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No longer played on cushiony grass fields where a slide tackle or a fall is a quick brush off and go, soccer has moved to the faster—and much less forgiving—hard turf of outdoor fields and indoor pitches.

Goalkeepers Claudio Storelli and Jin Liang were playing in New York City’s after-work leagues and grew tired of trading in their jerseys and turf burns for suits in the morning. Five years later, their company, Storelli Sports, continues to give soccer’s protective gear a much-needed makeover.

Rather than turning to the old-school foam pads of soccer’s early days, the brand makes a wide range of innovative head-to-toe guards that are impact-resistant, flexible, and lightweight for every position on the field. Not to mention, they feature streamlined designs that might get you mistaken for an action hero.

We caught up with the brand’s design director, Thomas Marchesi, a lifelong soccer player and the third goalie in the trio of his teammates Storelli and Liang, to talk about how soccer protective gear has evolved with the growth of the sport.

Image: Sam Maller

Given that the brand’s three founders are soccer players, do you have a philosophy that drives your designs?

“We’re not making gear for the person who’s afraid of getting hurt. It’s for players who know they’re going to get hurt and who want to play anyway. The sport is changing and it’s becoming rougher, but no one was meeting that need.

So our gear is preventative for the turf burns and raspberries, but it’s also for an injury after the fact. As a goalkeeper, if you dive a lot on one side, you can get cartilage buildup, so we have what we call practice shorts for the keepers, which are really quite padded and can really help a keeper continue to practice even with an injury.

People will say, ‘Wow, it looks like Batman gear!’ and that’s not something I was thinking of when I was drawing it. It’s about how you are badass for going out and playing so hard. That’s why you need it—not because you’re scared.”

Image: Sam Maller

How have the changes and growth in the game influenced your designs?

“I have a nine-year-old nephew who plays five days a week on two different teams. When I was a kid, I had a single practice on a Thursday and then a game on a Saturday morning. These guys are playing every single day. So just the simplest thing like a leg guard where it has padding on the ankles can really help. It’s not going to keep you from getting a broken ankle, of course, but it’s all that little stuff that adds up. What we do is protect players from these things so that they can keep practicing and playing.

One of the first things I did when I joined Storelli was go out to stores and see what the goalkeeper gear looked like 20 years later. I was totally amazed when I saw it was the same. It didn’t work that well back then, and I played exclusively on grass when I was in high school, back in the ‘90s.

There’s no doubt that soccer has gotten faster and more physical. So a lot of what our gear does is protect you against the playing surface, which has been changing quite a lot. Where it used to be that turf was rare to play on, now it’s rare to play on natural grass. And the difference can be sometimes it’s just a thin, cheap turf literally over a concrete floor. Some of the nicer ones have different rubbers mixed in so it’s a bit softer.”

Image: Sam Maller

So it’s really the playing surface that’s giving you a beating?

“What always happens is that as soon as you slide tackle or the keeper goes out for a slide or anyone even hits the ground, you get a turf burn. On natural grass, you can slide the whole game, and where at the end you might have [had] a bit of a raspberry, now it might take one single tackle to create that raspberry.

And it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can be nine years old or 29 years old, and it all absolutely makes a difference. You both need the protection.

A lot of our gear is worn underneath your jersey, and it’s one of these things that I feel whenever I put it on. I’m a 40-year-old guy, [and] when I put on my Storelli gear and then a shirt over it, I feel like I have a secret power no one knows about, and I can do whatever I want. It might look like I’m just wearing a t-shirt, but if I’m diving for the ball, and it’s a hard gym floor, that’s the ultimate test in gear.”

Storelli ExoShield Head Guard_RESIZEDWhat’s the feedback like from players who use your gear?

“We get a ton of emails from kids and parents of kids. The parents, out of concern for the safety of their child, will put them in head-to-toe Storelli gear.

In the old days, if my mom [was] buying me all this protective gear, she was also forcing me to wear it. It’s totally different now. We’ll get a picture of a kid, and he would have put on every piece of the product. He’s fully geared up. And the parent is like, ‘He’s sleeping in it tonight and is so excited!’ That’s amazing.

And then you had Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney wearing our head guard a couple of years ago after he got injured. And that obviously was a really huge boost for us, that kids could say, ‘OK, I could see myself wearing a head guard.’”

Image: Sam Maller

What’s next for the brand?

“We’re expanding into outerwear. We already have the Gladiator Goalkeeper Shirt that’s loose in the body and tight in the arms so the foam is where it should be. We’re a protective company, but that doesn’t mean everything we make has to have foam in it. So that might be a high-tech underlayer that keeps you warm and dry, but that can also go under your jersey.

We want to outfit players for the whole experience of playing. So it’s about giving you everything you need from the moment you leave your house to when you get back to your house on game day.

For us the big question is this: What eliminates all the issues and problems along the way so that being on the field is the most important moment?”