First-time wearers of Adidas's newest Predator LZ soccer cleats will be forgiven for wondering about the unwieldy mess of textiles encapsulating their feet. There are bright orange rubber gills sticking out of them in all directions, a giant padded plate on the forefoot, and, if you dig a little, a hollow cavity underneath the insole. Such over-the-top design usually signals that a shoe is either going to be a hopeless, dispensable gimmick and fail, or instead be a literal game-changer. The Predator happily steps confidently towards the latter.
To develop the shoe, Adidas enlisted a battery of fleet-footed Major League Soccer players, including David Beckham (L.A. Galaxy), Kenny Cooper (New York Red Bulls), and Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City) among dozens of others. Under the watchful eye of shoe engineers, each of them were instructed to take a marker to a blank pair of shoes, circling the parts of the foot they use most when dribbling, passing, and shooting. Adidas then used that data to construct a cleat with purpose-built zones for five skills: first touch, dribbling, controlled and power shooting, and passing. Each zone on the shoe is outfitted with specialized combinations of rubber, memory foam, or perforated material.
The result is a shoe like no other, and a whole new experience that takes a little getting used to. But the Predator quickly becomes an obvious bonus on the field. During a friendly match at the Asphalt Green field at 91st Street in New York City, the fielding of a high goal kick with the top of our foot (where seven, almost sticky perforated rubber stripes sit) was astoundingly effective. While the rubber helped dampen a trap – with seeming fly trap–like abilities – the padding is thin enough that you can still feel the ball, and give it a precise nudge to the left or right. The passing-specific perforation on the instep is a lot less noticeable, and while the raised rubber that is supposed to aid in dribbling didn't get in the way, it had no hugely noticeable benefits (granted, in the course of the hour-long game, we passed a lot more than we dribbled). A long shot, coming off the bulkiest strips on the shoe, went right where we placed it (predictably, into the hands of the goalie) with no noticeable slippage or misdirection. Within 15 minutes, the foreign aspects of the shoes were forgotten. These are truly closet-clearing cleats – revolutionary, go-to shoes for all playing situations.
And about that cavity: The slot under the insole in the dead center of the shoe is where Adidas' miCoach chip slips in. First introduced in the Adidas F50 adiZero, this accelerometer and wireless chip stores seven hours of data, including the number of sprints, total distance, max speed, and active training time during play. All of these stats can be uploaded wirelessly to a smartphone and used build up a soccer avatar that, in an insanely cool twist, can then be used in a videogame developed by Adidas and 505 Games. Practice more in the real world, and your in-game skill level rises. It's a fitting high-tech addition for a pair of seriously cutting-edge cleats. [$220, www.adidas.com]