In our last edition of these rankings, we were left frustrated with the direction Adidas and MLS chose to take. After promising a reduction in white and white-adjacent kits, the brand with the three stripes was unable to meet that expectation.
A swath of white kits, met with bland offerings and templates, left us calling for Adidas to be completely replaced and our hope in the future was shot.
However, this year we were pleasantly surprised by the turnaround both the league and the kit manufacturers have done overall. Gone are the ghastly EQT shoulder stripes. The number of templates and plain designs have been drastically reduced. There are some bold moves here — some paid off, some didn’t. But, there seems to be a better attempt at making things interesting for MLS fans who are tired of decades of being left behind as an afterthought.
Well, it also helps that this cycle saw a lot more home kits than away kits. But even still, I count a total of only four mostly white or gray kits – with one of those being LA Galaxy’s traditional home whites. I’m not willing to say that Adidas should retain their spot as the only kit manufacturer for MLS teams. However, with a number of clever and unique designs here, they can leave the timeout corner.
This time around, we’re going to condense things down into slideshows for each letter grade alongside bullets for each kit. We’re also going to go in reverse order from bottom to top. Just like last year, the grades are as follows:
- The BEST: pretty self explanatory, the best kits (home and away) made this year
- A: among the best kits in the league, deserving of full acclaim
- B: a unique, creative effort was put forth and seemed to have payed off
- C: Kits that are creative and bold, but seem to be missing something
- D: Either the details added don’t work, there’s something missing, it’s a template, or all of the above
- Delete This: The most bland and uninspired kits of the bunch
While they are clustered in tiers, these are ranked from our favorites to least favorites in order.
- T-28th: San Jose away & Toronto FC away — I’m putting both of the away kits from Toronto FC and San Jose Earthquakes here because my writeup deserves as much effort as they put into it. They both are white. They both are boring. San Jose seems to have made the Delete This tier their home, thanks to their plain home kit last year. Something has to change there.
- 27th: DC United home — Now that DCU have released their training kit, I can’t wait to see what their real home jersey looks like. (*receives whisper*) You’re telling me that’s their home kit? Oh also, the new main shirt sponsor is a cryptocurrency company which has riled up the current DCU fanbase (just check the comments under the announcement tweet). I say current, because I wouldn’t be surprised if D.C. United becomes the official club for crypto-bros.
- 26th: CF Montreal away — Quick, let’s mirror flip the marble pattern from Arsenal’s away kit this year and make it blue. Think anyone will notice?
- 25th: Inter Miami CF home — For being a fashion forward and aesthetically pleasing city, I thought Miami would come up with a more exciting effort for their pink kits. Even the polo collar looks weird here.
- 24th: Real Salt Lake home — I like the collar and the sleeves, but this reminds me of a thrift store find more than anything else. The main body of the kit is incredibly plain and the accents give me too much of a Spain vibe that this current RSL squad just doesn’t have.
- 23rd: New England Revolution home — This is a borderline C/D kit, because the design overall isn’t really that bad. But, when it comes to design, inspiration and intent is everything — especially for kits. Last year, we placed the Revs as the worst kit in the lineup for pretending to honor old New England forts when in reality, they used a template seen in Spain’s home kit. Apparently, the design team either at the Revs or at Adidas didn’t see that article because they’re at it again with this one. According to the literature, this jersey’s square design was inspired by the Freedom Trail. For those who didn’t grow up in New England, or haven’t visited Boston, the Freedom Trail is a walking trail through the city connecting important sites from the city’s revolutionary war history. There’s only one problem — the Freedom Trail looks like this:
I would love to know in what way this random assortment of squares that follow no lines or pattern whatsoever relates to a simple red brick pathway that follows a straight line through the streets of Boston. If they wanted to pay homage to the trail, in my opinion, it would be better to try and replicate the path like you said you’re trying to do here. Have a red line down the center of the shirt with two smaller flanking gray lines on the side. (I envision something slightly similar to the 2016/17 home shirt). In closing, this is the second time you’ve tried to draw meaning to a kit that isn’t there. Please New England, do better.
