25 BEST KITS IN MLS HISTORY

While we take a break from Major League Soccer and all sports during this social distancing era we thought it was the perfect time to reflect on 25 seasons of MLS kits. After scouring blogs and random websites, we are pretty sure this is the most comprehensive and extensive list of this kind anywhere on the internet, so, you’re welcome. We have no doubt that this will be controversial and that fans from Toronto to Los Angeles will take issues with our choices. We welcome your feedback, criticism, outrage, and indignation. Let us hear it on any of our platforms. 

The list will be ordered chronologically, from 1996 to the current season of 2020. As many of these strips were used for multiple seasons we have listed them by their debut year. We have kits from almost every manufacturer that has contributed to MLS(sorry Atletica and Reebok, you didn’t make the cut). We also tried to get representation from as many teams as possible(sorry Toronto, Salt Lake, Cincinnati, and Miami you didn’t make the cut). Without further ado here’s the list.

1996 DC United Primary Kit

The kit worn by the first dynasty in MLS history. The black kit from adidas with three horizontal stripes across the midsection was understated in the heyday of outrageous templates from the other original 10 squads. This kit is rare in the annuls of MLS in that it is truly one-of-a-kind. No other team has sported the same template or design then or since.

1996 Kansas City Wizards Primary Kit

Our second kit from the inaugural season of MLS and it also comes from the brand with three stripes. Don’t get us wrong we loved the templates, and colorways from Nike used by the Galaxy, Clash, Metro Stars, Mutiny, and Burn but seeing as how they were all basically the same, it would hard to pick one to favor over the truly unique designs from adidas. The early Kansas City Wizard kits are polarizing but the diagonal rainbow wave contrasted against the unmistakable Kansas City blue is an iconic look that Sporting KC  should not be afraid to retro. 

1997 Dallas Burn Primary Kit

I know I just dissed the lack of variety in the early Nike kits but even with the template restrictions, Nike managed to design some pretty slick gear. The Dallas Burn nailed it with their Red primary kits with thin black hoops that were perfectly accented with Wasabi green strips. Nike took inspiration from other American professional sports throwing a huge Dallas Burn mustang logo as well as the player number on the front of the shirt. I don’t know why FC Dallas ditched this colorway, it was one of the sickest and most unique in MLS history. 

1998 Chicago Fire Primary Kit

The Nike designed shirt is solid—navy blue with a large white hoop and the FIRE wordmark across the chest—but this kit gets included on our list for the history and story behind it as much as anything else. One of the first expansion teams the Chicago Fire went on to win the MLS Cup and US Open Cup in their first season under the guidance of Bob Bradley. Also, this kit was never generally sold to the public so good luck getting your hands on one of these bad boys from the Fire’s epic first campaign. 

1999 Tampa Bay Mutiny Primary

Another standard Nike kit from the late 90s but the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny had to be included on the list for a couple of reasons. First, Carlos Valderrama and his beautiful mane made any kit look good. Second, from a design standpoint, the Mutiny clearly had an identity crisis. Can anybody tell me how a bat crest and a digital block font straight out of retro computer games are representative of a mutiny? When most hear the word mutiny they probably think pirates and seafaring ships. I suppose Nike wanted to defy logic and come up with something eclectic and iconoclastic—mission accomplished. Lastly, the colorway is definitely on point. I’ll take a number 10 Valderrama for anyone who wants to hook it up. 

1999 Colorado Rapids Primary Kit

A rare entry from the brand Kappa on our list. After partnering with PUMA and Reebok Colorado switched over to Italian sportswear manufacturers Kappa for their fourth season. The large diagonal graphic of swooping stripes on the baggy kits scream late 90s soccer fashion. These were much better than the mock turtlenecks and skin-tight shirts Kappa was about to start producing. I remember watching the Galaxy play the Rapids when I was in high school and seeing Marcelo Balboa’s ponytail mimic the wavy graphic on the shirt as he anchored the backline is ingrained in my memory bank. 

2000 New York/New Jersey Metrostars Red Kit

The New York/New Jersey Metrostars is quite a mouthful. It is no wonder Red Bull ditched the name when the bought the club. However unfortunate the name was the Metrostars had some nice duds in their first few seasons. The thick vertical red and black bands complemented by the yellow and black logo were classy and bold. The white and black version of this shirt was also strong and the template was one of the less-used designs in the league at the time. 

