MLS: 2021 official match ball proves range of supporters

MLS jerseys ranked. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
MLS jerseys ranked. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Like a lot of Adidas soccer ball projects, the 2020 MLS official match ball drew inspiration from the past. It sought to build on the ball from the inaugural MLS season in 1996. This Nativo 21 ball has no two panels exactly matching graphically.  On the surface are elements of the U.S and Canada flags in grey. Red, white, and blue panels appear in spots. All 27 MLS cities are named, along with Commissioner Don Garber’s signature.

The new design does attempt a traditional style. At the same time, ball designers want to herald the new MLS era and move on from the retro look of last year’s ball, the design does attempt a traditional style.

All of the official match balls Adidas creates for MLS have kept up with FIFA quality pro standards. These, however, haven’t duplicated many of the features that provoked gripes during the last FIFA World Cup. Except for one.

The official MLS match ball is getting a lot of rave reviews

The polyurethane sphere allows for this surface to stay seamless, thermally bonded. While textured, the sphere likely will allow for some of the lesser-predictable flight patterns that got World Cup goalkeepers to start grumbling.

Some of the players, mostly keepers, also griped how they had to think longer before kicking the World Cup ball. That’s because the air bladder was perfectly sealed So you strike any panel on the ball, you strike them all. This feature was suspected when the Telstar 18 ball popped twice during World Cup play. It happened during the France vs. Australia match and again during Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia.

Similar incidents haven’t been witnessed during MLS matches. So expect that Adidas engineers have figured this problem out. Unlike the FIFA ball, these MLS balls aren’t boasting any sort of data chip embedded in the membrane. The device featured in the World Cup balls was a Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip. While it got conspiracy theorists to wagging their tongues, the real-world results were very nearly worthless.

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Near-field means that any app attempting to access the chip had to be nearby. Daily use of this technology includes keycards and contactless payment systems. In this case, tapping a smartphone with an NFC reader on the ball’s logo triggered an advertisement in a similar manner of scanning a QR code.

The whole chip idea was to see if it survived the World Cup. In the future, Adidas hopes a much-smarter embedded chip might communicate the velocity, length, and altitude of each kick. No further information on this has come from Adidas.

If you’d like to experience the MLS Nativo 21 for yourself, the real McCoy will set you back $164.99. There are some free-shipping specials if that’s what you want.

But if you’re not ready to make such a great investment, don’t bother looking around for unlicensed knockoffs. That’s because MLS and Adidas have democratically covered the market for us more frugal supporters of the beautiful, domestic game. There is a $39.99 option that is a 2021 Nativo Match League NFHS Replica. It’s available in black-and-white. There’s also a stunningly less-expensive $19.99 version in the official colors. It’s the 2021 Nativo Match Club Replica.

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In the middle price-wise there’s the $29.99 2021 Nativo Match Training Replica. And if you want a novelty to carry around and get signed, there’s the $13.99 mini-replica. All these choices are available at MLS and all official retailers. In marketing these 2021 balls, MLS and Adidas know the range of sporting public they’re dealing with. So stay tuned.