Prior to last night’s SheBelieves Cup finale between the United States Women’s National Team and England, fans, players, coaches, and staff shared a minute of silence. The moment was to honor the lives of the 17 people killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, this past Valentine’s Day — including Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old soccer player.
Alhadeff’s teammates from her club team had reached out on social media to the U.S. Soccer Federation to find out if there was something that could be done to honor Alyssa and her fallen classmates. The USSF quickly agreed and Alyssa’s club and high school teammates, friends, and family members made their way the three hours north to Orlando on Wednesday to the USWNT’s match against England.
Every player and family member from Parkland was presented an official USWNT jersey bearing Alhadeff’s name and number.
The soccer community comes together to honor Alyssa Alhadeff. We’re hosting her family as well as her club and high school teams, who all received special jerseys. A moment of silence for Alyssa and the other 16 victims will be held prematch. #PlayforAlyssa // #ParklandStrong pic.twitter.com/IrAqOhHgcw— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) March 7, 2018
Just before kickoff, both teams locked arms around each other at midfield and the crowd observed a minute of silence for those who lost their lives. It was a touching moment with moist eyes for everyone, as the entire stadium reflected on both the impact of so much human potential having been taken away in a span of just six minutes, as well as the magnitude of the loss of each individual and all of the lives those individuals touched.
It was a moment that was not lost on the members of the teams on the field, including Orlando Pride and USWNT striker Alex Morgan.
“The moment of silence — I felt like it was definitely an emotional one and a lot of things were going through my head,” Morgan said.
For elite athletes, who spend countless hours preparing for competitions like the one held last night at Orlando City Stadium, that kind of thing — such a profound reflection on mortality and loss — can easily disrupt what is essentially a day at the office. Sporting events are not life and death, no matter how much fans sometimes build them up to be. Snapping back into focus isn’t easy.
“You have to kind of shut that off and play a game 60 seconds later,” Morgan explained. “It was a difficult situation.”
Morgan and her teammates went on to win the match, 1-0, on an England own-goal. Winning the game pushed the U.S. to the top of the table and the tournament championship. After finishing fourth in the competition last year, it was likely an emotional relief for members of the USWNT to return to the top. But other emotions waited for Morgan and her fellow players afterward.
“After the match I was able to meet Alyssa’s parents and it was very emotional,” Morgan said after she came off the field, still wearing her uniform. “I’m looking forward to meeting her teammates from both high school and her club team and speaking with them and just...hugging them.”
It was telling that after a tournament featuring four of the world’s top six teams that about half of the media’s time with Morgan was spent asking about the pregame ceremony. This was a professional athlete representing her country in the stadium where her club plays its home games. There were queries about the team and the game itself, of course, and even the performance of her teammates, but it was during those questions about what came before the match that brought a visible showing of reflection and deeper thought from the 28-year-old soccer star’s expression.
But she was quickly able to synthesize that reflection and thought and put it into words.
“It was amazing to see the fan support and to be able to honor Alyssa and have her teammates here from MSD high school and from her club team,” she said. “It was just a really incredible atmosphere — emotional as well.”