When Orlando City SC debut their new stadium in their 2017 MLS season opener vs. New York City FC Sunday (5 pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE in Canada), a national spotlight will shine on the gorgeous downtown venue’s many unique features.
But perhaps the most powerful one can be found in Section 12.
There, 49 seats are splashed with the rainbow colors of the pride flag in a permanent tribute to the 49 people killed in the Pulse nightclub tragedy last summer. It’s a quiet but vibrant memorial that ESPN has profiled (watch above) with a moving video feature in the run-up to Sunday’s big game.
“Most of them were supporters of the club,” explained Lions majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva, “and we wanted to have a piece that is part of our stadium that we could never forget those people.”
With perspectives from Orlando City employees and members of the wider community, the feature recalls the horror and pain of the massacre, as well as the healing that soccer helped to foster among the local LGBT community and the entire region.
“June 12 was the worst day in the history of our city,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told ESPN, explaining how Orlando City’s home match against San Jose a few days after the tragedy helped the entire city unite and grieve.
“That first home game, I think was important to the healing process, to know that we could still go on with our lives.”
The Lions also raised around $400,000 for the City of Orlando’s OneOrlando Fund in the wake of the shooting, helping support victims via the sale of #OrlandoUnited t-shirts and commemorative game day posters, as well as an auction of game-worn jerseys.