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. 

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. 

WSS x KTTP PRESENTS | SHIRTS AND SKINS: TATTOO ARTIST JESS SIMPSON

We sat down with the tattoo artist responsible for some of the Premier League’s best ink, Jessica Simpson. Jessica has tattooed Hector Bellerin, Danny Williams, and DeAndre Yedlin. Perhaps her most impressive and reported-about piece is on the back of Watford’s Andre Gray. Nicknamed by some the “Black History Tattoo,” Simpson decorated Gray’s entire back with incredible portraits of some of the world’s most important black leaders and activists. From Marcus Garvey to Bob Marley and from Rosa Parks to Nelson Mandela, Gray and Simpson combined for a marvelous work of art paying homage to black leaders.

Listen to Jess tell her stories about her first tattoo that she got when she was fifteen and when she used her own legs to practice her artform. Make sure to follow Jess on IG @jess_on_tatts to see more of her incredible work and portraits and tune in to Black Crew Ink season 6 on VH1 to see Jess ply her craft with the crew in Chicago.

KTTP PRESENTS: 2019 YEAR IN REVIEW

As we at KTTP say farewell to 2019 and the twenty-tens we compiled a video of some of favorite moments from this past year. We spanned the globe this year talking to some of the most innovative and interesting names in and around the beautiful game. From online personalities Poet and Vuj to tastemakers Romance FC creator Aneesha Dewshi and Kish Kash to playmakers Mesut Özil and DeAndre Yedlin we would like to thank everyone that took the time to talk to us and contribute to Kicks to the Pitch. Here’s to a new year and decade as we proceed and continue to connect culture and the beautiful game.

KTTP “GETS SMOKED”: THE STORY OF SMOKEY BARBERS

More than a decade ago, before he was the masked barber to the England’s most illustrious footballers, Smokey was doing time for some poor choices he made in his youth. Looking for a way to break up the monotony and get out of his cell he talked his way into getting a job as a prison barber.

 

There he honed his skills as a tonsorial artist and his listening ear as a much-needed therapist. After getting out Smokey looked to earn an honest living with his newly acquired skills. Although he admits that at the time he was not that great of a barber, after all, he had only been cutting heads for a year on the inside. His is not an overnight success story, though. He found his fair share of disappointment and adversity as he looked to make it in London as a barber.

 

 

After he was posted up in the right location, the ethnically diverse Surry, Smokey got on his grind. His status as the premier barber to London’s elite did not happen by accident. Smokey hustled to find the clientele to build his brand and name. He would go to the training grounds of local clubs offering to cut hair and pass out flyers.

Redding manager, Steve Clarke, also helped Smokey cement his influence in the world of English football. Clarke asked Smokey to come every week and cut his players’ hair. Not only did he help the Redding footballers look fresh but he brought the team together by creating the barbershop atmosphere in the changing room.

 

 

Among his many skills, Smokey and his crew are master marketers. Starting with the name Smokey. After starting his trade as an honest and upright entrepreneur Smokey tried to get away from the nickname that was associated with his troubled past. Originally he called his shop D.O.’s using his government initials. But patrons who knew the barber as Smokey would refer to the shop as Smokey’s. Instead of correcting them he used the familiar epithet to his advantage, adopting a memorable catchphrase to describe getting fresh cut, “you just got smoked.” The term stuck and before long kids were spreading the word and letting their peers know, “hey yo, I just got smoked.”

Another stroke of genius that helped spread the word about the barbershop was a sitcom Smokey and his friends made for YouTube. The show Smokey Barbers went viral and got millions of views which helped the brand gain even more traction.

 

 

Even though the Smokey Barbers brand has gained an impressive following and status, he has not let that fame cloud his perspective. He says being able to advise youth—steering them onto the right path and helping them through their problems is one of his important roles. He also told us how good it feels to give a youngster a confidence boost by hooking them up with a proper cut.

 

 

Smokey is a testament to what a good mindset and hard work can achieve. He has not let prejudice, adversity, or mistakes turn him bitter. Instead of letting the difficult things in his life be obstacles he has seen them as opportunities and let them be the building blocks of his success. Smokey, in turn, has tried to instill that mindset into the youth that sit in his chair. 

 

 

And instead of looking to become a celebrity himself he has chosen to wear a mask letting his work speak for itself and his many happy customers get the shine. When he told his friends that he was going to be anonymous and wear a mask while barbering they scoffed at the idea but as Smokey’s dad told him, “If someone laughs at your idea, mate it’s such a good idea.”

