The World Cup is a time for unbridled patriotism, the type that would otherwise be embarrassing to the many fans who unabashedly paint their faces and wrap their bodies in the technicolor pigments of home for a few weeks every four years. There is no costume too bombastic at the World Cup, and no uniform too bright. There is only pride, and hope, and love.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (US)
And silliness. You know what the United States got right about the patriotism on display at the World Cup? The silliness of it all. And nothing quite represents that spirit like the alternate kit the US wore when they hosted the 1994 World Cup, known as the denim kit.
This bad boys is one of the most famous and infamous World Cup jerseys of all time, noted for how terribly American they really were: the mottled blue background color designed to look like a pair of jeans; the star pattern stretching across the chest; the bright red numbers and shorts to tie the entire thing together and remind anyone watching that this is what an American soccer player really looks like.
Fans dissatisfied with Nike’s most recent attempts to re-create this triumph of kitschy American patriotism needn’t fear, either, as they won’t be consigned to using only the current iterations of USMNT kits in the World Cup campaigns they will play out on their games consoles on FIFA 23. Just in time for their real-life, pivotal Group B match against England in Qatar on Friday, EA Sports is rolling out a new optional kit for the USMNT in the game, and it’s all denim, all the time baby
The denim kit is ridiculous, and that’s precisely what makes it great. Of course, it also helped that the ’94 US squad pulled off some unbelievable moments in it as well. From Eric Wynalda’s free kick stunner against Switzerland to one of the team’s most famous victories, the 2-1 defeat of Colombia at the height of their powers, the denim kit was there in the moments when the United States turned from a largely dormant country in the world of soccer to a nation possessed of the sport.
And there is that moment from the ’94 World Cup that perhaps best summed up the denim kit, that United States team, the fandom that still cheers on the USMNT through thick and thin, all of it. A corner kick. A lead against Colombia. And a stunning mullet waiting for its moment to shine.
Marcelo Balboa was a defender for the US, but you wouldn’t have known it the way he rose to meet Tab Ramos’ corner kick into the box. His leg arcing through the air like a battle axe, he met the ball in the air at full speed, making perfect connection with his foot high above his head. It was a perfect bicycle kick, one that you could hope to achieve in only a movie or a dream.
The ball streaked just wide of the post. For all its ostentatious beauty, it simply wasn’t meant to be. The US would eventually bow out of the ’94 World Cup in an ugly round of 16 match against eventual champions Brazil. The hosts burned out quickly, yes. But they burned brightly.
Now, you can control whichever US player you want in these star-spangled slices of heaven. Want to take on several defenders while playing as a ‘denim-clad’ Timothy Weah? You can do that. Want to send Christian Pulisic streaking down the sideline until those stars blur? You can do that, too.
At their best, the USMNT are the denim kit. And if the US aren’t going to wear them in real life, at the very least you can wear them in a video game. It’s time to ditch the faux tie-dye and plain white kits of 2022 and embrace the tradition that the United States should have been honoring all this time. The goofy. The outrageous. The so-bizarre-it-just-might-work.
The USMNT will take the field against England on Friday in a game the world roundly expects them to lose. But if the denim kit is in play somewhere in the world, even in a video game, don’t count them out.