ON Display

#OrlandoUnited on Display During Match as City Tries to Heal

What would you do in the wake of unspeakable tragedy? How would you feel? What would you say? How would you treat the people around you?

Last night, Orlando City returned to MLS play after a three-week break for Copa América Centenario against the San Jose Earthquakes. Every Orlando City match is infused with emotion, but this match was unique for a truly painful reason.

As night began its transition into morning, hundreds of people lingered in Pulse Nightclub past its 2:00 AM closing time on Sunday, June 12th. It was then that a gunman began firing in the crowded gay club. 49 people had their lives taken from them that day. A community was shattered as family and friends learned that they would never be seeing their loved ones again. The city of Orlando, collectively, grieved.

Grief is a difficult emotion to process, and people do it in various ways. For many, hate and anger is an admittedly satisfying release of grief. It feels good to be angry and it’s very easy to allow hate to consume you.

This match was an opportunity for the people of Orlando to reject that tempting descent into the very hate than had victimized them. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer addressed the importance of the match in helping the city move forward after such a horrific attack.

“I’m so glad it was a home game this week, to give fans the opportunity to rally around something other than grief.”

However, what happened during the match wasn’t the focus of the world’s spotlight. It was the simple fact that the match was played; that people from all different backgrounds came together and, while wearing #OrlandoUnited t-shirts and waving rainbow flags, continued the healing process for a wounded city. With the whole world watching, 37,194 people proved that hate and anger would never have a place in a city as united as this one, only love.

“That is the power of sports, it unifies each and everyone,” said Orlando City midfielder Kevin Molino. “We want to strengthen the families who lost their loved ones [by coming together].”

Walking onto the field to the tune of the Beatle’s “All You Need is Love,” Orlando City players donned rainbow-colored wristbands and black armbands in solidarity with a traumatized LGBTQ+ community. The crowd, in unison, sang the national anthem. In the 49th minute, the ball was kicked out of play and silence overcame the normally raucous stadium in remembrance of the innocent victims who died as a result of the shooting. When Orlando City defender scored the match’s first goal in the 67th minute, he ripped off his rainbow wristband and waved it to the crowd, thumping the #OrlandoUnited patch on his jersey. Hines was asked after the game why he made these gestures.

“I just wanted to show my support,” said Hines. “It was more than just a game out there tonight. It was the togetherness of the city and around the world. Everyone is united. I was just putting that out there for everyone to see.”

It was indeed more than just a game; it was a statement. The last second equalizer by San Jose, as hard as it was to stomach for a grieving fan base, won’t take away from the fact that almost 40,000 people left the stadium more united than they could ever be.

What would you do in the wake of unspeakable tragedy? Would you choose to hate, to be angry? Or would you choose to love, even in the midst of such devastation?

On Saturday night, and in the week since the hateful attack, Orlandoans chose love.

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UPDATE: June 10, 2020 - Major League Soccer announced it will restart the 2020 season with all 26 MLS clubs competing in the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida beginning July 8. Upon completion of the tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets. The revised schedule may see certain matches from the original 2020 MLS regular season schedule being cancelled or rescheduled. The final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season and related ticket policies will be announced in the coming weeks.