 

 

Turns out it was a great idea as Smokey and his brand have gained a loyal following that includes some of the biggest names in London. The barber isn’t just after a high profile clientele however, he welcomes all, seeing his shop as a place where everyone, no matter their ethnic background or social status can come together.

Besides his amazing story, which, seems tailor-made for Hollywood treatment, we were impressed by how genuine and open Smokey was with us. He was generous with his time and skills as he fixed my hair situation up proper. Make sure to  show Smokey some love and follow Smokey Barbers @SMOKEY_BARBERS on Instagram. 

 

INSIDE ADIDAS x ARSENAL WITH INIGO TURNER

 

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. The sensation when you are reunited with something you thought you lost forever is unparalleled. That’s why when adidas partnered with Arsenal as their official kit maker for the ‘19-‘20 season onward, we knew we were in for some feel-good retro vibes. Celebrating a reunion 25 years in the making, the Gunners and The Three Stripes are back and better than ever. 

Leading the charge in the design department is adidas Design Director Inigo Turner, who’s been with the company for 14 years and has carried his passion for kits since childhood.

“I always loved it as a kid, always been obsessed with football shirts. Growing up in Manchester, I used to draw kits as a hobby.”

Inigo went on to study art in university, and turned his pastime of designing football shirts into an internship with adidas, self-training along the way and rising up the ranks in the company. He now oversees all major club teams including Arsenal, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Juventus, and works closely with colleagues who craft the international jerseys. 

He has seen a vast progression of kit designs from his youth to his current tenure, and one constant he has discovered is that much like the past, the current kit fashion really emphasizes the streetwear potential of performance clothing. No longer seen solely as functional pieces, even to the casual observer, the off-field aesthetic was just as important as the one on the field.

“One thing you would see kits being worn on the pitch by your idols and then on your favourite band on stage…these kits stood for individual expression. Like a tribal piece. Football fans can be very tribal.”

The rise of football shirts in streetwear has increased the exposure of the game off the pitch, making the visual design of kits a matter of paramount importance. A well-made jersey can be remembered for generations due to its impact in football culture and how well it can be worn off-pitch as well as in-game. One kit immortalized in football lore was the “Bruised Banana” away kit used by Arsenal from 1991-1993. It was one of the last kits adidas had made for Arsenal in their first run together. It received the alliterative moniker due to its contrasting yellow and black pattern. Inigo himself holds the shirt in high regard. He witnessed the cultural impact firsthand in the early 90s.

“It’s got its place in history, and it’s an amazing shirt, it falls into one of those ‘best shirts all time’ lists, in that period it was one of the most iconic”

With Arsenal’s global prominence, the adidas design team could hardly contain their excitement when they rejoined forces, envisioning all the new stories they could craft together. This quarter-century homecoming was written in the stars, and Inigo knew his team wanted to pay respect to the club’s rich history and iconic players. 

In honour of their renewed vows, adidas decided to revisit the classic Bruised Banana shirt to celebrate their past, present, and future. However, the design team was keen to do their own interpretation of it, balancing between creating something new and paying homage to Arsenal.

“We go to the club, we go to the stadium, the landmarks and look for visual clues or things which we can use to create graphics ideas around new stories to tell”

In the case of the new Bruised Banana kit, the Royal Arsenal Gatehouse was a focal source of inspiration. The building features lightning bolts built in its architecture and these bolts are used within the shirt design as well as the typography around the Emirates Stadium. Diagonal lightning bolts running across the kit, using a grain graphic so that the color contrast is not as strong as in the original design. This softer gradient is easier on the eye and implemented to abide by new European kit rules that did not exist for the old kit. 

A second source of inspiration came from art deco styled “A’s” throughout the Emirates Stadium. The art deco style features bold geometric shapes and intense color schemes, both prominent in the kit with the hard edged bolts and bright shade of yellow. 

But even throughout this intensive creation process, with all of its layers and intricacies, the design team still has one focus in mind: 

“First and foremost, football shirts are functional performance garments and taking that idea and leading with it, focusing on how the athletes would benefit wearing it, use of fabrics, cuts, and application of where logos are positioned.”

A couple years ago the design process for kits was revamped so that adidas could reconnect with its roots and make kits that would perform in a match and on the streets. This dual life of a football shirt means that functionality and storytelling must coexist in harmony. This challenge brings out the best from its designers. In the adidas headquarters, the entire creative team, including those responsible for kits, boots, balls, gloves, and shin guards work in one shared space to bounce ideas off each other and as a result end up creating some truly remarkable work. Case in point, Bruised Banana 2.0. 