2002 New England Revolution Primary Kit

The one and only kit from England’s Umbro is New England’s primary kit from 02. This kit is an underrated banger. The tonal blue hoops on the shirt and shorts complimented by the red down the sides was a great on-field look for the team that featured Taylor Twellman and Jay Heaps. 

2005 Chicago Fire Third Kit

The Chicago Fire kit from PUMA was one of the first uniforms in all of the professional sports to incorporate their hometown’s flag into the design. Sky-blue and white with four six-pointed red stars across the chest, the Fire embraced this look long before the Bulls were trying to rep the Windy City’s flag. A flawless execution from PUMA and the Chicago Fire using arguably the most recognizable and beloved city flag in the United States.

2011 LA Galaxy Alternate Kit

The Punjab Blue kit from the Galaxy is one of the most popular and hard-to-get jerseys ever released by Major League Soccer’s most successful franchise. 2011 really ushered in the Beckham era in the MLS after injury and loan had limited his action early in his MLS stint. He never looked better than rocking the sleeved Tech Fit Alternate kit introduced in 2011. If you have any doubt about its popularity, search eBay and other online retro soccer kit sellers for this shirt. The resale prices are crazy, especially if you want to find a long-sleeve number 23. 

2011 Seattle Sounders Primary Kit

The Seattle Sounders have always known exactly who they are and have tapped into the fabric and identity of their community. The home green hue screams Seattle. That shade is almost entirely unique in the landscape of world football. Even their day one sponsors, Microsoft’s XBOX, are the ideal partner. 2011 is when the club really nailed the execution, though. They traded in the bulky “XBOX 360 Live” sponsor logo for the cleaner “XBOX” and employed the Tech Fit silhouette perfectly. I had to put a Sounders home kit on the list and for the reasons I  just mentioned 2011’s edition was a clear choice. 

2013 Colorado Rapids Alternate Kit

Another kit that fully embraced their home’s flag. The Rapids ditched their team’s colors for the royal blue, red, and yellow of their state flag. The embossed C graphic on the chest was also borrowed from the Colorado state flag and would be used again in their primary shirt and secondary shirts later on. This shirt gets a nod for the creative use of the colors and graphic elements from the source.

2013 LA Galaxy Alternate Kit

If our list is at all accurate, 2013 was the year of fire alternate kits. The Galaxy’s 2013 kit was decided by fans who both submitted designs and voted on the winner. Supporter and designer Carlos Rodriguez said the inspiration for his design was the Los Angeles city flag but we suspect the popularity had more to do with the Rastafarian vibes. The colors paired with the Herbalife sponsor on the chest make this one stoner’s dream shirt. I still need to get my Robbie Keane(the greatest DP in league history, hands down, don’t @ me) shirt in this colorway.

2013 Sporting KC Alternate Kit

Sporting KC consistently has some of the cleanest uniforms in MLS. They rarely have a misstep. But they never did it better than their third kit from 2013. The dark navy collared shirts with the argyle graphic on the chest are about as close to perfection as any MLS shirts have come. This strip is on the shortlist for my all-time favorite. The white and silver argyle kits from a couple of seasons after go hard as well but we have to give props to the original. 

2015 New England Revolution Primary Kit

This design is classy and classic with an understated—I am going to be real and interrupt myself—this kit made this list because it looks like a PSG kit. But who better to borrow from than the Parisians who have been dominating the kit game for the last five decades?  

2015 Orlando City SC Primary Kit

Nothing outrageous here, just a clean purple shirt with tonal horizontal stripes. Orlando made the bold choice of opting for purple and gold as their primary colors and their Florida community has embraced it. The purple stands are always filled to capacity with an army of purple shirts. Few teams in all of football have the swagger to pull off purple kits but Orlando City SC and their supporters are not the bashful types. Now if they could only produce on the pitch and deliver for the loyal fanatics. 

2016 Montreal Impact Primary Kit

L’Impact de Montréal with their beautiful shade of blue borrowed from the provincial flag of Quebec always look sharp on the pitch and the black and blue vertical stripes have become a part of the club’s identity. The details are what set this kit apart from the other Impact strips—details like the silver pin-striping inside the blue and the embossed fleur-de-lys alongside three local flowers in the jock tag. In the 2010s adidas was on point showcasing uniques designs and varied silhouettes to showcase the diverse clubs and communities in MLS and these shirts are definitely a standout from the decade that brought us our most entires into the top 25.