- 22nd: Houston Dynamo away — I like the badge and stripe colors. Overall the kit seems to blend together really well. But where you lose me is where you use a template and call it the Bayou Kit. You mean to tell me there are bayous in Leeds?
- 21st: FC Dallas home — FCD plays it safe by sticking to their traditional “red kit with blue hoops” motif. It’s not bad at all, but it’s not that inspiring compared to the others.
- 20th: Minnesota United FC home — The black kits are a little simple, but overall I think these are well executed. They land on the C Tier because I loved their last home kit with the wing design in black on a gray shirt. It might be a slight cheap shot, but I don’t know…I’m gonna miss the other one.
- 19th: Los Angeles Galaxy home — Yes, white is your home shirt color, I get it. But did the shirt itself have to be so…bland? The team’s traditional navy sash is gone and it hurts the final product. What lands it in the C tier (as opposed to lower) is the awesome collar and sleeve cuff design, which is really the only element of the shirt that stands out. Though a word of warning to those who might want to get this kit: the replicas don’t have the collars. It’s just a normal blue design with nothing special on it. That lack of authenticity is incredibly disappointing and I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way.
- 18th: Austin FC away — I like the color mint as an accent for shirts, and there’s one in the top 5 that does just that. But to make mint green your whole kit’s color is baffling and brings me back to one of the worst kits released by a major European club in the last decade. I’ll also add this: we get that your whole shtick is that Austin FC is “Los Verdes”, but why do you have to try and claim multiple different shades of green? Are we gonna see your home kit next year and have it be the same shade as the Portland Timbers? Are you going to have to pay Seattle for the rights to use rave green? If you have an identity with one shade, then stick with it before it’s too late.
- T-16th: Nashville SC home and Columbus Crew SC home — Both the yellow kits land here. Seeing Columbus return to gold is a good thing, but both shirts seem pretty plain overall. To judge them differently would be wrong in my eyes.
- 15th: Chicago Fire FC home — The homage to the Chicago Water Tower is really nice, but I hope it’s more pronounced than the pictures of it show. Beyond that, I feel like the shirt is missing something and a dash of white on the shirt or the trim could really bump this into the top 10.
- 14th: Sporting KC home — The nod to not only the two area codes of Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO, but also the border between the two states is a really unique design feature. I’m a geography nerd, so when I saw the lines the numbers make are in the form of the state line, I was excited. I just wish it was more prominent. I don’t know how it’s gonna look on the field.
- 13th: Charlotte FC home — This is a great start for a team’s home kit identity. The colors are going to blend well with the seats at Bank of America Stadium. It’s not too exciting, but a very solid start.
- 12th: New York City FC away — The reigning MLS Cup winners gave their fans two things they’ve been asking for: a championship and an orange kit. I’ve gone back and forth on my opinions of this kit. On one hand, I get the elements: orange and blue for the city flag, lightning bolts pay homage to The Third Rail. Both of those are good ideas, but did the final result have to be so garish? I imagine this kit will polarize a lot of people, so in the interest of reflecting that sentiment, and my own journey of my opinions of this jersey, I’m putting it at C tier.
- 11th: Seattle Sounders FC home — Never mind that the kit looks almost like a Cascade Croatia kit (or the cover of a 90’s programming book), the pattern is unique enough to be memorable but not offensive enough to force others to look away.
- 10th: Colorado Rapids home — The unique design of the embedded mountains in the kit elevate it from the traditional maroon that Rapids fans have come to expect. It’s a good effort which is both meaningful and pleasing.
- 9th: Philadelphia Union home — Of all the EQT stripe kits from 2019, I thought Philadelphia’s was the least offensive. Now, with clubs returning to their normal, unobtrusive stripes, Philly is bringing back a band on their shirts. Instead of the traditional pale gold, it’s the lighter blue that serves as their third color. Adding to the kit is the Bimbo sponsorship in gold, which stands out but not so much that it distracts from the shirt.