Undertaking this new age for both Arsenal and adidas, who both have such extensive and rich histories, is no simple task, and Inigo understands the magnitude of this partnership.

“adidas in the 80’s was synonymous not just with football but also with fashion and music, covering several cultural movements. It was a huge part of my upbringing and to the position I have today.”

As Inigo and his team embark on this new journey with The Gunners, they have already put their best foot forward in celebrating the team’s glorious past and promising future. The Bruised Banana is back, and we must say for a shirt named after old fruit, it looks pretty fresh.

SPREADING FOOTY AND ALOHA WITH PARADISE SOCCER CLUB FOUNDER, MAX ANTON

Hawaii, the most isolated population center on the globe with a culture unlike any other place on the globe, is hardly a place you would expect to find someone making waves in football culture. But making waves is exactly what Max Anton owner and founder of Paradise Soccer Club is doing. He is helping to change football and its cultural landscape in America and abroad with his store, brand, and club. 

Max had a typical Island upbringing growing up playing basketball, baseball, going to the beach, hiking, bodyboarding, bodysurfing and enjoying everything his paradisiacal home had to offer. But he was also introduced to the beautiful game at a young age. 

“I grew up playing AYSO, that was probably my first introduction into soccer as a little kid, I was probably 5, 6 years old…In high school is when I got more serious with soccer…Around 16 we took a trip to Europe and played against Ajax and Anderlecht and Norwich City…with Honolulu Bulls.”

That was major for kids growing up in Hawaii—a place that is hardly a hotbed for soccer. “Here in Hawaii soccer is definitely not the number one sport. I wouldn’t say it’s number two, I wouldn’t say it’s number three, I wouldn’t say it’s number four…Definitely an alternative sport….That trip was probably one of the biggest trips of my life where I felt I could compete on a world-level.” 

Competing internationally and with top clubs on the mainland was an unprecedented achievement for a Hawaii club. “Being in Hawaii your whole life you play against the same kids growing up. Usually when you travel to the mainland you get hammered…Our team was kind of an all-star team. We were one of the the first teams ever from Hawaii to win Regionals (Region 4 includes the Western States) and win Nationals when we were U19.”

“Our age group was one of the more successful age groups in Hawaii for the Olympic Development Program…85 and 84 (kids born in 1985 and 1984) were able to set records… a record amount of players on the Region 4 squad…and to compete for the National Team. We had a lot of [Hawaii kids]…on that…Region 4…team…Our whole team was made up of Region 4 players and we had 2 or 3 guys that were on the National Team or National Team alternates…”

Anybody who has spent any extended period of time in the Aloha State understands just how unique of a place it is. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean about halfway between North America and Asia, the Hawaiian Islands have a cultural identity of East meets West knit together beautifully by the Native Hawaiian culture and Spirit of Aloha. 

“In a sense, Hawaii is so isolated from the United States, we’re in our own country. We talk different. We act different. We carry ourselves different. We conduct business a little bit different[ly] than people on the  mainland do. We greet each other a little bit different. It is something that if you are from Hawaii you are very prideful to be from Hawaii. You might not be of Hawaiian descent but you hold this special place in your heart. You take that…pride that ‘I’m from Hawaii’. A lot of other places don’t have that national pride or state pride(however you want to say it).”

That culture and pride binds the people of Hawaii together and locals usually consider neighbors and friends family. “Over here in Hawaii everything is really about community. You hear that word get thrown around a lot, Ohana. Everybody’s family over here. The way we greet each other and treat each other is way different from say that East Coast. A lot of people internationally or from the mainland think that Hawaii people are soft…because of that Aloha Spirit we give. They take that as a weakness, they want to take advantage of it because we are so kind and so giving but Hawaii people are fierce, they are fighters, they have attitude and a type of pride that no other people have.”

Wanting to share their culture and aloha is almost a birthright for those born in Hawaii. That is something Max has done since his youth soccer days. “Aloha shirts (don’t call them Hawaiian shirts unless you want to sound like a complete haole) have been a huge staple since I was a little kid. When we would travel to ODP(Olympic Development Program) camp we had an official state aloha shirt that was our travel shirt that we all had to wear to dinner,…traveling, when we had meetings. We constantly had to wear [these] and then at the end of camp we’d trade [them]…to other campers. A lot of us would go to the [Honolulu] swap meet and get more aloha shirts to bring to camp and…[trade] them for shoes from other players that we didn’t have access to. Because here in Hawaii we only had a certain amount of soccer shoes. Our soccer shops…had limited amounts and limited styles of soccer shoes. So when we got to the mainland that was our chance to actually touch and feel certain…shoes. And we were able to…get them for cheaper than at stores because we were using our aloha shirts for bartering.”