2016 New York Red Bulls Secondary Kit

It definitely makes designs cohesive when the club’s ownership group, kit sponsor, logo and team name all come from Red Bull. Ever since changing their names from the Metrostars to Red Bulls the New York club that plays in New Jersey has been consistent with their look. They never looked better than in 2016 when they used the secondary colors of the Red Bull logo for their away strip. The yellow sleeves against the navy blue shirt give this shirt a Euro vibe that works on all levels. The he embossed pinstriping on the blue portion of the shirt are another nice touch. 

2016 Vancouver Whitecaps Secondary Kit

The Vancouver Whitecaps have not reached the heights they have wanted to in their brief MLS history but they have always looked good taking the pitch. The gradient ocean to sky blue geometric pattern was inspired by the geography of the Pacific Northwest for 2016’s secondary strip was definitely a standout. The Caps dubbed the kits “Sea to Sky” inspired by name of the city’s Highway 99. The button henley collar provides a nice finishing touch. 

2017 Atlanta United FC Primary Kit

Atlanta United took the league by storm when they jumped on the scene winning the MLS Cup in their second season setting records along the way on the back of the Venezuelan scoring machine Josef Martínez. Atlanta has a swagger unmatched in MLS. I had to include the debut strip from Atlanta United for no other reason than the number of tastemakers we have seen proudly rocking the shirt.

2017 Columbus Crew Primary Kit

The Columbus Crew is one of the original 10 in Major League Soccer. Unlike most of the clubs in MLS, they have never changed their colors. For the past 25 seasons. they have proudly rocked black and yellow. There were a few kits from the Crew that were in the running to make the list including the black secondary kit from 2018 but in the end, went with the yellow kits with the checkered bands down the side from 2017.

2018 DC United Primary Kit 

We are suckers for black kits especially when done properly. The black and graphite hoops on the front, the metallic sponsor and crest, and the few red highlights result in one badass shirt. Wayne Rooney also made the ridiculous game-saving slide tackle followed up by an even more ridiculous 3/4 field game-winning assist in extra time against Orlando in 2018 in this shirt. Huge props to DC United for sticking with their OG colors for all 25 seasons.

2018 Houston Dynamo Alternate Kit

Houston first used the “paint it black” them for their alternate kits in 2016 when they debuted black kits with three shades of orange in a chevron pattern across the chest. Those kits were nice but they nailed it in 2018. The gradient orange band across the midsection calls to mind the Astros jerseys Nolan Ryan used to rock. This 2018 kit from the Dynamo looks retro and modern at the same time and is even better with long sleeves. Super-rockable on or off-pitch.

2019 Portland Timbers Primary Kit

I love a good green kit. Portland is a soccer town with some of the most diehard fans in the world, not just the states. The atmosphere at Providence Park is unreal—intimate, loud, and with its very own culture befitting the town that loves keeping it weird. In their short history, the Timbers did not really produce a kit worthy of their amazing fanbase. 2017 they made a step in the right direction with a strong offering for their primary kits but they finally put out the kit that the Rose City deserved in 2019. A clean v-neck silo with green on green hoops, this is definitely the best kit the Timbers have put out in the MLS era. 

2020 Minnesota United FC Primary Kit

Before MNUFC ever played a game in MLS they had some of the best looking duds in all of North American professional soccer. The club nicknamed The Loons proudly repped their state bird with a large wing graphic on the shirt and shorts. The fans loved it as did anyone who caught an NASL game where Minnesota United was featured. So when the wings were completely absent for the first three seasons in MLS fans were justifiably more than a little bit disappointed. adidas finally set things right with this year’s primary kit. For this reason, we included this strip even though the 2020 shirt template used by every MLS club is absolutely terrible and very hard to rock off the pitch. The Loons do have the best color scheme in all of professional sport. 

WHY WE CREATED KTTP DAILY

After some thought and some conversation with our Kicks to the Pitch team, we have decided to bring you a section of our website dedicated to raw, personal, touching, unique, strange and downright random stories that connect the things we love to the game we love.

