2023 Canadian Premier League new kits gradings – what’s hot and what’s not?
With every passing year, fans can get excited for the dawn of a new season with the release of their clubs newest kits. With such a young league like the Canadian Premier League, connecting the club to its community and to the greater landscape of Canada has become crucial, especially through initiatives like seasonal kits. This year we saw some teams hit it out the park with their design, story and colours, while other teams… not so much.
Here is my Canadian Premier League Grading List for 2023!
In the same vein as one would do with a tier list, I will grade these from A to D.
A = Instant buy – You saw it, fell in love with it, ordered it express, and are eagerly awaiting for it by the post box every day.
B = Pretty good! – They’re kits that have character, and have done their job in representing both the club and its community, while adding some nice aesthetic value to it.
C = Meh – It’s not the worst, its not the best. Maybe the design is a bit weird, maybe the colours are too plain. It’s a rather forgettable kit pair, which means no one will think of it too badly nor too greatly.
D = Wounds my eyes – It’s as if the designers of these kits purposefully chose it to make sure that the opponents on the field run the opposite way from the atrocity of this shirt. It would put Medusa to shame in its powers to avert the gaze of mortals.
+/- = It’s in-between two and I am too indecisive to commit to one (it’s the people-pleaser in me).
With the criteria now clear, let’s delve into my analysis of each kit, with the added “Community Vote” just underneath. We’ll go West to East as it is on the CPL website and grade each home and away pairing as one.
With the new Pacific Kit, you get what you pay for. The home kit has its traditional purple design outlined with geometric shapes to add texture to the kit, and the TELUS sponsorship plastered across the chest in bold white letter. The neat part is towards the bottom-centre, where the geometric designs combine to form the detailed shape of a Spirit Bear, a hallmark animal of British Columbia. My only issue with it is the position of the bear, as it creates an extra focal point that clashes with the bold white sponsor lettering, thus complicating the jersey. If the bear was behind the sponsor (like if it was eating it!) or was simply less detailed, it might have worked better.
Meanwhile, the away jersey encompasses that West Coast Beach vibe to a T. Its Hawaiian-type design sports various imagery that transports you to those weekend trips to the beach, full of palm trees, waves, sailboats, and camping supplies. The pale blue-green colours invoke that salty ocean feel, and paired with the sandy gold colour, decorate the jersey in a nicely cohesive conceptual manner. It just feels like you cannot help but wear some Ray Ban sunglasses and khaki shorts alongside it.
I think it’s a solid kit pairing, with only the home-kit a little cluttered in its design.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
COMMUNITY VOTE: A
Vancouver FC had the daunting task to introduce itself through its kits to the entire country this season, piling on the pressure to get it right. The result is a pretty alright kit pairing.
The home kit seems like a classic and sleek black kit, with the only other colour being prevalent is the white of the crest, the Macron logo, and the CIBC Sponsor. The subtle add of the dark grey trim around the collar and sleeves does add a bit of depth, but it’s still quite one-dimensional. That is until you spot the reflective black text that is lined from the top of the shoulders all the way down. The wall of text is filled with the names of the 53 cities and municipalities of Greater Vancouver, demonstrating their commitment to being THE Vancouver team. While a smart idea to stamp your identity as the side that represents all of Vancouver, the execution of this shirt is a tad unoriginal and safe. Just having the names of the cities you want to represent in a wall of text isn’t the most creative manner to sell yourself as Vancouver’s team.
That being said, the away kit does bring in a bit more pizazz to it. A chic retro kit that is an homage to the history of soccer in British Columbia, its thick lines of black and red recall the times of old where all kits were black and white unless you went to the games in person. It’s a simple but more stylish concept, fitting perfectly with the hipster-fashion that is all the rave in the West Coast urban areas.
Overall, it’s a safe pick, but definitely one that you can improve upon as years go on.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
COMMUNITY GRADE: B
Cavalry FC came with a bit more of an abstract design for their home kit, opting to go with gradients rather than hard lines to distinguish its colours on the body of the kit. The staple red colour forms a sort of hazy thick sash that goes from the top-left to the bottom right, encompassing the Cavalry crest and half of the West Jet logo. The other half is painted on a gradient black colour that covers the top right side, encompassing as well the Macron logo. Meanwhile, the heart of the kit is the picturesque scene of the Canadian Rockies that adorns the bottom of the kit. It’s full of mountains, trees, and even a bison! It travels across the gradients, making it seem like the red sash is a ray of brilliant red sunlight.
