MLS is Back, It’s Beautiful, And It’s A Little Weird

Gabe Zaldivar

Orlando City and Inter Miami CF finally came together in whatever the hell we’re going to call their derby. So far, I like the No Place on Earth Should Be This Humid Derby.

Regardless, the two eventually kicked off, leading to an experience that was, well, jarring. 

First, the field was mic’d up to fill in the large chasm of silence created thanks to fans being kept away due to coronavirus precautions.

But it led to the game sounding not unlike being near the pitch at a local adult Sunday league. It was a measured cacophony of dudes shouting at one another.

There was also a scary scene that played out when Inter Miami’s Andrés Reyes went down after getting a Dom Dwyer arm to the throat.

The ensuing stoppage in play included a gathering of players and subsequent shouts from the gaggle of players for medical staff to show a modicum of urgency as Reyes writhed in pain on the pitch.

The 20-year-old was eventually carted off. But I need to stress eventually.

The medical team is taking their sweet time to get onto the field, which elicits a response from the players to implore them to hurry.

Juan Agudelo actually left the area to help the cart reach his fallen teammate faster. And in the end, after all of that, no yellow card was drawn.

“But then the worst part is that the referee tells me that it’s our own guy, so then it shows me – I’m just completely confused by what he’s watching, because when he watched the play, it’s just him and Andres,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said after the game.

The senses were further thrown off when fans enjoyed the return of domestic soccer only to be hit with the feeling of unease like something was amiss.

It took all of a few seconds to realize, oh, the field is sponsored by Adidas.

At least, that’s what it seemed like as MLS made the decision to not only put a sponsor’s logo on the field but to pick the biggest option, put it in the center circle and make it a virtual logo so as to incorporate a touch of the uncanny valley quality to boot.

Adidas has been hit hard by the rollback of sports. A Front Office Sports report in April put its net income as down 97% in the first quarter thanks to the shutdown.

So, obviously, the MLS sponsor that is into the league for $700 million through 2024, isn’t going to complain about not only getting a very unique placement but also having the entirety of Twitter talk about it for a couple of hours.

Adidas as a term was trending on Wednesday night, precisely because seeing their logo in the middle of the screen was so odd to fans at home.

USA Today’s Andrew Joseph went to FIFA’s rules to explain why we haven’t seen similar before.

“No form of commercial advertising, whether real or virtual is permitted on the field of play,” the bylaws state.

As others have noted, adding the logo separately as a digital layover may be the clever twist MLS used to get away with the ploy.

The first game of the MLS is Back Tournament went to two teams that will hopefully forge a long and lasting rivalry, one that will one day play out in front of thousands of cheering fans for decades.

On Wednesday, there was only silence for much of it.

The silence came in two forms, both equally powerful. There was the silence produced from a complete dearth of fans, a necessity and precaution as COVID-19 cases continue to surge throughout the state of Florida.

The other moment of silence was the one that came before the game when players joined for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence.

It was clear from the start that MLS would nurture social movements that have continued to envelop the world with positive energy since the beginning of June.

The moment is that thanks to the work of Black Players for Change, which just recently came together to address injustice and inequity in the world.

Quincy Amarikwa, co-founder of the organization of MLS players, said previously, “Through this partnership, we see an opportunity to create a path that brings all players across all sports leagues together in our fight to overcome and move past the racial and discriminatory practices within our world.”

It was a powerful sight that left an indelible mark on many across social media, including those watching the game in the studio.

Taylor Twellman addressed what the moment of silence meant to him.

“It’s also up to everyone else including us, the white people on the outside that haven’t listened and haven’t heard what they want and what they want changed,” Taylor Twellman said following the game on ESPN. “It was extremely impactful for me tonight.”

The first game back was emotional, energizing and often times just downright absurd. I’ll take another serving.