Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala (33) celebrates after scoring during the first half of the MLS is Back Tournament final. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)
During the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, anything considered outside the box was considered a gamble.
Major League Soccer took one, spending millions of dollars (some observers might say losing millions) to hold the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando, Fla.
For the most part, the tournament was a success, although two teams had to be sent home because of a COVID-19 outbreak. The league reshuffled a couple of divisions in the group stage and things moved as smoothly as possible.
The teams stayed at the Walt Disney World hotels and played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports on the property without any crowds as MLS fans watched the action via stream.
Was it perfect?
Was it the best way to re-start the season?
Yes, it was.
Except for Nashville and Dallas, most players remained healthy.
The competition kicked off July 8 in the first Florida derby encounter between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami CF.
Does anyone remember the score of that match?
We’re going to have to look it up.
But many, if not all of the American soccer public knew what transpired that night as MLS players made a statement that would not only garner publicity but educate the public since Floyd’s death.
Black players wore custom designed T-shirts sporting the phrases “Silence is Violence,” “Black and Proud” and “Black All The Time.”
Players lined up across the field. Their demonstration took eight minutes and 46 seconds, symbolizing the amount of time police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of Floyd, who was murdered in Minneapolis on May 25. Players, wearing shirts with sayings such as “Black and Proud” and “Silence is Violence,” outlined the field while Miami and Orlando players kneeled on the outline of the center circle.
Every player raised his fist during a moment of silence, recalling the historic protest by U.S. Olympic medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City.
And oh yes, in case you were wondering, Nani’s goal seven minutes into second-half stoppage time lift Orlando to a 2-1 victory over Miami.
For the record, the Portland Timbers captured the title with a 2-1 win over Orlando City SC Aug. 11.
Portland’s center backs took center stage. Larrys Mabiala scored in the first half and Dario Zuparic tallied in the second for the Timbers, who received about $300,000 from MLS for winning the 34-day competition. Portland secured a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.
The triumph also was special for head coach Giovanni Savarese. As Cosmos coach, Savarese directed the club to three North American Soccer League championships but fell short of another goal – reaching the Concacaf Champions League through the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Sebastián Blanco was named player of the tournament. He tied for the lead among all players with five assists. His three goals were tied for sixth most in tournament play.
Friday: National story No. 6