The story behind Atlanta United’s new third kit

Atlanta United unveiled its third kit, the "Unity Kit," on June 17 at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta.

Credit: Atlanta United

Credit: Atlanta United

Atlanta United unveiled its third kit, the "Unity Kit," on June 17 at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta.

The story behind Atlanta United’s new third uniform, dubbed “The Unity Kit,” started with the team winning the MLS Cup in 2018.

The next season, the team unveiled the “Star and Stripes” primary kit, notable for the gold star representing the MLS Cup, above the crest.

Because the sales of that kit reached a certain threshold for units sold in its two years, Atlanta United, with some badgering done by club President Darren Eales toward the league and kit manufacturer Adidas, got its third kit. It is the only MLS team to get a third kit this season. And it may be the only kit in soccer in the world that includes messages of hope and humanity within its design.

“What we’ve had in the past 15 months has brought home how important it is,” Eales said.

The genesis of the “Unity” idea came in 2019, according to Eales. The club wanted to recognize that six years ago the city didn’t have a team and was now humbled to be part of the global game. It also wanted to recognize Atlanta’s history within the Civil Rights movement. The team knew the third was going to be limited edition, so it wanted to do something different with the color palette. They started to think of the red clay that Georgia is famous for, which has swirls of red and orange. Some poetic license was taken with the thought of everyone standing together on the same clay.

The ideas were then merged and expanded to reflect soccer’s ability to bring people together.

The final result, after a couple of iterations, is “The Unity Kit.” The top is deep red with the red/orange clay color used on the stripes, lettering and crest. There are five wavy stripes in which there are 13 messages written in 11 languages. The team is aware that the Hebrew letters are backward and issued an apology Friday that stressed the kit is about humanity and the mistake wasn’t intentional.

It is an important coincidence that the kit’s positive messages come as the world continues to wrestle with social injustice.

“It’s an honor to wear it and represent a city like this,” said Atlanta United centerback Miles Robinson, who is active in Black Players for Change. “It’s a step in the right direction for social justice. I’m honored to play for Atlanta United. After George Floyd was murdered, it brings an extra light to issues like this. Things like this, to keep the conversation going with fans in the crowd, is something positive.”

The third kit will be worn in only five games this season, starting with Sunday’s match against Philadelphia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game will be special for another reason: Every player in the league will wear designed numbers on the back of the jersey that represent Juneteenth. The number, green with a yellow outline and the words “Juneteenth 1865″ and “Celebrate Freedom” included in each numeral, was designed by Israel Solomon in collaboration with the league and the Black Players for Change. The jerseys will be auctioned with proceeds going to “organizations supporting and uplifting Black communities in the markets of MLS teams,” according to the league.

The kit will be part of an exhibition focused on the unifying power of soccer at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Centennial Park. The team plans to take the kit and its message around the city, as well. All proceeds from sales of the kit will be dispersed by the Atlanta United Foundation toward building 100 mini-pitches around Georgia -- which is an initiative the team started last year, support of the club’s Special Olympics Unified team and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

“I’m just excited about the opportunity to speak about the unity message,” Eales said. “The only reason we got it is because our No. 17s are so unbelievable.”