More than just a material exchange football exposed Max to cultures and opportunities that might not have been available to him without it. “Playing soccer and going to mainland tournaments every summer, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas break…was the only way to get good competition and to get seen. It opened my eye up to the rest of the world. I was lucky enough, and fortunate enough to be able to travel and see the rest of the world and see that there’s more to the world than just Hawaii. A lot of people that grow up here aren’t as fortunate to be able to leave the Islands and see what there is in this…world.” 

Something Max was blessed to learn at a young age is that the beautiful game is ubiquitous. It touches every corner of the globe. It provides connections between places and people seemingly worlds apart. Through Paradise Soccer Club Max has connected with likeminded people all over the globe including the Le Ballon in France and Liga Tóquio in Japan. 

As a store owner and head of an amateur club he has not stopped sharing the aloha with customers and collaborators. “We recently did a project with the guys in Tokyo, Liga Tóquio…It’s huge for us being able to travel to Japan and to throw an event in Japan. [We did] a small-sided tournament with some companies that I’ve looked up to my whole life like atmos and mita sneakers. I never would have envisioned working with those types of companies, let alone being able to trade my PSC jersey with their team jersey and them getting more hyped on [receiving] my jersey than I was getting theirs.”

“Some of [those] people I meet in the industry become family because we work so closely and work so often together. We end up at each others’ weddings and each others’ kids’ birthday parties. That sense of ohana comes full circle. The world is so small, but the soccer community is even smaller.”

Max has more to offer the football world than just aloha. Paradise Soccer Club is truly a unique concept, shop, and brand. PSC blends the worlds of street and youth culture with the game of football in its own unique way and did it before everybody was on the lifestyle kit bandwagon. But Max has always been ahead of the curve when it came to style and trends. 

“I was a big basketball player so I was always into shoes…Was a big AF1 collector, Nike SB collector…I was always into streetwear. I have family that is one of the pioneers here in Hawaii in streetwear. [My cousin] started one of the original streetwear companies here in Hawaii. He was a big influence…A lot of my friends and family were into it so I was just into it. My mom was real big into textiles…patterns and fabrics, she’s obsessed with [them] so it got me obsessed with it. 

“I’ve always been obsessed with jersey designs and what jerseys look like. The [high] school [I] went to wasn’t air conditioned so Dri-Fit…was the way to go because it was nice and comfortable and cool. But at the same time I was the weird kid…that was wearing SBs or Air Force 1s with a matching soccer jersey with some type of weird sponsor on the front  of a company that nobody knew of with a crest that nobody…had any idea…what is was…Back then it was just a polyester shirt and it looked cool and it matched my SBs…like…I was [even] matching Iversons with an Arsenal jersey.”

Max took that same forward-thinking attitude with him into Paradise Soccer Club. “For us Paradise Soccer Club is always a soccer shop. But your average soccer shop…isn’t cool, it isn’t fun. There’s no sense of pride in it. It’s just a standard cookie cutter style of shop. You know, you have your boots, your shinguards, [and] your balls. You have your Nike section, your adidas section, and a small section of PUMA, you have Umbro…but you don’t have the small independent football brands like [Paradise] or Nowhere or Guerrilla FC.”

“We wanted to be a soccer shop but we are also heavily influenced by surf and skate and streetwear so we wanted to be able to give our customers access to certain brands that they might not know about, that they might not have seen. We also wanted to bring in those streetwear brands and mix it in with the store…The soccer player is the most stylish…The soccer player around the world is the most fashion-forward. We wanted the shop to be a one central location for that soccer player to get everything he needs on and off the field. Whether it be a steezy outfit…his boots, we wanted him to be prideful and walk around and say, ‘hey this is my soccer shop, this is my soccer club. I’m part of it. This is where I get my gear from and this is where I get my everyday lifestyle type of clothing from, too.’ As far as being the first soccer shop to offer streetwear—brands like Undefeated, Stussy, Stance, RVCA…I don’t know if there are any other soccer shops around the world that have those accounts and those brands that support them and allow them to sell their product in their shops the way we’re allowed to.”

