This is the future: Nike goes black and white for new U.S. Soccer kits

Courtesy Nike/U.S Soccer

Nike unveiled the new U.S. national team kits, and FourFourTwo USA editor Jeff Kassouf was there to take in the high-tech display.

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NEW YORK – In circular room which could have doubled as a house of mirrors, violinists dramatically struck their chords in harmony with flashing lights to establish a vibe which Hollywood might sell as a glimpse of the year 3000, but in the end product was a basic concept: black and white.

Nike debuted the new United States national team kits on Thursday at the Skylight at Moynihan Station in midtown Manhattan – just steps from Madison Square Garden – as part of a two-day event unveiling innovations in footwear, apparel and personal training.

U.S. women’s national team regulars Ali Krieger and Megan Rapinoe were on hand to show off the U.S. kits, joining a couple handful of U.S. and international basketball and track and field stars in a miniature parade of nations five months ahead of the opening of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Rapinoe wore the new, mostly white kit and Krieger sported the new, mostly black kit with the U.S. men and women will wear this year.

The white kit features a hint of light blue – not the traditional royal found on the United States flag – while the black kit features more traditional blue and red opposing shoulders. The downplaying of the United States’ red, white and blue comes following the U.S. Women’s World Cup triumph in 2015 which saw the team wear white tops and shorts with black piping, plus neon green socks which Nike dubbed “volt.” There was no red or blue on that kit; even the U.S. Soccer crest – the now defunct U.S. Soccer crest – was even stripped down to black outlines in a minimalist look.

If that was the getting-to-know-you stage of black and white for the United States of America, the new alternate is U.S. Soccer getting hitched in Vegas with a fourth color; it’s head-to-toe black.

“I think the thought process behind it was intimidation,” Rapinoe said on Thursday. “Especially with the men’s Copa America coming up, they’ll be the first ones to sport the kit. Sort of that dominant presence.”

Rapinoe appeared to be walking normally on Thursday as she recovers from a torn ACL suffered in early December. She is progressing in rehabilitation and doesn’t yet have a set timetable for a return, but admits the Olympics are obviously on her mind.

Courtesy Nike

Notice a trend?

The template Nike is using for national teams in this summer’s Copa America Centenario and European Championship will make for familiar looks in matches. France, England, and the United States will all wear kits which could be considered relatively interchangeable in color and design, all of them utilizing color-block sleeves which, like the rest of the uniform, feature technology Nike says – and Rapinoe and Krieger attest to – wicks away sweat from the skin 20 percent faster and dries 25 percent faster than Nike’s most recent uniforms. Like the most desirable neighborhood in the perfect suburban town, there is a complex dichotomy between cookie-cutter and beautiful.

“We did extensive research with players on what their ultimate future uniform would entail and themes started to emerge around fit, breathability and a superhero aesthetic,” said Martin Lotti, Nike’s creative director. “Once we visualized what was possible, we aggressively accelerated bringing the future forward with a complete system of dress built for speed.”

Brazil will wear the same template but with sleeves which match the body of the shirt as to not disrupt the traditional all-yellow top of Seleção. Portugal will also wear a traditional deep red kit as its primary shirt.

In some cases, less is more.

“I really love it. It’s really modern and it’s super simple,” Krieger said, playfully noting that the women’s kit looks even better with three stars above the new – and also minimalist – crest which was unveiled earlier in February.

The kits Nike unveiled Thursday were part of a two-day event the company dubbed “Innovation for Everybody,” focusing on tailoring fitness and training to the everyday person. Actor Kevin Hart opened the event on Wednesday with a declaration that Nike is bringing a fitness program to everyone, tailored to their individual needs through the Nike+ app.

The big technological reveal of the event from Nike CEO Mark Parker was the adaptive lacing technology which features sensors which automatically tighten to your foot, eliminating the traditional shoe lace. That will only be on a traditional sneaker, for now.

Nike’s soccer unit rolled out new shoe technology of its own, including the “anti-clog” cleat which is designed to prevent mud from sticking to the bottom of the cleat, a common problem for soccer players in wet conditions. Pairing with the cleat is a new sock featuring gripping technology on the inside and outside so that it doesn’t slide around in the cleat or down the leg or shin guard (there's even built-in shin protection in the socks).

Declarations of innovation from companies hailing the latest technologies have become standard practice through the years as the marketplace grows and competition increases. Each jersey is lighter than its predecessor; each cleat more comfortable than the last. Sometimes the claims ring hollow. That doesn’t seem the case here; Nike is clearly shaping the future, whatever that may look like.

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