For commentary on its historic collaboration with Adidas for the LAFC Samba, the Club reached out to writer and supporter Alex Dwyer who co-hosts both the FCFC and Season Pass podcasts. He has written about LAFC for Howler, MLS, and Los Angeles Magazine.
Growing up, I doodled.
I loved sports, but when I wasn’t on the playground I dreamed of being an artist.
Unfortunately, my drawings were terrible. I lacked natural talent. All the practice in the world wasn’t going to save me.
My school notebooks were doused in black ink scribblings. Mostly, these were botched attempts to replicate the logos of my favorite bands (first NOFX, Bad Religion, Goldfinger, Rage Against The Machine, and later Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, Hieroglyphics) and brands (Toy Machine, Quiksilver, Girl Skateboards, Rossignol). I couldn’t actually draw, so I just practiced reproducing these badges of honor over and over again to the point where they actually started to look legit.
I stopped doodling long ago. But I can still draw, from memory, one pattern: the sole of Adidas Sambas.
In those grammar school days, I’d prop a sneaker up on one knee during class and scribble the likeness of the rubber sculpture between mathematical equations, verb conjugation charts, and dates of historic events.
The design is etched in my muscle memory. On the top half of the tanned sole, below the toes and ball of the foot, three dimples spread out like planets orbiting a bullseye sun, webbed together in a triangular constellation backdrop. Rows of nubby treads, which look like the wave sets of two oceans splashing into each other, surround the logo beneath the arch and spread to the heel.
With the reverence of a zealot, I would the copy the sneakers’ contours as if they were inscriptions on a sacred scroll, the words “All Day I Dream About Soccer” echoing in my head like a homily. The only thing I wanted more than to be an artist was to be an athlete.
Across more consecutive years than I can count, and against changes in musical and recreational taste, a fresh pair of Sambas was the one constant feature of my back to school uniform. For me, they were a link to the sport I loved deepest and the wider world I was eager to join.
I was a quintessential American kid who partook in every sport on the playground. I was also a short, scrawny lad whose primary weapon was speed. Since age eight, when I got to lay my own two eyes on the holy grail––the FIFA World Cup Trophy at the Downtown LA Convention Center during Soccer Fest 1994––I was in. After all, the Barry Sanders of Brazilian football, Romário—my first footballing hero who won the golden ball in that seismic U.S. tournament—was only 5’6”.
In watching the dancing feet of players in that tournament, I found my own rhythm. My own soul. A way to move in the world.
It didn’t matter that most of my friends growing up, like the rest of my classmates, discarded football with hubris or ridicule. It didn’t matter that the game I loved most was the one most hated on in my country at large. The 1994 World Cup experience gave me feelings I couldn’t unfeel.
Basketball, pigskin, and baseball never offered a passport out of an America I saw, even at a young age, as awash with at least as much arrogance and ignorance as diversity and liberty. Sambas grounded me. They filled the void. They were a daily, wearable link to the universes I ached for, places real and imagined that offered something more.
And so, many years later, when I was told LAFC was releasing a Samba collaboration I lost my mind to the point where my podcast co-hosts, I’m sure, strongly considered voting me off the air when I suggested dedicating a full week of shows to the shoe’s arrival.
Maybe they should have.
The evolving Black & Gold uniform started, of course, with the hat.
It so happens that the only other item of clothing I’ve clung to in my life with even a fraction of the fervor I had for the Samba was the 59FIFTY fitted cap from New Era. That interest came later, in my teenage years and twenties. I listened to and reported on hip-hop culture. I titled the brim and did my damnedest to explain to people that I wasn’t an actual baseball fan. To many of us, an ‘LA’ hat is simply a matter of civic pride.
In 2016, LAFC’s hat became a Trojan Horse for Los Angeles to break into football culture and vice versa. The black base, the golden letters, the art deco wing, even the first photos of it on the Slauson Avenue pedestrian bridge remain iconic. The design was perfect. Nothing needed changing. It was such a stroke of genius that in 2018, when the club struck a first-of-its-kind deal with New Era to produce a fitted version, I thought it was the hat maker who got the better deal.
