“I’ve always been fascinated by the power of sports logos--in particular, the emotional connection between a community and their team’s logo. As a kit, I remember folks with little to no interest in baseball wearing Twins caps around town. It struck me that the cap wasn’t a signifier of fandom, but of state pride. That blew my young mind.”
Matthew Wolff is probably the most celebrated soccer branding and kit designer working today. He has a long list of hits. To name a few, he is the artist behind the LAFC branding, the Nigeria World Cup kits, the NYCFC branding, and the Paris St. Germain Air Jordan kits. Any new professional team simply has to work with him, and most of them do: Tulsa, Omaha, and Louisville are a few who brought him in just this past year.
Oh, and he also designed Minneapolis City’s famed “fauxback” logo and original Open Cup kits.
It all started right here. He grew up playing soccer, first at Eden Prairie Soccer Club and then at St. Paul Academy. He continued playing in college, at Skidmore, which cemented his passion for the sport--and inspired his career choice.
“When I was finishing college, I figured why not pursue my two biggest passions: soccer and design” said Wolff. “A series of fortunate events led me to in-house design jobs at NYCFC and Nike. Now I’m independent, but work almost exclusively in soccer.”
It turns out that Wolff had played high school soccer with City club captain Aaron Olson. That, and his own interest in the Wild West that is lower division soccer, meant he ran into Minneapolis City early, way back in 2016 before a competitive game had been played.
“I remember getting a direct message from Matthew on Twitter” said co-founder Dan Hoedeman. “He wanted to help out. He knew AO, he was from Minneapolis, loved design, wanted to do something cool. I Googled him and my jaw hit the floor. Only problem was that we were a week away from launching our branding so it was too late to change all of that. However...”
“Maybe the Friday before Dan and I had gotten beers on patio over in St. Anthony” said co-founder Jon Bisswurm. “We had been talking about how there were these rules that corporate sports followed, laughing about overturning the all. We had been laughing about doing a throwback before we even played a game.”
“And then Matthew Wolff reached out” said Hoedeman.
“I loved the idea of a doing a throwback” said Wolff. “The starting point was designing a crest that wasn’t a traditional crest, or at least not containted within a crest shape. It felt like an opportunity to be a little different and highlight the club name, rather than graphic icons or imagery.”
Because the typography had a bit of an old-timey feel, it made sense to give it an old-timey kit to live one. The drawcord collar was inspired by vintage hockey sweaters, and the washed out navy was inspired by the chain of lakes.”
“It was the first time we broke the internet” said Hoedeman. “The whole thing was classic City: incredible design, sweet kit, and a silly premise to have a throwback before playing a single game.”
It wouldn’t be the last time that Minneapolis City would break the internet on the back of its top tier design. Just this past season, with the launch of the wing kit and the dazzle Open Cup kit, both of which (along with the away kit) were designed by Matthew Wolff, the internet was broken multiple times.
“My sources tell me that Minneapolis City kits designs have found their way to mood boards at behemoth international sportswear brands” chuckled Wolff.
“It’s really fun to be leading the way in style on a global level” said Hoedeman. “From the pink craze, to the dazzle, to St. Louis City just lifting the color palette, font, and font treatment completely, it’s really fun to see things that we’ve done resonate. But it’s far more serious than that--our merchandise, and our kits especially, make this club financially viable and keep it growing. It is no exaggeration to say that Matthew Wolff has played a foundational role in the success of City.”
“It all starts with a pencil and sketchbook” said Wolff.
He continues “the sketches become some mood boards and when it feels like I have a solid direction I’ll fire up Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and create a digital mock-up. Some kits rely heavily on graphics (like our 2020 kits) while others are more about the garment (like our 2016 throwbacks). Sometimes I craft some storytelling around the kit, but ultimately I just try to make it pass the is this cool? test.”
Design after design passes that test. How does he keep things fresh given he’s in such demand for so many clubs?
“There are an infinite number of ways to design a soccer kit” laughs Wolff, “so this shouldn’t be a challenge...but sometimes it is. For me, the key is to look outside the world of soccer for inspiration — to other sports, arts, and fashion — and to take risks.”
It’s not just design where he’s willing to take risks.
With a group of friends, Wolff is building Vermont Green FC. It’s a lower division soccer club built on a foundation of environmental sustainability, with the sustainability mission implemented across the club: team travel, merchandise, gameday experience, etc.
“We want to be carbon neutral in year one” he said with pride.
“We’re anticipating kicking off in summer of 2022” he continued “playing home games in the city of Burlington.”
Knowing the role he has played in helping Minneapolis City get launched and find its feet, there is no doubt that Vermont Green will be another big success.
“I got a little sneak peek at his plans” said Hoedeman “and I’m excited for the club to launch. Soccer in America needs clubs run by smart, inventive, honest people who care about their local community. Matthew’s a transplant to Vermont, but it’s hard to imagine anyone more enthusiastic about the opportunity to do something special for the city and the people.”
“Maybe you’ll bring the Crows out for a friendly” he laughs. “We’ll send you home with a keg of maple syrup.”
Matthew Wolff has left an indelible mark on Minneapolis City SC, and despite his fame in the soccer world is an unsung member of the small group of people who put their talent and time to the task of creating a soccer club out of nothing.
The big question for him, as always given his long string of hits, is what is he going to do next?
“He’ll break the internet” said Bisswurm. “That’s what he does.”