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MURS & THE GROUCH TALK ABOUT THEIR LOVE FOR THE BEAUTIFUL GAME


Legendary emcees Murs and The Grouch are OGs in the West Coast underground scene. They have put out a number of classic albums as members of the Living Legends, on their own as solo artists, and most recently have teamed up to form the tag-team supergroup Thees Handz dropping an album of the same name in November of 2019. 

Anyone familiar with the two rappers knows that their relationship with football runs deep. On “RWTHYA” from their Thees Hands LP The Grouch raps, “I’m a…young soccer ball kicker,” and earlier on the track “Opening Spit” he spit, “I’m a soccer player at heart and second I’m a rapper.”  

His partner in rhyme can be seen in many of his videos and IG posts rocking a variety of kits and he’s not afraid to talk junk to rival fans in the comments. As the LA Galaxy’s preeminent fan and unofficial poet laureate Murs has drop a couple of promos for the club including one before the 2019 playoffs and one for the beginning of the 2020 campaign. 

We met up with the duo at the Galaxy’s home, Dignity Health Sports Park, and listened in as they talked to each other about their love for the beautiful game, how the got into soccer, and what underground hip-hop and football have in common.

 

Before we get into their conversation here is a public service announcement from Murs:

I know a lot of people in the comments will say, “stop calling it soccer.” Motherfucker when I’m in Germany I’m not going to call it a hot dog I’m going to call it a Frankfurter, or whatever the fuck they call it. In my country that’s the word for the sport we play. I would confuse the other dumb Americans if I say football. I know what it’s called in your country but unfortunately in my country, it’s called soccer. So I’m going to say soccer because I’m talking to another American. When I’m in your country I’ll call it football. Stop with the comments. Every time I talk about soccer in the comments motherfuckers are like, “it’s called football.” I know, shit. 

Murs asking The Grouch about his youth soccer career:

The Grouch

I come from a pretty soccer fanatic family. I started when I was like six. Both my brothers played soccer. My sister played. My mom would drive us to soccer practice pretty much every night of the week.

Murs

She coached your team?

The Grouch

She coached my team early, like one season, maybe under 8. Then when I tug turned 8 or 9 I  starting playing on a select club. That club was called the Bay Oaks, in Oakland. Legacy. My brothers played for that team. 

Murs

So Bay Oaks is strong, that’s the gang?

The Grouch

Yeah, that’s the gang. I wish I still had a jersey sill. I  probably do at my mom’s house.

Murs

You should get a tattoo, Bay Oaks

The Grouch

That would be hard. But we were serious. When I was 12 we went and played in an international tournament in Japan that was structure like a mini-World Cup.

Murs

So you went to Japan before we ever went to Japan touring?

The Grouch

Yeah when I was 12 years old. So I did that and I  also started playing for the Olympic Development Program. They would try and prep you, it’s like starting the road to the national team. But I never made it anywhere near that far. I made the district team, went to state tryouts but I  never made the state team. 

Murs

What happened?

The Grouch

I just wasn’t that dope. I mean, I was good but there are a lot of dope players in California.

Murs

But you were the man at Bay Oaks

The Grouch

Yeah I was the man at Bay Oaks, one of them. I grew up playing with some dope players. There are a lot good player in Oakland. I grew up playing with mostly Latino kids. Had Mexican coaches mostly, I had a Yugoslavian coach one time. So I was taught to play in a different style than I felt a lot of the American teams were being taught to play.

Murs

So it was your style that kept you from making the state team?

The Grouch

Ah no bro. It wasn’t the style. There was just a lot of comp. There were a lot of dope kids. I guess I just wasn’t dedicated enough.

Murs

You were fucking around with that rap shit?

The Grouch

I didn’t get into rapping until I was about 17.

Murs

So what happened to your soccer career?

The Grouch

I was fucking around playing basketball when I was 17. I jumped up to touch the rim and there was a ball rolling on the ground underneath and I  landed on the ball and tore my ACL and my soccer dreams and hopes were out the window. In my head I was going to be a pro soccer player but we’ll never know.

Murs

Do you realize now as a parent that your mom took all her time taking your fucking ass to practice and then you go fuck it all off jumping around on a basketball court? She he put so much time into your dream and then you decide one day, “hey I’m gonna go touch a rim.”

The Grouch

Yeah, but that’s what directed me into music and that’s turned out to be a pretty cool career for me. 

