After four months away, Minnesota United returned Sunday in its MLS is Back Tournament opener to a drastically changed world swept by not one, but two pandemics.
Loons starters acknowledged a world altered by George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day by kneeling alongside their Sporting Kansas City counterparts for nearly 30 seconds before Sunday night’s 2-1 victory at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Floyd’s death — a Black man killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly 8 minutes — ignited worldwide protest and unrest and it motivated Black MLS players to form a “Black Players for Change” organization that suggested two initiatives adopted by the tournament’s 24 remaining teams.
Minnesota United veteran defender Michael Boxall wore a black captain’s armband — Ozzie Alonso didn’t play because of a hamstring injury — in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Floyd’s name was printed prominently on Boxall’s armband, and each Loons player wrote his own hand-written messages on a “MLS Unites” patch as well.
Minnesota United players changed jerseys — and messages — at halftime on a humid Florida summer night. Eight players wrote messages seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT fatally shot eight times in March in her apartment after midnight by plainclothes police officers in Louisville, Ky., executing a no-knock search warrant.
Alonso wrote “End racism, we all bleed the same color” on his patch. Romain Metanire wrote “Am I Next?” and in French “Black and proud.” Midfielder James Musa quoted Nelson Mandela, while Robin Lod and Chase Gasper both noted healthcare workers on the coronavirus pandemic’s front lines.
“The time is always right to do what’s right,” Gasper wrote.
Jacori Hayes wrote “Dismantle Systemic Racism” on his first-half jersey and “Charge Breonna Taylor’s killers” on his second-half jersey.
Hayes said this in a posting on the club’s website about remembering Floyd: “I think we have to own up that this happened in our backyard. We’re not using him as a mascot. We’re just reminding people that, at least in our community back home in Minnesota, that this happened here and hopefully we can effect change — starting here — that can spread to the rest of the world.”
Minnesota United is pursuing left-side defender Bakaye Dibassy from France’s Amiens club just relegated from Ligue 1 to Ligue 2 as well as the Mali national team, a source said confirming European media reports.
Dibassy, 30, can play left center back and left back. MLS’ next transfer window begins Aug. 12, the day after the MLS is Back final. Center back is an area of need with two-time MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara home in Minnesota injured and Brent Kallman suspended through the tournament’s three-game group stage.
Safe at home
The club’s watch party Sunday night was its first event for fans at Allianz Field since the league shut down March 12. Season-ticket holders and supporters scooped up 250 free tickets in advance within 15 minutes.
They sat masked and socially distanced in the north end and watched their team’s tournament debut on the south end’s big scoreboard screen.