You’ve heard about New Balance’s strides in sneakers over the last few years. You may be familiar with its sought-after collaborations with brands and designers like Aimé Leon Dore, Joe Freshgoods, and Salehe Bembury. If you’ve really been paying attention, you might’ve even seen the brand’s 2018 re-entry in performance basketball sneakers, a move that received heightened visibility during Kawhi Leonard’s NBA championship run with the Toronto Raptors.
One area where the brand is also making considerable moves, albeit less noticeably in the U.S. than the rest of the world, is on the soccer pitch. While the sport continues to slowly gain ground in the States, it will soon have its biggest showcase when the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off on Nov. 20.
Taking place in Qatar, the tournament is set to feature top New Balance men’s athletes including Senegal’s Sadio Mané and Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling of England. Mané and Sterling are current superstars, while Saka’s stock seems to rise on a weekly basis—Time just called him the “new face of British soccer.”
Along with representing their respective countries at the biggest sporting event in the world, the stars will be carrying the New Balance flag as they debut two of its newest soccer cleats: the Furon v7 and Tekela v4. Releasing today in a “Headline Taker” pack and previewed to members of the media last month at New Balance’s part-fitness-facility, part-prototyping-lab The Track, the cleats are strategically timed to arrive just ahead of the Qatar tournament.
As their “version” denotations suggest, the Furon v7 and Tekela v4 continue established New Balance soccer franchises. Each boot updates the features and technologies players have come to know, with the Tekela v4 offering a particularly radical update in the form of an entirely new outsole setup. The laceless Tekela v4 cleats, which are worn by Team USA’s Timothy Weah, took around three years to fully realize.
“Take the Furon, for example, not that it’s not a complex project,” says Adam Lyon, category manager of football footwear, equipment, and accessories at New Balance. “It very much is a complex project, but it’s a newer project given that the tooling carries over from the prior model. With the Tekela where it’s a new bottom and the newer project, and particularly in the case of the Tekela v4 where we’ve tried to be quite revolutionary in terms of the outsole technology, very easily a three year project from that initial insight capture and briefing process to the product launching on the field of play.”
Updating performance shoes that players have become accustomed can be tricky. On one hand, you want to provide noticeable upgrades, whether it be through new technologies or refined engineering. At the same time, athletes have strong preferences about how footwear should feel and perform, and straying too far from the status quo can sometimes have a negative impact on a beloved model.
“You don’t want to make too many big swings, then the shoe becomes an unfamiliar product,” Lyon says. “So you want it to feel familiar, but equally you want them to recognize they’ve done X, Y, and Z. Which is really again, just elevated that further, 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent, because it’s those margins that make a difference.”
Aside from Team USA’s Weah, the Furon v7 is worn by the rest of the New Balance soccer roster. One of the Furon v7’s most notable features is its upper, which New Balance senior design manager for global football Luc Fusaro says uses a single-knit Hypoknit inspired by the brand’s FuelCell 5280 running shoe in tandem with a semi-hole knit informed by the FuelCell RC Elite. The Furon v7 also moves the laces to the lateral side of the boot, creating what New Balance describes as a floating canopy to provide an even larger strike zone.