The choice for the gradient is a bit questionable, giving it a Microsoft Paint feel to it, but it at least depicts a lovely scene that nicely represents the province of Alberta and its gorgeous natural landscapes.
The away kit, on the other hand, might be the most ridiculous kit I have seen in years. It essentially is like Vancouver FC’s home kit, but instead of reflective black lettering to detail the shirt from top to bottom, it just has a white lightning strike across the front. Yup. That’s it. The lightning bolt, which goes from the top left of the shirt to the bottom right, apparently represents their ardor to succeed, with the club stating that “when lightning strikes, it ignites our passion”. But in reality, its basically a black shirt with a thin red trim on the edges, and a thin lightning bolt arcing across the front. If you thought Vancouver FC’s was unimaginative…
Overall, the home-kit has grown on me, but the away kit feels like they let one of the players’ children design it. And they love thunderstorms.
OVERALL GRADE: C-
COMMUNITY GRADE: C+
Valour’s kits are the inverse of Vancouver FC’s kits, for me. Their home kit is very well executed, with the clever design of putting Winnipeg’s streets subtly in the background of their dark red shirt. That’s how you represent a community while keeping the design clean, minimalistic, and tasteful. I also really like that the home kit is predominantly red, with only a few accents of black and gold near the collar and the ends of the sleeves. It’s a sure-fire favourite for me.
The away kit, on the other hand, suffers similar to Vancouver FC’s home kit in that it’s basically a black kit. Sure, the texture of the black makes it seem more gritty, as if its made of asphalt or another rough material, but it lacks character beyond the confounding inclusion of the claw tear. The claw tear, in itself, is quite gimmicky. The idea to have the claw tear past the black to show the Valour red underneath is a bit tacky in my opinion. But the fact that the animal claw tear has no clear connection to any actual animal in Manitoba, and is just arbitrarily chosen to show some red underneath, is just beyond tawdry in my opinion.
Overall, a really nice home kit, and a very gimmicky and mundane away kit.
OVERALL RATING: B-
COMMUNITY RATING: C
As someone who had worked at Forge FC for four years, and who loves the club to death regardless of where I live, it comes with heavy heart that I award Forge FC’s 2023 kits with the Worst Kit of the Year. Goodness gracious me, what were they thinking.
Let’s start with the lesser of the two evils in the home kit. While I like that they are trying to connect to their community more by making the focus of the kit the chain that is prevalent on the flag of Hamilton (which represents the six municipalities of the Greater Hamilton Area), they could not have gone about it in a messier way. The home kit is riddled with circles of chains emanating from the Forge crest, and rippling through the rest of the shirt. Some are thick chains that are made up of orange and grey geometric shapes, while others a thin grey chains and white chains that underlay the thicker chains. It is an overall chaotic mess that is just further complicated by the sleeves. The sleeves are seemingly cut in half, not following the pattern on the body, and instead have a different section of the design sandwiched in the middle of the sleeve. The only silver lining is the detail that they chains start the ripple from the Forge crest, which I think is a nice touch to an overall eclectic design.
The grey away kit, however, has no saving grace. Its design of six columns filled with different angled black lines that enclose grey chains within them look like it was designed by Bridget Riley. It genuinely looks like its an optical illusion meant to confuse the opponent when they are approaching the players. The fact that they black angled lines don’t even properly align consistently throughout the column makes it even more of an eye-sore. I genuinely can’t look at it too long or else my head hurts.
All I can say is: what were the focus group who signed off on this on!? Cause I want some.
OVERALL GRADE: D-
COMMUNITY GRADE: C-
In stark contrast to their provincial rivals, I think York United has released their best kits yet. The home jersey is perfectly balanced in its design and colour, having that central double stripe of green and blue going down the middle. And the way that they included the famous Carlsberg logo to fit seamlessly in the middle of the jersey without having its blue colour clash with that of the stripe is genius. Even the white around the stripes is not without detail, as the texture makes it have more depth and character, without it taking away from the centrepiece. Oh and the sleeves are a nice touch, with the overlapping lines representing Toronto’s notable entertainment district.
