Dear Orlando City Soccer Club and Supporters,
The last week and half was a difficult time for all in the city of Orlando.
Our community lost 49 lives at the Pulse nightclub on the early morning of June 19. Over the course of the week, we mourned and held vigils for the community and the lives that were lost. Me and many of my friends wanted to go out and celebrate the city, and we were given the chance when Orlando City played San Jose on Saturday night.
I always used soccer as an escape from reality. Training at Bowling Green State University was the way that I could go out and play the game I loved. Years have passed and my playing days have been cut down to the very rare pick-up game as I transitioned to a fan of the game. Saturday, I wanted to get to the stadium as soon as possible to see friends and for 90 minutes and forget about the troubles at work and within my city. This is where I want to thank everyone involved in Saturday's game. I want to thank club President Phil Rawlins.
The Orlando City boss dedicated 49 seats in the new stadium to the victims of the shooting. He, like he always does, was out talking with supporters, thanking them for being out and celebrating the city and remembering the lives lost. That is who Phil is to his core; he cares about each one of his supporters. It doesn't matter if it's at Camping World Stadium or at the local BurgerFi, he takes time to say hi and appreciate anyone wearing the Orlando City crest.
The Club did an excellent job and had the perfect balance of remembrance of the victims and celebration of the doctors, police, and other first responders that helped out on that night. This culminated in the Beatles song "All You Need Is Love," used as the entrance song for the teams. A reader comment in our Five Takeaways piece stated that we should make that a club song, much like Liverpool has "You'll Never Walk Alone." The reader might be on to something, but it was the perfect song to introduce the teams. We then all sang the national anthem, and it was one of the many goosebumps moments from the night.
I want to thank the Iron Lion Firm, Ruckus, and all the supporters' groups. They deserve a lot of thanks for their contributions to the atmosphere of the night. The banner that wrote "Hate Won't Break Us Apart, Love Will Keep Orlando United" and the "Not Afraid" banner that appeared were perfect words to combat hate in our world. The supporters then took that banner to the Lake Eola candlelight vigil, where it remains. One supporter was quoted: "The banner is not ours, it's the city's."
The fans even staged a social media campaign that had each section of the stadium in a different color. I want to thank every supporter and the leadership of all the supporters' groups for your support for the players and the community that made me proud to be associated with this club.
Finally, I want to thank the players.
Each one of the Orlando City players gave everything they could to get the win for the city. After the final whistle, players laid down on the field with disbelief as they conceded the last-second equalizer. I feel for Joe Bendik, who made some great saves only to concede a goal that he couldn't be blamed for. You are Orlando City. You represented the city and fans well.
I cannot fault you for the draw, as you played well in an emotional situation. There have been many who have been critical of Brek Shea's play, and I know he was disappointed he didn't get selected by Jurgen Klinsmann for the Copa América. Brek wore rainbow shoes and played one of his better games of the year. Shea earned a lot of respect from me on how professional he was on the night. He was the last interview for the press and he stood there and answered questions and tried to find answers. You could see that he wanted the win for the city and supporters. I left that press conference having more respect for Shea and how he handled that situation.
I can't thank enough Phil and the Orlando City organization, supporters, and players for their parts in a event that helped to distract and allowed us to cheer for Orlando.