Sporting KC

An oral history of those Kansas City Wizards rainbow jerseys from the 1990s

When Sporting Kansas City celebrates Retro Night on Sunday, the players will be rocking jerseys that adequately honor the club’s history. The Wizards logo is branded to the front, and the famous — or infamous — rainbow pattern covers the sleeves.

In its initial three seasons of Major League Soccer, the Wiz and Wizards jerseys had some variation of the rainbow or Life Saver or Charlie Brown look, whatever you preferred to call it. And as popular as the retro look might be today, it wasn’t exactly that way in the late 1990s, when the players wore them.

Without the branding and merchandise staff that Sporting KC employs today, the jerseys were designed after a collaboration between the league and Adidas. The team didn’t have much say on the design.

But the players sure did.

The Star interviewed former Wizards players and team personnel this week to gauge their thoughts on the jerseys. It should be noted that each of these conversations were lighthearted in nature.

Kansas City Wiz midfielder Preki (right) battles Los Angeles Galaxy defenseman Dan Calichman in the first half of their Major League Soccer match on Aug. 21, 1996, in Pasadena, Calif. Eric Draper AP Photo

Wizards midfielder Diego Gutierrez (1996-97, 2002-05): “I remember the first time the players saw them. That was 21 years ago. I thought they were putrid. The league was trying to be creative and whatnot, so we were trying to get as much attention as we could, but I thought those uniforms were terrible, man. Do you remember the socks? They looked like the sleeves. It was a joke.”

Wizards defender Sean Bowers (1996-99): “It was pretty clear that the league was trying to set a trend and attract attention in those first years, and we just went with the flow. I actually kind of liked them. After every game, I threw one out to the crowd. But yeah, you didn’t see many people in the stands wearing them.”

Wizards midfielder Kerry Zavagnin (2000-08): “There were a lot of bad jerseys in the league — a lot of bad jerseys. But for all the bad looks, Kansas City for sure took the prize as the jersey you didn’t wanna be seen in.”

Wizards defender Alexi Lalas (1999): “The whole rainbow motif, I thought it was cool. It was something that was provocative and fun and unique. I enjoyed it. I know not everybody did because it didn’t have the traditional type of feel. But it certainly made us stand out.”

Wizards defender Peter Vermes (2000-02): “It wasn’t as if when you looked at the Wizards jerseys, you said, ‘Oh, my God.’ Because all the teams’ jerseys, they just weren’t good. I mean, I remember when I was in Colorado (from 1997-99), and our main complaint was it was just gigantic. It was heavy. It was pieced together like a hockey jersey.”

Gutierrez: “The material didn’t really breathe. And the away kit we had was black. In the summer, it was brutal.”

Columbus midfielder Todd Yeagley (left) tried to slow Wiz midfielder Mike Sorber during a 1996 MLS match, but Sorber had a goal and an assist in the 6-4 victory. 1996 Photo

Vermes: “(The league) never told us anything (about the jerseys). Are you kidding? There was no communication back then. If we’d have complained, they would’ve sent us on our way the next day. That was the last thing you were worried about back then.”

Lalas: “I grew up a redhead. And when you grow up a redhead, you just wanna be like everyone else. But then you get older, and you realize it makes you special because it separates you. There was an element of that to these. It wasn’t traditional. It was going to turn heads. But I looked at it as, hey, it’s something unique. That’s the way I went about it.”

Zavagnin: “In 2000, (my first year in Kansas City), we wore them for preseason, because our new jerseys weren’t in yet. Seeing them from afar and now having the opportunity to put them on for preseason, I think it confirmed my belief — they were bad. They told us we could keep the jerseys after preseason, and I immediately got rid of it. It was a No. 9 Zavagnin, and No. 9 was supposed to be reserved for the center forward. It was wrong in all the ways possible.”

Vermes: “When they gave us those blue jerseys in 2000, it was like we’d made a big step forward in the league.”

Sporting KC chief communications officer Rob Thomson: “We were last in apparel sales virtually ever year. We even finished behind MLS. The league sold apparel with their own logo on it, and even that stuff outsold the Wizards. It’s amazing how far we’ve come and the amount of Sporting KC gear we see out in the city. It’s a far cry from the Wizards era. There will be more Wizards apparel out in the community after Sunday’s retro jersey night than there ever was before.”

Sporting KC vice president of brand revenue John Moncke: “A lot of fans (bought) the limited edition retro top the first day we opened game day pre-orders (this week). We sold more on the first day of pre-orders than a normal MLS match. By the end of the game on Sunday, we will have had our largest volume retail game ever.”

Lalas: “I still have a stash of the Wizards jerseys. People will ask me on Twitter about them. There are a lot of jerseys that come and go. But that one — and OK, maybe because it was ugly — you remember.”

Gutierrez: “I got a few jerseys hanging up in my house. That’s one of them. It matches the curtains.”

Bowers: “I guess we paved the way. We must’ve been ahead of our time. Because they’re considered pretty cool now, right?”

Zavagnin: “Now the retro look is what everyone wants, so I’m actually a little disappointed I gave mine away. But you know, everybody wants an Atari, too.”