by a couple of votes.
The blue and yellow colourway is derived from the city of Philadelphia’s flag and still fits the league’s brief of having a lighter alternative to their navy and gold home kit.
We’re yet to see the shorts and socks, but as well as signifying what can be achieved when fans are given a proper say in the design of the kits they will call their own, we hope this pulse passes through the rest of the league.
If Philly and adidas can do this, we hope we’re about to see the Benjamin Franklin inspired invention of this shirt heralding a new era of expressive away strips in MLS.