The first time Murs ever stepped on a pitch was when he moved to the Bay after his mom kicked him out for trying to pursue a career in hip hop. When the Living Legends crew was first starting out they would go with The Grouch to paint soccer fields at community colleges and other fields in and around Oakland.

The Grouch 

That was one of my first jobs coming up. I would paint the lines on soccer fields, set up the nets and the corner flags for the tournaments. I think I started when I was 13 and ran that job until I was like 17.

Murs

No you ran it later than that. Cuz we needed money. I was 17 years old, sleeping in your basement. My mom had disowned me because I had decided to be a rapper and I needed money.

The Grouch

Yeah, that was a good job. 

Murs

So I had never played soccer before.

The Grouch

So I dragged you out onto the field?

Murs

So that was my first time on a soccer field. You you id it to help me get money because I was broke.

The Grouch

You were painting soccer fields with me? 

Murs

Yeah.

The Grouch

Damn. Yeah, shoutout Merritt College, Alameda College. We used to paint the soccer fields at all those spots. Hella fields in The Bay. I can’t remember all their names.

Murs 

What kind of car did you have? That car was fucked up.

The Grouch

That was an old school Lincoln Continental.

Murs

Bro, fucked up.

The Grouch

Packed with cans of spray paint because the field chalk is actually spray paint. Hella boxes of spray paint, some corner flags, some nets.

Murs

The little thing with wheels that you put the spray can in upside down and then pull the trigger on the handle. 

The Grouch

You know there was math involved, because we had to lay it out with measuring tape and long ropes and we had to make sure we had the right angles correct. But that was a dope job.

Murs

That was my first soccer experience. Waking up early stepping over Eligh and Lucky to go paint fields at 6am.

The Grouch

So what was your first feeling about soccer and the culture around soccer?

Murs 

So I grew up in Lynwood, CA. Well I grew up all over L.A. but I went to elementary school in Lynwood. There it’s very gang heavy. That area Watts, Compton, South Gate and Lynwood is hood. The Black and Latino, specifically Mexican communities, did not get along. I had some Mexican friends growing up but you know Black kids did not play soccer there. That was for them. Growing up in the 80s you were either a negative term for a homosexual or a Mexican if you played soccer. That’s what my big homies told me and I bought into that bullshit. But then I met you. I played soccer in PE once. 

The Grouch

And you hated it?

Murs

No I loved it because I got to run behind the Mexican girls in short shorts. 

The Grouch

You acted like you hated it?

Murs

I acted like I loved it for them. I did a lot of things trying to get at the Mexican girls at my school. I tried to speak Spanish to them. I’ve done a lot of things because I was in love with some Mexicans girls throughout my life.

Murs would like to note here that he is not calling all Latinas, Mexican. He knows the difference between the many Latin communities in Southern California be it El Salvadorian, Ecuadorian, or Nicaraguan. He just had an affinity for the Mexican girls in his school in 6th grade.

Murs

So you took me to paint soccer fields and that was for money. That was the only thing I wanted to do with the sport. I had never met a family of Americans that played soccer. Like your whole family played. I thought it was crazy. Later we were on our first(air quotes) tour of Europe. We were on the bus in Groningen, Holland. We were staying with someone in the hood there and we were taking the bus back there and we were talking about soccer and I said, “man that shit is wack.” You and I didn’t get along and we were going back and forth and the guy we were with, a huge guy, told us that his brother who was in jail for murder or some other street crime was the best player in their projects, a black guy. I was like, “what?” This was my first time outside of America and the first time I was exposed to hardcore people from the hood playing soccer. But then we got back to his house and we(Murs and The Grouch) kept arguing about soccer and we actually ended up getting in a fistfight over soccer in this man’s house, over soccer.

The Grouch

That’s real

Eventually, Murs would eventually see the error in his ways. In n 2004 while recording an album in England with Eligh and Scarub, together they form the Three Melancholy Gypsies, he found himself with outside of London with little to do or watch other than Euro Cup 04.

Murs

Me and Eligh and Scarub were doing a 3MG album in England. I was obsessed with Grime and just wanted to be around the UK scene and we ended up getting a place out in Billericay. Shout out to Billericay, if you know where that is. It is two hours outside of London. This was before Airbnb and I f found this place online and it had a pool and I thought, “oh this is tight,” but it was in the middle of butt-fucking nowhere. Me and Eligh were in the house trying to watch TV and there were like five channels. It was during the Euro Cup and it was the year, I think, Greece won. Me and Eligh got into soccer together because we love sports and we had to watch it. It was crazy and I feel in love.

