Has there ever been a better time for football in North America and Australia?
As the A-League and the MLS continue to mature and develop, there are many reasons Australia should look and learn from its cousin league across the Pacific.
Last week, Major League Soccer clubs in the United States unveiled their new strips for the 18th season of the competition.
The inaugural ‘Jersey Week’ provided some interesting kits, several of which have been designed to incorporate some part of their local football culture.
Montreal Impact’s blue and black striped away kit is a nod to their first jersey in 1993, while Philadelphia Union have designed their third kit to include the name and logo of Bethlehem Steel FC, a team that played in the area in the early part of last century.
Vancouver Whitecaps have the slogan “we are the Whitecaps” on its hem, with “Since 1974” on the back collar.
Similarly, Portland Timbers have used the “Stand Together” slogan – which represents the partnership between the club and its fans – on the collar its home shirt, while the away kit has the supporter chant “we are the Rose City” on the back of it’s collar.
Perhaps most innovative of all, the Colorado Rapids have made the unusual and unprecedented step of printing all of their season ticket-holders names on their home kit, in a slightly darker shade of burgundy. Fans are, quite literally, woven into the fabric of the club.
Even the national team’s ‘Centennial jersey’ is a deliberate throwback to mark 100 years since the founding of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Beautifully designed, the plain white jersey uses the original stars and stripes logo.
Some may view these kind of initiatives as corny, but it continues an interesting trend in the way football is being marketed in the United States. The game’s history and fan culture is being used as a way of connecting people to their clubs, and clubs to their local area.
And this year, the most famous of all US football sides will be reborn.
True to form, the New York Cosmos have enlisted the help of several celebrity footballers, including Eric Cantona. But unlike last time, the Cosmos seem intent on building from the bottom up. They have plans for a new stadium, and have even employed an official club historian, David Kilpatrick.
Where the Cosmos were all about being ‘new’ in the 1970s, now they are trading upon their roots and their heritage. They’ll restart from the second-tier NASL, which is home to several other historic clubs, including Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
These clubs were all involved in the old North American Soccer League, which collapsed in 1984. They are ‘reincarnations’ of the old franchises, trading upon their history in a new era for American football.
For Australian football fans, this will sound familiar. The FFA has increasingly tried to engage with the history of the game in Australia and to appeal to local communities, most obviously through the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Of course, they haven’t gone so far as to resurrect any of the old NSL teams, and it seems an unlikely and unwise prospect for the forseeable future. But with the new NPL system, there is already talk of promotion and relegation and an FFA Cup.
While there are many fundamental and important differences in the structure of the game in the two countries, there are also many similarities between the MLS and the A-League. We would do well to keep a close watch on what the MLS clubs are doing.
Indeed, the FFA recently appointed former MLS executive Russell Sargeant to become the new A-League General Manager of Operations. Don’t be surprised if he brings some ideas across from his time in the States.
The ‘Jersey Week’ is one initiative that could do well here, especially since the governing body allowed clubs to negotiate their own kit manufacturers. The tyranny of those monotonous Reebok kits was maintained for far too long.
Interestingly, MLS clubs are all wedded to Adidas, although the manufacturer has done well to include a variety of different designs and styles.
Several A-League clubs, as part of their community engagement programs, have ran ‘design your own kit’ competitions. There has been a healthy interest and enthusiasm for these types of initiatives among fans, and some of the resulting designs have been excellent.
Still, could these types of competitions be extended to the home jerseys? At the fans forums held in Western Sydney, there was a strong desire for the club to play in red and black. The club delivered, and shirts have since flown off the racks.
In 2011, Perth Glory celebrated their fifteenth birthday on their logo and even released their own “commemorative wines.”
With the A-League’s ninth finals season and subsequent tenth season fast approaching, it will be interesting to see how the other clubs react to the milestone. Let’s hope they make some effort to thank and include their fans in the celebrations.