The many hi-tech wonders of Adidas at this year's World Cup

Will Spain repeat its Euro 2008 success?

Greetings from lovely Seattle! I’m here on the West Coast for two reasons. One, Thursday was Adidas’ World Cup Media Day in Portland, and I was invited to check out all the hi-tech wonderment that the company has in store for this World Cup year. Needless to say, being a bit of a soccer fan, I was very excited to attend—I met the guy from Univision, Fernando Fiore, so I’m pretty sure I’ve accomplished all there is to accomplish in life. Two, then I took the choo-choo train to visit Devin. We’re at a café and everyone has their laptop out. It’s very Seattle.

But let’s talk about this Adidas thing for a minute.

The World Cup begins this June. It’s in South Africa, the first time the tournament has ever gone to Africa. (It’s in Brazil in 2014, in case you’re keeping score.) Team USA doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning the thing, so you’d be well advised to pick a “second team” to follow. Someone like Spain or Argentina or, dare I say, England.

Adidas will be all over the World Cup. The official ball of the tournament, the Jabulani, has already been talked about here, but a brief reminder is in order. I think the flashiest “spec” I can mention is that it’s the roundest ball ever created. You never really think about how much engineering goes into producing a ball like this, but man alive! As mentioned a few weeks ago, the ball is composed of eight 3D, thermally bonded panels. That last part, the thermally bonded business, is key, as that means the ball isn’t merely stitched together on a sewing machine or whatever. That would lead to leaky seams, which would lead to a water-logged ball, which would lead to Spain’s Xavi Hernandez missing a free kick right on the edge of the penalty box. We don’t need that.

But let’s move on from the ball for now. Adidas will also create the full kits (“jerseys”) of 12 countries, including hosts South Africa; traditional European powers like Germany, France, and Spain; South American tricksters Argentina (also known as Leo Messi + 10 other guys); and Team USA’s immortal sporting enemy, Mexico.

Take a look at this video, showing France’s Nicolas Anelka scoring against Ireland in a World Cup qualifier from this past November. Be sure to pay attention to his back:

You see those weird little criss-cross straps? That’s called TechFit, a type of elastic compression layer that, according to Adidas’ own numbers, helps increase a player’s vertical leap, speed, and endurance. That’s because the straps store energy that would otherwise be lost as the player moves about. The number increase—players’ power increases by 5.3 percent, vertical leap by 4 percent, sprint speed by 1.1 percent and endurance by 0.8 percent—may not seem like a lot, but when you’re dealing with top-class athletes performing in high-pressure situations, numbers like that help immensely. Imagine David Villa being able to strike a ball 5.3 percent harder than he normally would, or Michael Ballack being able to jump 4 percent higher to nick that header, or Leo Messi running 1.1 percent faster—it’s crazy.

Of course, there’s something of a trade-off, as the TechFit does fit a little more snugly than traditional kits (Adidas’ name for those are Formotion kits), and not every player would want that. And for those wondering, FIFA has given its full blessing to the TechFit technology, so no worries there. FIFA still won’t allow video replay, but what are you going to do?

I don’t know, TechFit seems to be the most “whoa, neat” thing that’ll be at the tournament, England’s performance post-John Terry notwithstanding.

The last bit I’ll draw attention to is the players’ cleats. One of the all-time stories in World Cup history is when Germany beat Hungary 3-2 in the final of the 1954 World Cup. Germany and Hungary were pretty big rivals at the time, and Germany was looking to avenge an 8-3 loss that had occurred in the first round of the tournament. Adidas’ founder, Adi Dassler, was the German team’s equipment manager, and had provided the team with new (at the time) cleats with removable studs. Did those new cleats help the German team overcome its rivals? You’d certainly have to think so.

So, this year’s cleats! One of the fancier shoes that Adidas’ players will be using is the Predator X. (I love the names for these things.) Apparently Zidane helped to design them, so you know they’re quality. Obviously it’s lightweight—that’s a given—but one thing worth mentioning is something called the Powerspine. It’s a small strip that runs down the mid-foot area that helped stabilize your feet. That helps reduce the occurrence of injuries, like a torn ACL. The last thing the World Cup needs is someone like Kaká or Frank Lampard going down to injury in an early round game.

So yeah, I’m pretty psyched for the tournament, and it’s neat to see how much science and engineering goes into creating all the various pieces of equipment used by the teams. Presumably I’ll be watching many of the games at Nevada Smiths in New York, so come on down if you’re of age.