The Grouch

That’s a trip bro.

Murs

I didn’t play until we went to Ethiopia on a mission trip. 

The Grouch

So you played there?

Murs

Yeah, the black kids there don’t know what hip-hop is, they don’t know gang-banging, they don’t know weed, I could not bond with them on any level. They couldn’t speak English but they invited me to play with them. I didn’t know how to play but there I was in a country with people that look like me and the common ground is a sport that people in my country that look like me don’t think we belong playing. 

The Grouch 

That’s dope. 

Murs

When I got signed to Warner Brothers a guy over there took me to my first Galaxy match and now I ‘m like soccer guy, I get it now. It’s the best sport.

The Grouch

That’s sick. I’m glad you finally came around. This many years later. You finally believe, you can see the picture. 

Murs

Yeah, we actually exchanged these hands over soccer.

The Grouch talks about moving to Maui and getting back on the pitch.

The Grouch

I started playing soccer again. I took a 15-year break. I moved to Maui. that changed my physical game. I felt healthier, stronger swimming and hiking and I felt like I could get back out on a pitch. There was such a great international community and dope soccer players in Maui. We get a lot of Argentinians and Brazilians that come over to Maui to surf. Lots of different people from South American come to Maui. 

Murs

Oh Really?

The Grouch

Yeah, so we ended up having a dope soccer team. Maui is a special place so we had some dope games out there for sure. 

Murs

Did you put it down for America though?

The Grouch

Of course, I did. I get respect from the dope players out there.

Murs

Because you know what you’re doing?

The Grouch

I do.

Murs

So if we fly out to Maui to do the Thees Handz tour in Maui and I want to come out on the pitch with you and we’re picking teams, you gonna pick me bro or are you gonna leave me last?

The Grouch

Ima pick you, bro, just to be nice

Check out the video for “Be Nice” by Thees Handz on YouTube. Let us know what kit Murs is rocking in the vid.

The Grouch and Murs talk about how the game and hip-hop connect and how the two worlds can bring people together. In one of his many side projects Murs joined with Florida punk band Whole Wheat Bread to form Invincibles. He wrote a soccer song and wanted The Grouch to get on the track but for some reason, the song never saw the light of day. 

The Grouch

That song was dope. You sent it to me and I never got on it and I don’t really know why.

Murs

Because you were living in Maui.

The Grouch

I was living in Maui but I listened to it and you used the line from A Tribe Called Quest, “can I  kick it?” and I thought that was brilliant for a soccer/hip-hop song.

I’ll interrupt here to point out that Kicks to the Pitch did have a recurring feature on our website where we would review hip-hop albums called “Can I Kick It?” just saying.

And the opening line of that song was, “Why do black kids always have to play basketball?” I  thought that was fucking dope. It was just so much to the point. Why is that the norm in America? You spoke on it earlier, people thinking you were a sissy if you played soccer in your neighborhood. I don’t know why it is like that, to be honest. Even me choosing soccer, I’m a white guy, but it is still out of the norm. Because all of the cooler more athletic white dudes were playing football, basketball, and baseball. When hen I chose soccer as a kid I felt like I was choosing the alternative route.

Murs

Yeah it’s alt culture

The Grouch

It’s kind of like underground hip-hop. I ended up being an underground hip-hop artist and I viewed soccer as the underground shit that not everyone knew about or was down with. That made me have more of a sense of pride when it came to it.

Murs

It’s an underground culture and so that’s even more of a reason for hip-hop to be aligned with it.

The Grouch

Right, as I  went to all my soccer games I’d be bumping rap music. The attitude of hip-hop would be in my ears and I would try to bring that to the field. 

Murs

That’s everywhere. In Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1—all those French dudes, all the best players in the world listen to hip-hop.

The Grouch

Hip-hop is such international music.

Murs

It’s the biggest music in the world and soccer is the biggest sport in the world. 

The Grouch

When I see a dope match and they play hip-hop over it, it goes to me.

Murs

It matches for sure. When the World Cup comes to America I am hoping I can be the one to make the opening song. It shouldn’t be contrived.

