We go all in with adidas to see and test out their World Cup innovations

Joseph Eastburn for adidas

On a chilly, gray day in November adidas showed off what was new in their line of boots and confederation kits as part of the buildup to the World Cup.

In the middle of November, adidas flew a number of journalists, bloggers, and other media folks out to Portland, Oregon, from all over the country. The purpose of the trip was to see just what the sportswear giant has planned for the upcoming World Cup and the build-up to the sport's most anticipated event. Adidas had unveiled just about everything that they showed off in Portland in the days and weeks leading up to the event but seeing the new gear in person as well as having the opportunity to test it was an eye-opening experience in its own right.

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We arrived at the adidas Village on the morning of Thursday, the 14th of November and were greeted by staff and ushered inside, away from the chilly, gray, about-to-rain weather for a quick breakfast. Not long after that, we made our way into a presentation area with some of the new equipment that the various federations and their fans will wear. Everything was on show from anthem jackets to the full kits that Spain, Germany, Argentina and Mexico, among others, will wear.

On the back wall was the Samba Pack, a series of new colorways for adidas' four boot silos with major updates to two of the boots mixed into the bright cosmetic change. The four silos in their various iterations from the top-of-the-line versions that the professionals wear week in and week out all the way down to the miniature, mostly generic boots that borrow the flagship's looks and are worn by millions of children hoping to emulate their heroes. They were all there from the Solar Zest and Solar Blue adizero f50s, to the Vivid Berry Predator LZ2, to the Blast Purple 11pro, and with the Solar Slime Nitrocharge rounding out the range.

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The Predator and Nitrocharge boots both received new colorways and little else. It was the f50 and 11pro that stole the show with the former getting a new look, weight reduction, and stud configuration (among other changes) and the latter receiving an updated upper, outsole and a bright new colorway.

Next was the introduction to the day with Ernesto Bruce, the director of soccer for adidas America, taking the stage. Bruce provided an overview of the Samba Pack, the new confederation kits, and what we can expect from adidas in the coming months as the World Cup approaches. He made important mention of the three major things that drove adidas' efforts in soccer:

  1. Soccer is in adidas' DNA
  2. adidas will be the most visible and most exciting brand at the 2014 World Cup
  3. The sport's cutting edge is what they were striving for

He had told us that the Samba Pack was inspired by Brazil itself with adidas' designers specifically citing Carnaval and samba music as the inspiration behind the new look.

When it came to the new confederation kits, Bruce said that "every single one of these kits has been reengineered for the players." The changes are much more than cosmetic with these kits and while the new looks are certainly classy, the improvements are very much performance-oriented. For 2014, the on-field equipment will be significantly lighter than what the players wore in 2012 with the kit, made up of the shirt, shorts, and socks, will weigh just 8.8 ounces, signifying a 40 percent reduction. Each home kit carries traditional colors and elements over while bringing design details to the fore. We were told to keep our eyes peeled for the upcoming away kits as well. adidas were allowed a little more free reign in the design of those alternate looks, and we should see some impressive showings in the coming months.

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After the introduction, we made our way to the adidas Innovation Lab for a chat with Antonio Zea, the innovation director for football at adidas at their world headquarters. Zea made a point of taking us through adidas' long history in the sport through both their boot innovations, citing the Miracle of Bern specifically, and in their 40+ year history of producing tournament balls for the World Cup.

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The entire lineup was on show with everything from the Tango to the Telstar to the Tricolore to the Jabulani in attendance. Behind the balls was a mural showing a silhouetted circle and the word "brazuca" behind it. Brazuca, an informal word used to describe something that is quintessentially Brazilian in football or in life, is the name of the 2014 World Cup ball. There will be major changes to it from what we saw in the 2010 Jabulani, as there always are from adidas, but we will have to wait to see the final product until the 3rd of December, when it is officially unveiled to the public at a yet unannounced location.

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Speaking to the group, Zea went on to describe the major changes in the f50 boot including the new sole plate, the revised upper, and the minor yet significant weight reduction in the now-current model. We were shown the design process and the seven key movements (cutting, turning, running, and so on) that defined the adizero f50. These movements were demonstrated in front of us using infrared cameras and motion capture on a force plate in the center of the floor, showing the player's movement and the amount of force that the movement produced, represented by a calculated vector on a screen in the middle of the room.

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Joseph Eastburn for adidas

We were then shown some of the strict testing that adidas does on its boots to ensure durability and performance with Ian Wright, the sports research manager at adidas, walking us through the various processes. What we saw firsthand were the flex, torsion, and traction tests using machines that can repeat the same procedure repeatedly, simulating both normal and extreme wear and tear. The testing process for new equipment is a long one that involves fit, play, laboratory and durability testing until the gear proves its worth.

The next step was to see the results of the design, development and testing firsthand with some on-field experience on the artificial pitch at adidas' campus. We were each handed a duffel bag with one of the new confederation kits, a pair of Samba Pack boots, and more inside. My bag contained the new Germany kit, a pair of the Solar Blue adizero f50 boots, and a pair of Manuel Neuer-spec Predator gloves because I would be playing in goal.

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Joseph Eastburn for adidas

We made our way to the turf on a chilly, cloudy day and split into our teams. One was wearing Germany kits while the other was made up of players in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina tops. We were then introduced to our two captains with Jeff Agoos helming the German side and a Mexico-clad Jimmy Conrad leading the other team.

The Germans took the lead early in the first half before going into the break with a commanding 3-0 lead thanks in part to the defensive play of Agoos at the back and capped off with a nearly unstoppable 40-yard drive from the American legend that found its way into the back of the opposition's net in sublime fashion.

The second half was more even with both sides netting three times but it was once again Agoos who had the final say as Ernesto Bruce announced that the next goal would be the final one. With it raining down on us and the four Portland Timbers players in attendance (Darlington Nagbe, Futty Danso, Rodney Wallace and Brent Richards), the new gear became even more impressive. Rather than absorbing the cold water, the droplets simply beaded and slid off, keeping the kit as thin and light as it was when it was dry.

Anxious to get out of the rain, Agoos had the ball in the opposition half. He turned and faced my goal and, in a repeat of his goal in the first half, fired from 40 yards. The ball sailed over my head into the top corner, ending the match and ending our stay at the adidas Village.

It was incredible to see firsthand the care and drive that goes into adidas' new products. They definitely talk a big game but the important thing is that they back it up. The stuff that adidas has already shown off for the World Cup is incredible and it's clear that there's much more to come.

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