Why Nike isn’t worried about the reaction to new USMNT World Cup kits

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Football Writer

Yunus Musah does its best to be diplomatic.

During a Zoom conference at the end of August with journalists, the American midfielder was asked to give his thoughts on the new Nike uniforms that the men’s national team will wear when kicking off the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar in November.

“The kits are…yeah. These are the kits they made, you know? said Musah who, along with his American teammates, first carried the refitted wires – which were officially unveiled Thursday — in June during the promotional photo and video shoots of the tournament. Pressed for his verdict, Musah rated the design “in the middle” rather than good or bad.

It was hardly a ringing endorsement. He was always better than online reviews offered by fellow USMNT list locks Weston McKennie and Tim Weah after leaked photos of the new threads surfaced online.

Nike, understandably, didn’t take kindly to the criticism. But the global sportswear giant also has a habit of taking pre-World Cup snaps of its new designs.

This happens every four years.

“People always hate new shirts at first,” Aaron Barnett, Nike’s senior director of football apparel, told FOX Sports at a pre-launch event last month in New York. “Then your team wins their first game and it’s the best shirt they’ve ever had.”

That’s a fair point. Humans are both resistant to change and able to adapt quickly. Truth be told, the New American Shirt isn’t nearly as drastic as some of the more memorable versions of yesteryear. The “Bomb Pop” 2014 jersey, the red striped “Where’s Waldo” the one that debuted two years earlier, the garish denim kit the United States wore as hosts to the World Cup in 1994 – all were far further from the status quo at the time.

And each of them – especially the denim kit – were widely criticized when they were released. Today, they are among the most fondly remembered USMNT uniforms of all time.

The aesthetic of the new American shirt is downright tame in comparison. It does have its own unique quirks, though, which help explain some of the twists.

“We were really drawn to this idea of ​​sports culture in the country,” said Rolando Cruz of Nike, who was involved in the creative process from start to finish. For inspiration, Cruz said, Nike “started looking at classic American jerseys in different sports.”

So it’s no coincidence that the look of the Americans will look like other football in the first World Cup held in an NFL season. Of the 13 Nike-sponsored Qatar-bound teams, the United States is the only one to feature the company’s ubiquitous “Swoosh” logo on the sleeves rather than the chest. (Nike first tried this with a Paris Saint-Germain jersey last season.)

The shoulder strips are also right next to the grill; while they are reminiscent of those on the sides of the white tops the USMNT wore in their 2002 quarter-final, Barnett suggested it wasn’t deliberate. Each of the 13 Nike teams will also have their own unique font for names and numbers. USA features old school blocky numbers and letters in keeping with the traditional American sports theme.

The US Soccer badge is noticeably larger than usual on both the new white home and blue away kit. This too was intentional. “We went to the regulations, and we said what is the biggest crest that FIFA will allow us to put on this kit, and we did,” Cruz said.

It is also positioned front and center instead of the usual place over the heart. This, however, is far from a new idea. The famous English Three Lions crest was first sewn into the middle of their shirts a quarter of a century ago; he reappeared there during the Euro last summer. The USMNT crest has also been displayed in the center in the past, notably during 2006 World Cup qualifying matches.

Still, the new models will take some getting used to. That goes for both the fans and the men who will carry them onto the world stage. Unlike the fans, however, the athletes had a say in how it turned out.

In January 2020, Cruz flew to Los Angeles to ask USMNT players attending training camp what they wanted to see in the 2022 World Cup kit. Those conversations continued virtually after the outbreak of the pandemic. This makes the initial unfavorable response to the final product interesting, although it’s worth mentioning that Musah, McKennie, Weah and several other World Cup roster locks did not attend this early 2020 camp due commitments to their European clubs.

But then again, skewering the new kits has long been a four-year ritual for fickle audiences.

“People will always have opinions,” said Barnett, a 26-year-old Nike veteran who early in his career was tasked with introducing new designs to skeptical members of the U.S. men’s and women’s teams, the current coach of the USMNT Gregg Berhalter and President of American Football Cindy Parlow. Cone among them.

“I remember in 1998, in the bedroom with Cindy and Brandi [Chastain] and Mia [Hamm]”, he said. “I guarantee you there were as many opinions then as we have today.”

The United States will launch the home shirts later this month in their final two World Cup tune-ups, against Japan and Saudi Arabia. They will also wear the whites in their opener in Qatar before moving away against England and Iran.

The final verdict on the jerseys will largely depend on what happens in the main event, though it might not happen for years. Eventually they will grow on people if history is any guide.

Musah seems at least open to this possibility. “I’m sure,” he said, “they’ll look pretty good on the pitch.”

One of North America’s leading football journalists, Doug McIntyre has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at several FIFA World Cups. Prior to joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer at ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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