By joining in an already well-established Los Angeles tradition — a stylized L and A on a baseball-style cap, made famous by the Dodgers — LAFC introduced itself to the city speaking a language that was understood implicitly. Nothing needed explaining. Unlike the impracticality of a football scarf in 100+ degree summers, the hat offered something to rock in unlimited settings.
The hat was often the first contact with the new Black & Gold kid on the block. It contained the dream, living in so many of our heads since even before LAFC was announced in October 2014, that a proper football club, football culture, and football community could exist in Los Angeles. Our collective heads were right where they belonged at that time of creation and possibility: the clouds.
Now, years later, some things have changed.
Just like in my own adolescent experience, LAFC finds its feet in a pair of Sambas at a time when the rubber soles are hitting the road, an uncertain journey ahead.
If the hat showed how LAFC might integrate Los Angeles culture into the global game, the Samba expresses its commitment to honor the traditions of the sport worldwide. It links LAFC to the 150+ years of association football history. The shoe has only been around for a little over half that time, but since its 1950 introduction, it has become as ubiquitous and symbolic of the sport as Converse All-Stars are for basketball.
Three of the world’s primary hubs for the sport informed that trajectory. The name was inspired by a music and dance synonymous with Brazilian life, which is to say a heart and stylistic home for the beautiful game. Sambas were all manufactured at Adidas headquarters in Germany in the beginning, and a spiked version of the silhouette helped that country lift its first World Cup trophy in Switzerland 1954 as underdogs to Ferenc Puskás’s Hungary. In the 1970s and 80s they solidified their place in the UK’s terrace and casual culture, taking the sport shoe to the street.
In Europe and other parts of the world, the Samba is like the Air Jordan, Chuck Taylor, and Jack Parcell rolled into one and lit. Adidas may have sold more units of its Stan Smith sneaker, but it’s been the company's second highest seller––the Samba––that has become the great cultural equalizer. Where so many iconic athletic shoes are built in the image of a superstar (Michael Jordan, Chuck Taylor, Jack Parcell and Stan Smith, to name a few), the Samba is a practical and unassuming shoe. It’s a unifier. A link.
Over the next few decades, America connected to it too. Characters in shows like Entourage, Atlanta, and The Walking Dead got laced up in Sambas. Eddie Murphy and Shia LaBeouf wore them in their respective Beverly Hills Cop and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen roles. But most of us didn’t need to see them on the big screen for validation.
We were already wearing them at backyard punk shows and dive bars. We threw them on for Rock The Bells and Warped Tour. We lifted our heels in our Sambas to bark orders into taco truck windows in empty parking lots at wee AM hours.
Adidas spread fast and wide through American cultural life. I made a playlist featuring several dozen classic American hip-hop songs that reference the three-stripes. Other genres have their own anthems too.
After talking to people at both Adidas and LAFC (much of the conversation was recorded on a recent FCFC episode) it’s evident that the two sides worked closely together to get this collaboration right. They were both aware of the potential and the pitfalls.
This had never happened in MLS before. In fact, the only football clubs Adidas had ever collaborated with for a series of Originals were Manchester United, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid. Each of those shoes took on a different look and feel than the classic black and white Sambas. The colorways and club crests on those models give off a more exclusive vibe — something to be collected and stored — or to be worn on special occasions rather than in daily life.
The sneaker heads that brave lines on Fairfax and Melrose might have also preferred a similarly avant-garde Samba exclusive, but this has never been a shoe designed for collectors alone. Even in the U.S., it has become what it is everywhere else: a shoe suited to the purpose of anyone who wears it, which is to say, everyone.
Sambas are meant to be worn, played, stomped, moshed, cyphered, and celebrated in. They are as suited for air travel as they are built to hop off the bus for dirt lot away-day tailgates. They have traction on ice and snow.
Sambas gain, not lose, character over time through use. They are not a shoe for you to play at being a superstar. They accept you as you are now, beer stains and all. In fact, especially with beer stains. They resist judgement. They promote communion rather than division.
And so, it seemed that as the collaboration came to fruition, LAFC had a choice to make — push its Samba as something loud, perhaps all the way into that novelty category, or weave its likeness into the classic design quietly, at the risk of being drowned out by the ocean of football history that came before it.