Creating a unique space and building relationships with brands and individuals in and out of soccer has provided Max and PSC with some enviable experiences. One of those particularly meaningful experiences happened when Paradise Soccer Club and OG Hawaii streetwear brand In4mation teamed up with us here at KTTP to bring Steve Nazar, the legendary artist behind Thrilla Gorilla, Joe Cool and the other iconic T&C Surf characters, back to Hawaii.

“Working with Steve Nazar and being able to bring him back to Hawaii. He hadn’t even been back to Hawaii for 20 something years because he was in some type of contractual dispute with his artwork…And he was just a huge influence on me being into art…and doodling. [I remember] playing his video game…and here in Hawaii T&C is…a staple. It’s an iconic logo and a brand that people around the world know about…It’s one of the original surf shops here in Hawaii. So working with him was something we didn’t even think would be possible but [then for] him to do custom acrylic paintings for us for the popup and doing custom jerseys with him and pins and a whole collection. People were super-hyped about that because they weren’t able to get any of his pieces for the last 20 something years.”

“We’re also fortunate to…work with big artists. We’ve done collaborations with Kevin Lyons, Aaron Kai, Defer, and Jasper through Pow! Wow! and through Kicks to the Pitch helping us link up with…OG Slick, people that are…huge in the graffiti and art scene and we’re just fortunate enough to use some of their artwork and present it to the rest of the soccer world in the form of a jersey. Some of the [fans] are jersey collectors some…are art collectors and they’re able to wear their favorite artists’ artwork and be [proud].”

But no matter how much recognition Max and PSC get, no matter how global their impact becomes, he remains rooted in his island home and his cultural heritage. He has even kept his tradition of bringing Hawaii to the places he visits.

“When we went to Japan they were our travel shirts and we also gave them to our hosts as omiyage or gifts. When you go to somebody else’s home you don’t come empty-handed—that’s very Hawaiian style—you need to come with…food, you need to come with drinks, you need to come with something. Don’t come empty-handed…So when we went up there we gifted the people that were hosting us, the Liga Tóquio guys, with our aloha shirts. They were so stoked and all of our team players gave away their team travel shirts and then came right back to the shop because they were bummed because they lost their travel shirts.”

Max is helping to make soccer cool in Hawaii while garnering attention from all over the world. A key to that impact is the authenticity with which he represents himself, his home and the sport that he loves. He continues to get inspiration from his surroundings which is reflected in what Paradise Soccer Club puts out into the world. 

“Hawaii’s a very different market from the mainland, very different from the rest of the world. So there are certain trends that will always be popular here in the Islands…getting inspired by an aloha shirt and turning it into a jersey. Just being out…and walking around we can get inspired very easily—the ocean, gardens, flowers. So a lot of our designs, the flowers and…elements of our designs are [things that are] only found here in Hawaii. We have a shell design that is coming out that all the shells in the design…can only be found here in Hawaii. We also have another design [where]…each letter of ‘Paradise’ represents…an Islands’ flower. Each Island has its own flower and those make up the letters of ‘Paradise.’ So we try to bring Hawaii…and its culture…to the rest of the world.”

THE RETRO KIT: NIKE’S ORIGINAL KIT DESIGNER, OG DRAKE RAMBERG

Drake Ramberg arrived in Germany in the early 1990s with the task of launching Nike’s soccer apparel almost from scratch. The studio was in the Nike Germany Offices located just outside of Frankfurt. 

He was sent to Europe for a 2 year ex-pat assignment, and ended up building a Design team and designing multiple iconic Federation and Club kits before he left 6 years later. 

“Not only did we start up the Design studio, but we had to have all the right equipment to prep each design for production. “I worked with Canon to get printers, I had to set up a dark room, I worked with AGFA to get film projectors and film processors, we had to do our own separations, nothing digital back then… I also was assigned to work on the kits for Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain’, and we also had Olympique Lyonnais at the time.”

Ramberg grew up in Oregon playing youth soccer and graduated with a degree in Fine Art from Portland State University. He started working with Nike in 1986 as a freelance graphic designer before computers were the dominant tools of the trade. After creating the iconic Flight logo and the Nike Premiere logo…he was assigned to spearhead Nike’s football apparel graphics team and to create the kits and apparel for some of Europe’s most iconic teams including Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Lyon, PSV, Arsenal, and the Italian National Team. This was undoubtedly a daunting task for Nike and Drake who in the early 1990s were just getting started in the world of international football.

 

 

“Growing up in Portland in the 80s, our only exposure to European Soccer was, Soccer, Made In Germany, which was on public broadcasting on like…Saturday morning and I had no idea what the difference between Bayern Munich or Dortmund was. As a designer you are almost like an anthropologist. You gotta go deep. Deep into learning what these clubs are. And this [was] pre-internet, okay. So basically you [have] books, magazines. By moving over there I was able to be on the streets, and travel and go to these clubs and see their trophies, see their locker rooms, go out on the pitch and talk to players and talk to managers. And that’s in order to just to do your job right and even then you are just scratching the surface on figuring out their history and figuring out what a club like PSG or Arsenal would wear.”

The fabrics and climate of kit design in the early 1990s did lend itself to creative freedom. “I was working on soccer in the early 90s and we were creating what Nike Soccer looked like…There [were] no rules and it was just me and my team being creative and working to extend and bring to life the legacy of these clubs…try to be true to the spirit. It was kind of a graphic designer’s dream back then because you could just have fun there [were] no restrictions. It was all about sublimated graphics, the jacquards, it was really built for the fans.”

With that freedom, Drake Ramberg brought his own American sensibilities and background into his approach to designing some of the beautiful game’s most beloved shirts including the 1994-95 Borussia Dortmund kit and the 1995-96 Arsenal kit which happen to be the designer’s personal favorites. 

“I always go back to Dortmund. That was one of the first clubs that I worked on…I just felt like I had a kinship with that club. We brought in the Volt Yellow and it was such a Nike point of view and they let us take them where we wanted to. There [weren’t] too many restrictions. The first few designs were just having some fun with Nike graphics and motion and blur and those kind of things. But I felt like in 94 when I brought in the wings sleeve graphic—that was inspired by their Dortmund city flag, it had an eagle on it. All over Germany there are a lot of eagle motifs. I decided to go away from the blurred look into…clean geometric shapes. Every time I see it I’m like wow that’s cool.”

“The second one was Arsenal. Again I didn’t know an Arsenal from a Man City back when I got over there but I had traveled to Highbury and met with George Graham and some of the players and got a full immersion into English football. You’re learning about a club and figuring out, ‘what’s a Gunner?’ It has a military kind of background but how do you bring that to life through graphics? So I landed on just a lightning bolt as a motif to use to represent the Gunners and Arsenal. So the first kit in 94 was more of a tonal matte/shine jacquard. But my favorite one was the 95 one where it became more of a half [and] half shirt and more of a strong bold lightning bolt.

“What I thought was fun was bringing to a lot of the work that I did, as an American designer coming over to Europe, a lot of the American sensibilities or things I grew up with…In American sports every team has a nickname. So I had it say The Gunners’ across the top of their crest and then it had Arsenal on the back tail. So it was…bringing their nickname in which I hadn’t ever seen—their mascot or nickname on a jersey. So I was bringing in American graphic design and sport motifs by pulling out like the ‘A’ from Arsenal [which] was kind of like an Old English ‘A’ that [was similar] to the Atlanta Braves ‘A’ or ‘NY’ Yankees. It was a cool single letter. As you are designing a collection you need other elements to play with otherwise it’s just a badge on every style and they have a whole training collection, a whole fanwear collection so we wanted other elements to extend that so having a lightning bolt to play with, the ‘A’ logo, the actual crest, the word ‘Gunners,’ the word ‘Arsenal,’ helped us build out a whole collection. So it’s not just…the same thing on every style.”

“It was definitely a collaboration with my Apparel Designers, as they created the silhouettes, selected fabrics and trim details. We worked hand-in-hand to create each of these designs. I focused on the graphics and they developed the styles.”

The creativity and imaginative art that embodied the kits of the early 90s is something that still resonates with fans today. “It does seem like there’s a lot of this generation that loves that era just because of the fun graphics.”

The thick polyester fabrication of the early 1990s gear was a great vehicle for sublimation, jacquards,  and plastisol graphics did result in bold and memorable designs but not the highest performance athletic apparel. “Like [the] PSG ones were just coated in with heavy, screen printed sponsor logos, so it wasn’t high performance.”

Originally Ramberg went to Europe on what he thought was a two year assignment but he ended up staying for six. He was there for the shift from graphic-heavy kits to the starker, higher performance kits that came to dominate later in the decade. “But then in 96…we wanted to bring performance fabrics into football…we were like, ‘let’s bring in Dri-Fit, performance fabrications, there was mesh on the sides and everything. From that point forward…you could see, if you look back, not just with Nike but…in the industry it seemed like for about ten years it was really just like clean and simple and there was a major shift from graphics and jacquards and all that stuff into more like straight-up solid jerseys and letting the performance fabrics do the work…because of the price of the performance fabrics and the nature of the knit [and because] they didn’t take graphics very well.”

