NEW YORK—When you picture Brazil at the World Cup, you expect them in yellow. When you envision Italy, you know they’ll be wearing royal blue. England wears red. Argentina wears baby blue stripes. And Holland dons solid orange.
The United States? They don’t have a signature look, something U.S. Soccer and Nike are hoping to change with the release of new home and away “sash” jerseys. Yes, they look like something a beauty pageant contestant might wear. But there’s a meaningful reason behind the diagonal stripe.
If you’ll remember, the United States beat heavily favored England at the 1950 World Cup. It’s widely considered one of the most shocking upsets the sport has ever seen—definitely team USA’s first great achievement—and it was realized while wearing a faux sash.
Now, after 60 years, it’s back.
“England played in blue in 1950,” recalls then U.S. captain Walter Bahr. “Since that loss, they have never played in blue again. So uniforms can mean something.”
Obviously the sash stripe didn’t score the winning goal. (You can thank Joe Gaetjens for that.) But for a team that has struggled with consistency, both in terms of competitiveness and appearance, the sash embraces a visible winning tradition, however ephemeral.
“We’re trying to instill a sense of history,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley says of the jersey. “Reinforcing things that happened along the way.”
As the jersey’s principle designer, Nike’s Phil Dickinson adds, “It’s our responsibility to build that tradition in U.S. Soccer.” When asked by if the sash would become a permanent fixture on future jerseys, Dickenson said, “Yeah, I think we’re going to stick with that. When you consider the history, it’s very iconic.”
Not everyone agrees with him. After Nike unveiled the away jersey in February, and the home jersey today, online conversations lit up with ridicule. “What’s with the presidential sash?” and “Nice beauty pageant!” were two popular ones. At the same time, the sash was well-received by many, including yours truly.
Still, the old-fashioned look is undoubtedly polarizing.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a team hoping to get noticed. And at least the sash has more identity than anything else the Americans have worn previously.
Which raises the question: Shouldn’t a uniform be uniform? And like already established soccer nations, shouldn’t it stand out when players take the field?
Current officials think so. And if they have their way, the little sash that could might have a bright future. “On the world soccer stage, it’s pretty unique,” says Dickenson. “So we plan to use it for future generations.”
Special correspondent Robert Bradford contributed to this report.