The established American soccer tendency is to insist on changes to established global football traditions when we adapt them for ourselves. To the point of self-mockery, Americans would often rather treat its teams, its derbies, and even its tournaments more like circus attractions than to act sincerely enough to risk ridicule by the terms and standards of global football. Tendencies like these might, for example, result in a stitched likeness of Olly the falcon somewhere along the black exterior of the shoe.
LAFC has seemed determined to unfasten itself from this goofy bind since its beginning.
And how do you choose between honoring football tradition and creating your own, new, authentic, expressions football culture?
Simple. You link the past to the future.
The LAFC team - including Ben Chi, Marcus McDougald, Geoff Parrish, Natalya Pyatkovska, Patrick Aviles, and Rich Orosco created a shoe that honors the history of this symbol of the world’s game and hints at what’s next. Led by the guiding principle of wanting to join in the act of joining in, not deviating from, tradition, LAFC ended up with a shoe close to the classic Samba, but with subtle and important distinctions.
In simple terms, apart from the shoelace aiglets which are now gold, what was black has stayed black. What was white is now gold. What was gold has remained gold. The word “Samba” has been swapped with “Los Angeles”––importantly and intentionally not “LAFC.” The tongue and interior heel designs have been filled with the LAFC call to arms—street x street, block x block, one x one. The tanned sole remains unchanged.
If you leave the removable tongue inserts out of it, that’s all the major tinkering that took place.
By resisting the temptation to force something intrusive onto a design that is already perfect, the club let the shoe speak for itself. Nothing needs explaining. The subtle changes to the classic design illuminate the parts of LAFC’s dream yet to come into fruition or into focus: the work still to be done, the journey still to be travelled, the gold still to be mined.
Because, we must not forget, that LAFC is still growing up. Five years in, two full seasons under its belt, and a strange third one underway, the club and its community continue to learn.
Players explore how they can use their platform to drive needed social change. Supporters ask themselves and each other difficult questions about how to live closer to their shoulder-to-shoulder creed. Club employees contend with the dramatic changes wrought by Covid-19’s on the one hand and double down on how LAFC can be a force for good on the other. The whole communal ecosystem continues to evolve to serve its emerging function as a civic institution and a home.
In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of the present, we appreciate good news more than ever when it arrives. We’re grateful to share these joys, however big or small, with each other.
And the LAFC Samba is one of them — both tiny, in the grander scheme of things, and massive. A living history.
Fitting that the shoe arrives at a moment in time where so much hinges on the next steps we take as a club, a culture, a community, and a country. Fitting we have something specific to lace up when we have so much worth chanting and jumping for. Tragic that we can’t do any of it in person, but we will do it together, because that’s the only way we know.
One day this too will be the past, a link to a story we will all share.
As a boy, the most important thing about my Sambas was that they offered a trap door to real freedom. With them on my feet I could toss my backpack down and play on any surface at a moment’s notice. I was equipped to fight for what I cared about — the beautiful game and my place in it. Sambas are now, as they were then, an excellent shoe for actual footballing.
I acquired my first pair at the now-defunct Westside Pavilion mall and ordered most of my other pairs through Eurosport. Their simple black and white class meant I could look fly in unlimited combinations. Their relative affordability meant my mom would permit me a new pair annually if I could make them last the full year.
And they held up, often better and longer than my skate shoes, which required protective Shoe Goo repairs from excessive kickflip practice. Meanwhile, the Sambas could be schooled in, footballed in, ran in, concerted in, and eventually, partied in until they fell off your feet.
So that’s what I did.
I had them on when I saw my first NOFX show. I wore them when I rode my first Girl Skateboard. I wiggled my toes in a pair during my first kiss.
Step by step, I grew up in these shoes. My memories and experiential journeys were linked together three-stripes at a time. I explored coloration here and there but would always come home to the classic black and white, always with that unmistakable tan rubber sole below me.
On those doodling days, I would stare at them long enough to lose myself in their pattern grid world. The sole is the part of the shoe most rarely seen and yet, it’s the part that connects you directly to the earth. The part that transports you from the past to the future.
The link to what’s been and what will be.