What I think is the best out of the two is the away kit, though. While the home kit is a well-executed modern iteration of a soccer kit, the away kit brings it back to classics with a jersey that seems to pay homage to the classic Premier League kits of the late 90’s. It helps that it has Carlsberg as its sponsor, a famous Premier League sponsor at that time, to really hit the nail on its nostalgic head.
The colour scheme is perfect with the identity of the club, with the dark green body and the dark blue sleeves. The texture of the edges and sharp angles in the body of the jersey bring a sense of modernity that keeps such a retro-leaning kit fresh and original. And the fact that such a design is meant to reflect the angles and edges of the Royal Ontario Museum, which itself brings together modernity with antiquity, is a subtle inclusion that speaks volumes about the level of detail and thought that was put into this kit. And, of course, who doesn’t love a polo collar on a football kit.
Overall, I think York United hit this one out of the park.
OVERALL GRADE: A+
COMMUNITY GRADE: A-
Compared to the other two Ontario teams, Atletico has probably the most lukewarm kits out of the three. Ironic given the theme of the away kit, which is supposed to represent the winters in Ottawa and the ice rinks in the Rideau Canal.
While I appreciate the novel take on paying homage to where you are from in this away kit, I think what detracts from it is that it just looks like it was made of ice. It’s a bit too on-the-nose for me, and it’s a bit too one-dimensional. I think you could have brought the same theme and be able to do it in a more creative and abstract way than “as if carved out of a block of ice” (Bonus points for the recycled material though!).
Meanwhile, the home kit is more like the classic Atletico jerseys we are used to. The stripes of red and white make it clear to which football organization Atletico Ottawa belong to, but credit to Ottawa in finding a way to make it more personal to Canada’s capital. The shape of the city of Ottawa being simplified into a kind of heart-shape, and then have it printed along the red stripes, is a neat idea, even if it does look a bit clunky overall. The back also having a more detailed drawing of the city makes it feel more like an Ottawa kit than an Atletico kit. But the printed “W” at the bottom, representing the “Dub” fanbase, is just too cringey for me. I get that its their name, but calling yourselves the “Dub” is just… icky.
Overall, the kits do a decent job to represent the city, and the club its an affiliate of (despite having the ugliest of sponsors plastered across the front).
OVERALL GRADE: C+
COMMUNITY GRADE: C
Last, but not least, is HFX Wanderers. Despite Wanderers being one of the most nondescript and lustreless clubs in the CPL, Halifax brought probably the most underrated kits of the year this year.
Starting with the home kit, it does beautifully to pair that deep, Royal Blue across the body with that gorgeous Steel Grey accents on the sleeves and edges, a personal favourite colour combination of mine. The design is also wonderfully subtle yet pronounced, having the shapes of the black granite rocks present throughout the body of the kit. It’s simple yet original, truly tying it back to the coasts of Nova Scotia without being all up in your face about it.
Meanwhile, the away jersey is a true heavy hitter. While it might seem quite plain at first, upon closer look, its design is super modern and stylish. In contrast to Vancouver FC’s home kit, it has text nicely spaced out into thin grey lines across the body, spelling out their motto of “Together From Aways”. Once again, subtle yet pronounced. But the crown jewel of the kit is that beautiful multicoloured pattern that adorns the collar, sleeve-trim and name/number plate on the back. The mosaic pattern is stunning, and the colours truly bring that brightness and warmth to this rather plain white kit. My only qualm is that I would have wanted to see that pattern be a bit thicker on the sleeves, and really go across the whole of the collar. It would bring this design even more to life.
Overall, some truly incredible kits, helped heavily by a super clean and modern sponsor logo in Volkswagen, which coincidently match the club name of Wanderers with its traditional W.
OVERALL GRADE: A
COMMUNITY GRADE: B-
Beauty Is In The Eye of the Beholder…
And that’s it! Those are my grades for this year’s kits! Overall, I think it’s a pretty decent batch of kits, with some really impressing, and only a select few (*cough, cough* Forge, and Cavalry Away *cough, cough*) failing the class.
And remember! Everyone is a critic and everyone has their own opinion! That’s what makes the interpretation and appreciation of visual (and other mediums of) art so fun and exciting. And hopefully we can all take pride the in the leaps and bounds that this league has had in its short history, and what it brings towards making Canada a true soccer country.
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