By Ben Bowers
on 4.1.13
Photo by Eric Yang

Soccer has never held our collective national attention like other sports — with Landon Donovan’s goal in extra time against Algeria during the 2010 world cup and Brandi Chastain’s sports bra being the two possible exceptions. So who knew that 2013 represents the 100-year anniversary of the birth of U.S. soccer, originally established through the United States Football Association, a not-for-profit, governing body of soccer in America? A century still seems young in the grand scheme of things, particularly in relation to the “football” traditions of other countries around the world. But our men’s team progress to date in the beautiful game is nothing to scoff at once you look at the facts. Whether they’ll ever match the dominance of the women’s team is another story entirely.

The first half of the century was a golden time for the men’s game stateside, establishing a level of play we’ve still yet to match. In 1930, the U.S. achieved its highest ever performance in the World Cup, placing third by beating Belgium 3-0. During the same tournament, U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer Bert Patenaude made his mark by becoming the first person to score a hat trick in a World Cup finals tournament — though the this record was under serious dispute until recent evidence solidified the truth (two goals had been incorrectly credited to Patenaude’s teammates). The momentum of this high point failed to produce positive long-term results for the program, however, as we slumped into a 36-year period without qualifying for World Cup play.

Since the 1980s, the team has steadily made progress on the international stage, riding a wave of renewed popularity in youth soccer. Particularly, the program boasts qualifying for 19 consecutive FIFA outdoor world championships before the under-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2004. In the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the men’s team likewise took gold four times from 1989 to 2011 and was runner up five times during the same period. Our overall World Cup record to date of 7 wins, 7 draws and 17 losses still pales in comparison to other international powerhouses; improvement in play on the world’s biggest stage may be coming in fits and starts — but at least it’s coming. After an epic snow win against Costa Rica and a “thrilling” 0-0 draw against Mexico, the team’s hopes for qualifying for 2016 are still well intact.

No matter how the football gods side with our men and women on the ground in the coming months, Nike’s Centennial U.S. soccer kit for both squads ensures shoddy gear won’t be their downfall. The new minimalist jerseys were inspired by the original uni’s worn by Americans during the first-ever international match, a 3-2 victory against Sweden (suck on that, Ikea). The main changes involve an enlarged crest placed over the heart, boasting 13 stars and 13 stripes in a nod to the original colonies. On the performance front, advanced Dri-Fit technology made from 96% polyester recycled from plastic bottle keep players cool and dry (except during blizzards), while limiting impact on the planet. There’s plenty of other gear to go with the jersey as well, including bags, sweats, shoes, hats and jackets, all with a distinctly retro flair, designed both for the team and style-conscious fans yelling their support from the living room or the stands.

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