It was a moving moment that placed two of the nation’s most significant changes in the past four months – masks and movements – at the forefront of the return of sport.
WATCH | The players observe a moment of silence of 8 minutes and 46 seconds:
The group was previously called the Black Players Coalition of MLS, but changed its name this week to Black Players for Change. Originally announced on June 19, the group started following the death of George Floyd in hopes of fighting systemic racism both in football and in the player communities. The league and the players’ union have approved the organization.
Several other players from Orlando City and Inter Miami knelt near the midfielder during the event. Nani d’Orlando scored in the seventh minute of the timeout and held on for a 2-1 win over the Miami Expansion. The two teams in the state delivered their own moment of silence taking one knee with the referee and the line judges just before the opening kick.
WATCH | Orlando wins the first match of the MLS is Back tournament:
The national anthem was not played before or after the demonstration. The MLS had previously declared that it would not be played because no fan was present.
Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Prosecutors said a police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes, 46 seconds – not 8:46 which became a symbol of police brutality.
MLS players had weeks to decide what to do before the MLS is Back tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World.
Ongoing tournament with hiccups
League teams are sequestered at stations for the duration of the World Cup style tournament, which began with a Group A match which was the first game between two teams from Sunshine State.
FC Dallas withdrew on Monday after 10 players and a coach tested positive for COVID-19. A day later, the status of Nashville SC was questioned with five positive tests confirmed.
Nashville was supposed to play Chicago in the second game of a double match on Wednesday but it has been postponed.
MLS closed due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, after the league teams each played two regular season games.
The reboot had a considerably different feeling – without fans and with great concern even in the middle of a safety bubble. Can 25 teams of nearly 700 players, coaches, coaches and other support staff do everything right for a month? And what is the threshold for more positive tests?
The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball surely have a close eye on what’s going on outside of Orlando.
The NBA should take a closer look. The league already has part of its bubble established on the ESPN site. NBA team flags are flying on each mast, and some areas have been sanitized and cordoned off for the return of basketball later this month.
Reyes leaves on a stretcher
MLS uses three fields near the back of the complex, two of those used by the NFL for the Pro Bowl in the past four years. The league has demanded masks for everyone except the players. Coaches, support staff and the media put on masks during the game. Miami star Rodolfo Pizarro, who was not in the starting lineup, also wore one during warm-ups.
Andres Reyes of Miami left the field on a stretcher early in the second half after a frightening collision with Dom Dwyer of Orlando. The reruns appeared to show Dwyer hitting Reyes in the throat as they attempted a 50-50 ball.
Reyes had difficulty breathing as his teammates and the referee called for help. Adding to the growing concern on the ground, the emergency team hung up trying to gain access to him.
Security personnel struggled to open a door, delaying the response of the medical team. It was slow enough for one of Reyes’ teammates, Juan Agudelo, to cross the field to help and eventually help pull the stretcher over the soggy grass.
Chris Mueller equalized for Orlando, getting a sliding toe on a perfect cross from Nani to the back post in the 70th minute.
Agudelo scored the first goal for the return of MLS, drilling a left foot in front of Pedro Gallese to cap a game that started with two teammates on top of each other in the box.