The Grouch

I remember the year that you were going to make that song, I thought it was dope, but it was a little late. But that guy K’naan ended up having an anthem for the World Cup that year(South Africa 2010). That was cool, I don’t know if it’s happened since then, but I was excited just to hear something that was close to hip-hop having something to do with the World Cup. 

Murs

I am just hoping that when it comes here and the song comes out it’s not someone who has nothing to do with soccer culture. Hip-hop is so much about authenticity. I would hate for them to pay the hottest rapper to do a song about soccer when all he talks about is basketball.

The Grouch

Or he don’t even know the sport.

Murs

Well, I’m still learning too.

The Grouch

But you’ve put in your time. 

Murs

Yeah, I watch games, I listen to podcasts. It’s like when I  first got into hip-hop. It’s something I’m passionate about. I don’t know a lot but the more I learn the more I love it. It’s like diggin’.

The Grouch

For sure.

Murs

I feel like soccer needs hip-hop and hip-hop needs soccer.

“OAKLAND FIRST AND ALWAYS” WITH OAKLAND ROOTS SC CO-FOUNDER EDREECE ARGHANDIWAL

For Edreece Arghandiwal the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Oakland Roots SC, Oakland native, and son of Afghani immigrants the love of the beautiful game was his birthright, deeply embedded in his own personal roots. His father managed a club in Afghanistan and his uncle was a goalkeeper on the national team. 

That love inspired in Edreece a very lofty and brazenly implausible ambition of starting a professional soccer club in his hometown. “I grew in the Bay Area. I  was born in Oakland and I always had this personal ambition of wanting to see a professional soccer team in Oakland. ” 

Oakland is a unique community. The Bay Area city’s contributions to art, music, activism, and culture as whole far exceed the city’s size. The home of the Black Panthers, Sly Stone, Tupac Shakur, E-40, Hieroglyphics, Too $hort, Shiela E., Tower of Power, Bruce Lee’s Jung Fan Gung Fu Institute, Jason Kidd, Damian Lillard, Mahershala Ali, and Amy Tan, Oakland is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world. Per capita, Oakland is home to more artists than any other city in the United States. For its size and diversity, Oakland is a tight-knit and socially conscious town whose citizens put a premium on putting community first. 

Growing up in Oakland, Edreece and his partners were well aware of the inherent roadblocks with creating a new soccer club from the ground up in a place that is slow to accept anything that is not authentic. When speaking about the challenges of starting Oakland Roots he said, “Unlike other places where you can just park a bus and bring a team in and be accepted, Oakland is very different—in its thought, its culture, and belief—parking a bus just wouldn’t work here. Building a professional sports club had to happen in a very organic and natural way.”

After graduating from UC Davis and Babson college and working at Apple Edreece returned home and connected with his friend and fellow Oaklander, Benno Nagel who coached in the Dutch Eredivisie and for Dynamo Zagreb and is currently President and Director of soccer for Oakland Roots. Edreece posed the question to Benno, “Why not? Why can’t we do something here that’s grassroots, that’s blue-collar, that’s about the people?” 

“We’re not billionaire so the conversation wasn’t about a stadium. It was about building a team that people can be proud of here in Oakland that can then turn into something incredible.” 

Accomplishing that goal would not be as easy as creating a cool branding initiative or slick marketing scheme. They would have to do the work to involve the community and give back. Before they ever took the pitch the founders of what would become the Oakland Roots Soccer Club held a town meeting at a friend’s bar. They were pressed by attendees about how they were going to help the community, the underserved, and the women of Oakland. Initially, they didn’t have all the answers but they knew they could create something special if they went about it the right way. They built a community advisory made up of people Edreece identified as “OGs” and adopted the ethos, “Oakland first and always.”

And while being socially conscious and community orientated might seem like hurdles for a young soccer club trying to grow and win games Edreece focuses on the positive aspects of those challenges. “A lot of clubs we’ll have to balance the soccer with impact and political view but all of it is the same thing [for us]…It is part of our fabric. Every decision we make we have an ‘Oakland first and always’ lens. We always ask, ‘Is it giving back? Is it impactful? Is it the right decision to make morally?’ It takes longer to make a decision. It’s harder and sometimes more expensive but at the end of the day people buy more merch, people rep it more proudly, they come to games, and they become advocates.”