With the introduction of new technologies like VaporKnit artistic expression does not need to be sacrificed for performance. Graphics and design elements are woven into the fabrication of the apparel. In the last couple of years Nike has released kits with bold graphic choices that were celebrated by the public. Specifically the Nigeria Kit for the 2018 World Cup. The shirt sold out instantly and created a buzz that was akin to a coveted sneaker release. 

“It’s been satisfying to see the Nigeria kit and some of the World Cup kits. I was with the guys when they were designing them and I brought in my old jerseys and they were referencing them and it’s…fun to see…the spirit of Nike Soccer from the 90s [brought] into…2018.”

“There was a little bit of paying an homage to that 94 [Nigeria] jersey but bringing to the modern day. But I loved seeing it. It was great, not only the jersey but the whole collection around it was just really smart and really innovative…Having some fun with football and bringing it to what the fans are into.” 

The fans are still into what Drake Ramberg did over two decades ago. “Another thing that’s crazy with social media…(follow OG Drake on the Gram @dramberg) is that back in the 90s I felt like I was working in a vacuum over in Europe…but now when I look at all the work that I did, not only in soccer but in basketball, and all these fans reach out now and ask, ‘did you do this?’ and they want to know all the details and stories behind the kits. It’s heartwarming, some of the conversations I’ve had. And it is exciting to have had a role in inspiring the Design team as they continue to create the future of football kits.”

Drake Ramberg still works at Nike. Coming full circle, he helped as the Ops Director for Global Football when Nike moved the global football team he started in Europe back to Beaverton, Oregon a few years back. On any given day could be found mentoring young artists at the Blue Ribbon Studio on Nike’s campus.

EXPLORING THE WORK & IMPACT OF DESIGNER CHRISTIAN TRESSER

Christian Tresser has quite the resumé. A very abbreviated work history reads like this: he started designing footwear with an independent footwear design company that did work for Reebok. He later was hired by Reebok in their heyday when they were seriously threatening Nike; vying to become the top dog in the sneaker game. After a few years at Reebok which included him designing some classic runners and helping to launch Reebok’s football category, he got a job with Nike where he designed a number of iconic silos in both the running and soccer categories. Later he worked as the head of soccer innovation at adidas.

Before he ever picked up a pencil to doodle sneaker designs, Christian was immersed in his first passion, soccer. He can remember wanting to play ever since he was little and as a young man was on the California State Select team. Eventually he played at Foothill College in Northern California for legendary American Soccer figure, George Avakian. In the days of Christian’s soccer career there were not many options to pursue after college. So after a year of playing college soccer Christian decided to enroll at The Academy of Arts in San Francisco. His artistic talent would later be the vehicle for him to connect with football as a designer for performance soccer footwear. 

Christian Tresser has always been ahead of time. As a young designer working at a shoe design consultancy in the Bay Area of California, Christian was designing athleisure shoes, with the Reebok sublabel Boks, before they even had a name for that category of footwear. Later as the lead designer of Reebok’s football product he was incorporating cutting edge technology like Instapump, Graphlite, and carbon fiber foot plates into performance soccer shoes when the entire industry was pushing out virtually the same boots—stitched K leather uppers on rigid plastic sole plates—that they had been producing for decades. Tresser even designed laceless Reebok boots that were worn by players in the 1994 World Cup. 

The innovation and groundbreaking designs didn’t stop with his work at Reebok. After taking a job with Nike, Christian was tasked with designing the first high end synthetic football boot, the game changing Nike Mercurial. The synthetic upper provided a level of freedom for a designer not possible with traditional kangaroo leather which is only available in small hides that had to be stitched together.

“Things changed when it came to the Mercurial. That was the big moment where…soccer footwear changed. Because [of] the synthetic materials you could do a lot more with treatments on those materials than you can with…natural leathers. So it opened the door for design possibilities. Most of the soccer shoes leading up to that point were cut and sew…Weirdly enough the low end shoes were all synthetic. They were all synthetic and they had way more [options]. You could mold onto it, you could HF(high frequency) weld onto it, you could add color, you could print on it. 

