Less than a week after the senseless mass shooting at Orlando gay club Pulse, Orlando City SC return to play at home this Saturday, doubtless with heavy hearts. Throughout the week, both the club itself and players for both City SC and the Pride, have joined together to commemorate the tragedy, and to assist in relief efforts.
If anything good comes in the wake of hate and tragedy, it’s unity – a chance to rebuild. Saturday’s match might prove an important moment of catharsis for the city: an opportunity for people to gather en masse, drop whatever divides them outside the venue turnstiles, and chant. Scream. Reaffirm tribal affiliation for 90ish minutes. Orlando City SC, as a team, provides a special rallying point for healing.
Of course, it’s the only major professional team currently in season in the city – but Orlando, the city, has already long rallied behind the team like no other sports organization there. This past April, MLSsoccer.com contributor Simon Veness reported on the phenomenon, noting how the team has “connected with Central Floridians on a fundamental level, from zero to golazo in such a short amount of time.”
That proof has gone beyond just continued sell-outs of both season tickets and regular games, too. “Orlando loves its soccer team, and the team loves us right back,” supporter David Valentin told Veness in April.
There’s definitely a special feeling in the stands at Camping World Stadium – one that’s overwhelmingly young, fresh, and diverse. Orlando City fans, at a glance, represent a clear new wave of faces in a changing country, a generation that won’t tolerate hate and that welcomes all comers. (The languages spoken in the stands, too, provide a musical patchwork of proof that this is truly a team of the world.)
The San Jose Earthquakes make for a fitting opponent in this game. A classy organization which has rolled out an extensive campaign to honor the city of Orlando at their time of trauma, San Jose will play with black armbands and Orlando Pride patches, and their supporters have organized fundraisers for the victims of last weekend's attack. The 'Quakes are also tough opponents who should test City's mettle and contribute to a worthy occasion on the field.
Nothing can undo last Sunday’s terror, and the reverberations of pain and grief that will continue long after. But at least soccer, with its themes of global interconnectedness – and Orlando City specifically, with their deep connection to the city – can help a part of the healing process.