Author’s Note: In honor of SB Nation’s Marvel Week, I engaged in a little fanfic. This piece is meant as both an homage to Marvel/the Avengers and a “What If?” story that assumes Thanos’ snap did indeed wink half of humanity out of existence, with those lost suddenly returning five years later (thanks to the actions of the Avengers). It stands to reason that half of the people also means roughly half of the soccer players/coaches/staff/etc. This is how a story might appear on The Mane Land if a real snap/Blip occurred. In this scenario, the snap happened with the current rosters and this story appears five years from now, in May of 2025. Those who were snapped away were chosen by an online random number generator, so don’t read anything into who was gone and who remained after Thanos snapped his fingers.
It’s been an incredibly emotional time for all of us, for obvious reasons. After a few days of dealing with the happy shock of having so many people returned to us that we thought were gone forever, there’s still a soccer season ahead of us to resume (at some point — it was absolutely the right decision by Don Garber to suspend the season to allow all of us time to deal with the fallout of our returned friends and family). And, we have an obligation to provide content to our readers, so even though soccer might be the last thing on your mind at this time, we’re here to talk about it anyway. Specifically, how does the “Blip” (as people are calling the return of all our lost folks — and don’t get me started on how much I hate that term) affect Orlando City and the Orlando Pride?
Five years ago, when that cosmic nut job snapped his fingers and wiped out half the beings in the universe, we were all devastated beyond belief. The fact that professional sports even survived that is incredible in itself. But we’ll never forget that we lost half of our Lions and half of our Pride. We can’t forget it, because that section of black seats near the players’ entrance will never let us. Those seats, dedicated by Kay Rawlins back in 2020 in an emotional ceremony, represent all of the players, coaches, and front office staff that we lost that day. But now they’re back, apparently unharmed, and seemingly haven’t aged a day.
We’re so happy today that the actions of the Avengers (RIP Iron Man) have given not only our loved ones back to us, but also the following players and coaches (along with all of the front office folks who do such good work behind the scenes):
- Jordan Bender
- Antonio Carlos
- Alex De John
- Pedro Gallese
- David Loera
- Joao Moutinho
- Andres Perea
- Uri Rosell
- Kyle Smith
- Mason Stajduhar
- Junior Urso
- Josema Bazan
- Fabian Bazan
- Lainey Burdett
- Bridget Callahan
- Abby Elinsky
- Claire Emslie
- Alanna Kennedy
- Ali Krieger
- Carrie Lawrence
- Jade Moore
- Courtney Petersen
- Toni Pressley
- Morgan Reid
- Ali Riley
- Emily van Egmond
- Shelina Zadorsky
- Marc Skinner
Where do the two teams go from here? Orlando City and the Pride will no doubt love to play in front of much larger crowds again. When the league lost half its fans five years ago, we thought we might never see Publix Park full again — among the things that the returning players will have to get used to is the stadium’s new name. But who should take the field? Both teams have long since filled out their rosters via trade, draft, signings, and developing academy players in the last few years. Every one of this year’s squad members have earned their spots. But what about our returned soccer heroes?
First of all, are they even under contract? They’ve been gone five years and nobody had a deal that long. But to them, it’s like no time has passed. Will the players be forced to honor years of contract during which they were…well, not here (or anywhere else)? If they are under contract, what will Orlando do in goal? Pedro Gallese was just getting started here and looked promising, but big money goalkeeper signing Sergio Romero has helped Oscar Pareja’s Lions reach the postseason for three straight years after the canceled (and cursed) 2020 season that began with COVID-19 and ended with Thanos’ finger snap.
Pareja did a masterful job despite losing both Bazan brothers off his coaching staff to Thanos’ whim to keep his team together and — after a rough, eighth-place 2021 season that actually spawned a #ParejaOut movement — turning Orlando into a winning side. That culminated in the club’s first trophy in the MLS era, with the 2023 U.S. Open Cup title, and an appearance in the 2024 Eastern Conference final.
While previously the Orlando City front office has shown a quick trigger when it comes to firing coaches, Pareja managed to hold his team together when play resumed in 2021 and slightly improved the team’s record and points total despite having to replace the team captain, both of his dynamic young fullbacks, a starting center back and his goalkeeper. Pareja showed improvement despite that and earned the opportunity to get the team to where it is today, four years later.
But getting back to contract statuses, FIFA has a big job ahead figuring out that particular headache. It would be pretty harsh to get our captain back, only to find that Nani is now a free agent. And not all teams lost the same number of players. Should there be a dispersal draft to reintegrate all of those who returned into MLS and the NWSL? Some Major League Baseball fans are already calling for that in their sport and if MLB goes that route, I could see MLS also considering it.
Is Marc Skinner out of a job? It’s not his fault he was caught up in the snap and Blip. He was only just starting to turn over the Pride’s roster to one that better fits his system when all of this happened. I mean, Jill Ellis has done OK since her surprise hiring before the 2021 season, but only two playoff appearances (2022 and 2023) and only one postseason win (the big 2022 upset at Providence Park) isn’t what we expected of her when she took over, and 2024’s 9-12-3 finish was such a disappointment. You can’t have two managers, so something will have to give. Will Skinner return to the bench or does management stick with Ellis?
It might just be the time to start over. The Pride have shown flashes under Ellis but after Marta announced her retirement at the end of the 2024 season, it might be the right time to start anew. Whoever ends up coaching the Pride might — depending on how these contract situations and player rights are decided — be getting an influx of talented veteran leaders, including Krieger, Emslie, Riley, Kennedy, van Egmond, and Zadorsky.
Obviously there are a lot of major questions that need to be answered before MLS and the NWSL — and indeed all of soccer — can proceed but the good thing about it is that just a few days ago we never dreamed we’d have these decisions to make.
It’s just unspeakably great to have everyone home and safe again.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this fictitious “What If?” post. The Marvel Comics “What If?” series was a great series and somewhat inspired this story as part of our Marvel Week celebration. Imagining what soccer (and all of sports) life would be like if an actual snap/Blip happened was an interesting thought exercise. My premise above is likely flawed, because I personally think it would be years before pro sports returned (if ever) due to the economic disaster such an event would cost, the pain of losing all of the ‘snapped’ players/coaches/fans/front office personnel, etc. Still, if sports returned, the problems I raised above would be of paramount importance to solve before matches could continue. Please let me know what talking points you think would be at the forefront in the comments section below. Or just let me know which is your favorite issue of “What If?”