“It was sort of a weird moment because when we did the Mercurial I was conflicted with it, in that we always did soccer shoes out of K leather or leathers and those are high end shoes. And the low [price point] shoes were all synthetic—it was a low end thing…When the Mercurial came along and they wanted to do this synthetic shoe at a [high end price point] I was conflicted as a player. I was like, ‘O, God, I’m not sure if that’s gonna work,’ because synthetics didn’t really have…the fit and feel that K leather would and I didn’t know if the players would accept it. But as a designer I was really open to the idea because it allowed me to more expressive.”

Taking a departure from traditional football boots Tresser designed the Mercurial from a single piece of material.

“When I realized…I could do that then I could think about adding more design element to it. And one of my ideas—and this [goes back to when] I worked at my dad’s [auto] body shop—I wanted to put a little bit of a light textural grip on the upper. And I had this idea that I could spray on, and I did, the material that you would spray on the under side of cars…So I took this upper and I taped…off the areas, and the pattern didn’t even change from [the] sample that I [made] to what came out in the market that…literally…didn’t change. So where you see the silver…3M reflective…on the Mercurial…originally I sprayed that with the [textured] spray material…And then I took a silver pen. I needed to highlight it because I wanted to show it off and I wanted it reflective because I wanted the cameras to see it…[when] there was a moment that light would hit it and it would show it off…in a very…clean and subtle way.” 

At the same time Christian was experimenting with his high end synthetic boot Nike was setting up there now legendary facility in Montebelluna, Italy where they to this day craft all of their high performance soccer footwear. He hand carried his sample to the Italian factory and shared his vision for the Mercurial. 

“These guys were amazing. They said, ‘okay we know what to do.’ And ultimately what we did is we took that upper…to the Aprilia factory somewhere in and around Montebelluna…to go look at this spraying process…We went over there and they showed us some of the motorcycle parts in the factory line and the showed me this spraying stuff and ultimately [we used] this clear spray…a very thin, light…material that was sprayed on to the synthetic. And when the shoes came back they were just beautiful, man. It was a new thing. It was totally new…I couldn’t even believe it myself…how great it came out.”

Even though Christian is complicit in changing the landscape of soccer footwear forever it wasn’t something he did intentionally.

“I don’t think too much ahead of myself at all. I do have a strange vision, that somehow…works for me. I start to create, and I go on a creative journey and I don’t think too much about what the future is and what it is going to be. I only get in the moment, what is inspiring me. The first Mercurial is that moment that changed it. I didn’t know it would do that, but it did…and that’s pretty cool. Where it goes from here, I don’t know, I just don’t. I don’t have that answer, I do know that I can do it.”

With all of the incredible work Christian has done up until this point there is no reason to doubt that he will continue to shape the future of footwear. Besides almost single handedly designing the entire Reebok football range, including signature boots for Ryan Giggs, and creating the some of the most iconic boots in Nike’s catalogue; Christian has also left an indelible mark on the sneaker game. In his time at Reebok Tresser was responsible for the Aztrek and DMX Daytona runners which have both been revisited with retro editions recently. 

In his five to six months working as a designer in the runner space at Nike he produced nothing but classic. To name a few he designed the Footscape, the Spiridon, and what is perhaps his most widely known and beloved silhouette, the Air Max 97. His work is still as impactful today as it has ever been. You can always find a Tresser silo, that he designed in the 90s, on a shelf at any sneaker shop today. 

The former youth standout soccer player and designer responsible for some of the most iconic sneakers ever, has now seen the worlds of football and sneakers blend. Two worlds where he made such an enormous impact are now more intertwined than ever. From the custom Air Max 97s designed for Cristiano Ronaldo to the Air Max 97 Mercurials released on Air Max day in 2017 Christian continues to be relevant to the culture in new and unexpected ways. 

“I saw that and I was pretty blown away. The two worlds, the parallel paths are really starting to blend into each other…My nephew, who’s a soccer player, got a pair of those and was so excited to share those with me.”

Kicks to the Pitch, an outlet dedicated to the entanglement of sneakers and football, would probably not even exist if not for the work of Christian Tresser. His design DNA is in everything we talk about. His work and elements of his designs continually pop up both in the football space and the lifestyle space.

“I stay humble in it…I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t think it was cool. I don’t know, it’s flattering I guess, to have something I did so long ago still [be] relevant. And I get people saying that certain things I’ve done have been impactful in their lives. And I didn’t really think [of] it back then and it’s cool but it’s also scary at the same time…it’s like, wow, I guess I did do a little damage in the industry.”