In my five seasons covering Orlando City soccer, Saturday night was the first time I witnessed a whole community from all walks of life come together in unity.
After one of the darkest hours in the city’s history, The Beautiful Game displayed on Saturday night that Orlando is not only a prideful city, but a resilient city.
For 90 minutes, we the people escaped from what’s often looked upon as a cold world.
The great Eric Cantona once said: “People have forgotten what honour is … but not here.” And how parallel is that to Saturday night. Yes, it’s a cold world out there, but with love there’s always a silver lining during tough times.
From the crowd singing the national anthem to a moment of silence in the 49th minute, Orlando showed the world that its unity is strong.
“I think for me, it’s been probably the most emotional evening I’ve had in football and I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Orlando City coach Adrian Heath. “I think it was obviously a strange night, because as I’ve said I’ve been doing this now for longer than I care to remember, but I’ve never had that before and again, it felt unusual but even the national anthem and all of the stuff that went on this evening.”
It was exactly one week ago when the city suffered a tragic event. 49 lives were gone after a madman entered the Pulse nightclub south of downtown Orlando.
As people from Orlando, and most importantly as Americans, we felt the grueling pain, but united we overcame hatred.
Chants of USA, USA, USA! followed moments after the 49th-minute moment of silence. If there was something else worth noting at Camping World Stadium were the seats occupied with 49 balloons to honor the victims of the tragedy that plagued the city.
For 90 minutes, the stadium — formerly known as the Citrus Bowl for many years — was electrified.
It wasn’t until a goal lit up the place. Enter Seb Hines’ goal in the 66th minute before Julio Baptista’s goal in stoppage time raised the noise level around the venue.
“I’ve honestly never lived in a country where a big tragedy like this happened,” said Baptista through a translator when asked if he’s ever witnessed a game that brought so much unity after something tragic.
“I’ve never experienced it by myself, but if there’s one thing that I could take away from it, it’s this city is extremely united, not only the city, but the whole country and everyone has come together under this cause, and under this moment when we recognized we need less violence and more people to love each other.”
Because of Orlando City Soccer Club, the unity that was shown on Saturday night will be etched to Orlando history.
“Not afraid” banner has been put up. pic.twitter.com/n7cGPGklDI
— Mike Gramajo (@byMikeGramajo) June 19, 2016