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In praise of the Timbers’ 2021 jersey: Something interesting in a league of bland

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Like the jersey itself, fan reaction has been … divided. But it deserves to be praised anyway.

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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

There are numerous things that unite fans of the Portland Timbers, but perhaps nothing does so quite like the release of a new jersey.

The annual event seems to arise on social media each February, when RCTID comes together to debate the quality of the new Timbers kit. Arguments from fans tend to range from “best jersey we’ve ever had, and ever will have” to “literally the poop emoji on a t-shirt.”

The new 2021 Timbers primary jerseys are no exception. Even before their official unveiling on Tuesday, a reported leak making the rounds on the internet elicited some tepid reactions from Timbers fans online. That proved to hold true after the jersey itself was officially revealed by the Timbers earlier this week. Fan reaction was maybe a little more mixed than the “surefire megahit” that Timbers owner Merritt Paulson predicted these would be back in May.

A perusing of the replies to that tweet, Portland Timbers subreddit, and even the comment section of Stumptown Footy’s own article on the reveal shows the divided reactions of the fanbase. Some fans did indeed think it is a very good jersey, but many others think that it’s a more disappointing version of the 2017 and 2011 primaries mashed together.

I’m not here to say if the jersey is definitively good or not. (For what it’s worth, I think they’re pretty cool.) But I am here to point out that they do deserve to be praised for being something that so many MLS jerseys are not nowadays: interesting.

Much has been written about how MLS’s partnership with Adidas has led to the new jerseys being either a.) monochrome with very little unique elements, b.) just a plain white shirt, or c.) both. I am unfortunately unhappy to report that this trend is continuing into 2021. You can skim through the jerseys revealed or leaked in that article, as well the landing page for all of the rumored new MLS kits, and count the number of genuinely interesting or exciting ones on one hand, or maybe a hand and a half.

The unfortunate trend is the many MLS teams are playing it so safe with their looks that they are downright boring. Whether it’s restrictions due to the deal with Adidas, a lack of creative control (as jerseys are designed 2-3 years in advance), or just plain unwillingness to to do something different, the top tier of men’s soccer in the US features some of the blandest jerseys on record.

Which, by the way, does decidedly not need to be the case in American soccer. There are several leagues in the US which feature some jerseys that are straight fire, with the NWSL in particular putting out extremely interesting and cool jerseys on a regular basis. Case in point, the Portland Thorns sport maybe one of the best looking jerseys in the country at the moment:

I am very happy that these kits are sticking around for another season, and we will (fingers crossed, wood knocked, prayers said) hopefully have a chance to all safely see them live in action at Providence Park sometime this year.

But seeing the sharp uniforms that the Thorns and other NWSL sides are putting out makes the Adidas templatization of MLS jerseys all the more sad. We’re not even the place where we’re debating the minutiae of whether most new MLS jerseys are good or not — we’re just wondering if they look different enough from one another.

Which again, brings me back to praising the Timbers 2021 primaries. Feel what you may about the jersey itself, you can’t deny that the club deserves credit for actually trying something. It has a unique design — maybe even one of the most unique the league will see this season. And it has a cohesive message that actually ties in to the club’s history, with some nice smaller details to fill it out. It serves as a kind of update to the 2011 primaries while also paying homage, and I kind of love it (and also this video of Eryk Williamson straight up tearing a jersey in half):

Even their reveal was more unique, as they took advantage of their new official sleeve partner and “newest hottest social media thing to scroll through” TikTok to announce them.

By the way, that official TikTok partnership could be kind of big. The Thorns and Timbers claiming it as an official partner will give both PTFC clubs increased access to a undeniably massive user base, most of which may not have been exposed to soccer, and many of whom serve as a target demographic for potential new fans. You may not get the platform (I admittedly am still in the learning stage with it as well), but it has the potential to really grow the Portland soccer brand in a big way.

I for one am glad that the team I support is at least trying something interesting with their new jerseys. Future ones might not all be hits, and our annual debate will undoubtedly continue. But hopefully we can all appreciate that the Timbers (and Thorns) are trying to break outside of the mold as much as they can. In a world full of whitewashed and bland jerseys, I’d rather be a two-tone Frankenstein-esque 2011 throwback.