With the World Cup's madcap group stages winding down and its tense knock-out rounds yet to come, it's time for a look at a crucial but subtle facet of the world's biggest sporting event: the style quotient. By now we've seen every team, and we've seen just about every team shirt. And given that Portland is the birthplace and design hub of Nike, we have an unusual rooting interest in how the Cup looks.
Nike's run of kits for tournament finalists is generally strong, with a minimalist and classicist bent: note the plentiful button-down collars as seen on the USA "home" shirt, which was on display in last weekend's epic (and horrendously sweaty) draw with Portugal in the heart of Amazonia. This motif lends many of the Nike kits a jaunty, old-school-sportsman air, particularly as used in dearly departed Australia's simple and elegant look or the purist chic that only France, in their iconic home blues, can really pull off. (What's going on with that France away shirt, though? Anything?)
The notable departure, neckline-wise, comes with the South Korean kit, which evokes an Asian sensation of sorts. We're not totally sold on this as a design direction bearing much more exploration, but it's interesting as a one-off.
To judge by the scenes on the streets of Portland last Sunday, the home-team fashion hit of the Cup is, without doubt, the boldly color-blocked USA away kit. The shirt garnered some unfavorable comparisons to a Popsicle wrapper when first released, but we think it holds its own really well as a graphic, racy statement of devil-may-care patriotism. It's certainly the most memorable USA jersey since, well, 1994.
Generally, Nike's designers kept it simple and sharp, especially as they approached arguably the two most iconic kits in their current line-up. You don't redesign Brazil's canary-yellow shirt—the shirt worn by Pele, Socrates, Ronaldo (the original), and so many other legendary players. You just refine it. And so Nike has done:
When you have five stars to put on a shirt (one for each of Brazil's World Cup wins so far, you see), few other fashion statements are necessary. Nike's designers just tightened up a few details from past shirts; those subtle hoops on the seldom-seen away kit are nice, too.
Meanwhile, the famed oranje the Netherlands—generally considered the greatest footballing nation never to win a World Cup, though their barnstorming 2014 team could well change that—lends itself to a bit more experimentation. If possible, this Holland shirt is more orange than any other in memory, and is, for our money, the Swoosh's stylistic smash of the summer:
Now that is a kit, eh? Snappy as a Cruyff Turn.