Oakland Roots SC are in their second season competing in the NISA—a third-tier professional soccer league in North America. But much like the city they call home the size of their impact is far greater than the sphere they occupy might indicate. “Our brand is significantly larger than the reality of our team. People saw our merchandising, our branding, Damien Lillard wearing our shirt during the playoffs…this…created a perception and belief that we are bigger than the level we are at. And that’s exactly true. We’ve seen it in historic movements—the black panther movement, Tupac talking about Oakland. We are bigger than life here and that’s our belief system.”

Oakland is a midsized city with the big city mindset of a Los Angeles or New York and the city embraced the grassroots soccer club that had the same attitude. True to their vision when they started Oakland Roots SC has continued to put Oakland and its residents first. “We’ve bussed in kids from underserved areas to games and fed them a healthy and got them back home…Unlike other sports clubs that just throw tickets at people, we think about the depth of knowledge we can impart and our ability to challenge assumptions about what a sports club can be.”

2019 was their first year playing professionally in NISA and they have filled a void in the professional sports landscape in Oakland as two of the Bay’s cherished franchises, the Golden State Warriors and Oakland Raiders, have moved away. Being in the right place at the right time the team was successful in creating a positive fan experience and a bond with those fans. “We want people to connect to each other, create community, create experiences that they wouldn’t normally have and to feel proud…and through our first year we were successful.” 

Edreece and his team are conscientious about putting that Oakland fanbase and community first in everything the club does. With a holistic approach, they ensure that everything thing associated with their brand—from their merchandising to their voice on social media—transcends the sport and resonates with Oakland and those with that Oakland mindset. “We tried to carefully craft it. The voice on social media is general. [We wanted it] to feel like the voice of the people, not a person running social media. That was key in developing our brand. Along with a high aesthetic, making sure our designs were top notch and that our merchandise was something people could wear…without feeling pigeonholed into some soccer identity.” 

“We’ve tried to separate ourselves through our merchandise, through our voice, through connecting with Oakland pillars and influencers, and more importantly to spread… ‘Oakland first and always.’ That doesn’t mean that you have to be from Oakland to like the brand. You have to appreciate diversity. You have to appreciate the arts, humanity, and giving back to the community. All of that makes you an Oakland Roots fan.”

Oakland Roots now have the challenge of raising the level on the pitch to the level of impact they are having off the pitch. “We lost hella games last year, bro. We lost a lot of games and didn’t really perform…Now we are dealing with the fact that we’ve gotta win some games. Here’s the dilemma, yes we’re all of the things we’ve been talking about, but Oakland fans also like winning.

“So that was our focus this year. How do we up our level of play and create exciting, attacking, scoring, fun football that’s beautiful and technical and hopefully the best in the league but also have a game-day experience that supports our efforts.”

“The goal is to field the best team possible while still ensuring that the guys that are getting fielded are on culture.” 

After going winless in their first season Oakland Roots SC started this season off without a defeat, sitting atop the leader board with 4 points after two games. They will sit on top for the foreseeable future as NISA games have been postponed due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. 

Edreece and his partners look to build on their early success both on and off the pitch. Making sure they do it their way as they grow. When we asked him what factors determined success for Oakland Roots SC he told us, “There are a couple of things for our organization. On the technical side it’s win games. On the marketing side is to have more people be proud of the Oakland Roots message. Having more people bussed into our games, our sold-out games, for them to have a good Oakland experience. Also have all the people that we can in the world be proud of the Roots and wear our merchandise. On the impact side it is doing more good for Oakland. Whether that means ensuring that we partner with local Oakland businesses to give back economically or to think more green in our game-day experiences so that we reduce waste. Thinking about diversity we want to ensure that our team is reflective of, both front office and on the soccer side, the city of Oakland which is very diverse. On the investment side it’s working to ensure that we have women representation and diversity in our investor groups.”

As we spoke, Edreece let slip that he wanted Oakland Roots SC to become the biggest club in the world. It seems farfetched considering how young the club is and that it was basically started from the grassroots in a city that boasts about 430,00 residents. But that ambition is no mare farfetched than the idea that a backup dancer for Digital Underground, a young Tupac Shakur, could go on to become the biggest rapper in the world and the voice of a generation. Will the “Against all odds” Oakland mindset firmly in place we are sure to see Oakland Roots SC making waves and having a larger than life impact on the game on and off the pitch for years to come.