- 8th: FC Cincinnati away — The design on the chest of the shirt and around the crest is directly taken from the flag of the city of Cincinnati. It’s a nice touch and a good nod to the city.
- 7th: New York Red Bulls away — The red returns for the Red Bulls, and the synergy with the design from their home kit works very well here. The pair look nice together. My only recommendation is to make the badge either all white or chrome, but other than that, it’s a well done shirt.
- 6th: Atlanta United FC away — Here’s the thing. I love this kit. The colors are amazing, the shading is awesome, and the callup to the Atlanta nickname of the “City in a Forest” is awesome. But, the whole time I was looking at it, I felt I had seen it somewhere. I couldn’t place it. Then it hit me. If you flip the pattern upside down, it’s the same design from one of my favorite Scotland National Team kits of the last decade from 2018. So it lands at a B tier because it’s a template. But of all the template kits, it’s my favorite.
- 5th: Charlotte FC away — This has been dubbed the “Mint City” kit. The city of Charlotte has many nicknames: the “Hornets Nest” (which has a meaning beyond the NBA team playing there), CLT, the “Queen City” among the more popular. I’d never heard of “Mint City” as a nickname for Charlotte before. In fact, when you Google the term “Mint City Charlotte”, the only thing that comes up is the Mint City Collective — the Charlotte FC supporters group. Being a northerner, I figured the moniker was just one that I and Wikipedia were unaware of, so I reached out to MCC to ask them if I had missed something. Here’s what MCC’s Jay Landskroener said in response:
We had some room to really play with our name. We looked at Charlotte’s past, present and future and something that has been a constant since the mid 1800’s is gold, money. In 1835 Charlotte was approved to become the first branch of the US Mint to produce money. This because of gold being found in the region and cost of transporting it.
We know finance will be around for a while. So embracing that part of our city, we leaned into the idea of Mint City. Besides, there are about 30 cities who call themselves the Queen City. And it’s rare to find a Mint City.
So while not trying to change the wheel, we wanted to fortify the story of Charlotte. And that’s where Mint City came from.
So what we have here is not only a kit that’s well designed (mint is better as an accent color) with a fantastic collar and a killer looking badge, it’s also a kit dedicated to the fans. It’s a team that hasn’t played a single game in MLS yet, and they’re already making a shirt honoring their supporters. That’s admirable, and with a kit that looks this good, Charlotte fans should be excited for what’s to come.
- 4th: Portland Timbers away — The defending Western Conference champions really leaned into their home city’s nickname here. The Rose City’s men’s team is finally getting a rose kit, proving that any and every gender can rock this design and rock it well. I initially bristled at it, because I felt like it lacked a little bit of depth or shading to truly accentuate the flowers and make them pop. But, as I sat with it admiring the mono-color badge, I grew to love what they put out.
- 3rd: Vancouver Whitecaps FC away — For my money, Vancouver has the best traditional design of any team in Major League Soccer. There’s just something about the band across the middle that speaks to my soul. Whether it’s the home kit’s blue-on-white effort, or this white on blue one, every element in this kit just screams retro in the best way possible. An amazing effort here.
The Best Away: Orlando City SC
This is a story of a club recognizing it has a problem, and looking to fix it. Let’s start by reminding ourselves of what Orlando City has trotted out in the past for away kits.
Well…at least they’re consistent? Clearly the white shirt with purple stripe thing was getting boring and if they rolled out another one it would surely end up in the D tier at best. Instead, we get a truly unique design that provides a great gradient and lots of color. There’s enough purple here to fill an episode of Barney & Friends, but the way it transitions to orange, then a pale yellow is great color blocking. Not to mention, how these colors play with the pattern on the shirt is really fantastic. Orlando can’t ever go back to the status quo again. Not after a great result like this.
The Best Home (and overall): Los Angeles FC
The details on this shirt scream early 20th century Hollywood glitz and glamour and I’m here for it. I’m also a sucker for Art Deco and this kit manages to balance itself out with a bold design and colors that aren’t too harsh. Overall, an amazing design that I’d love to add to my collection one day.
Finally, here’s a look at our visual tier list: