Minnesota United and the Seattle Sounders opened another MLS season of competition Friday night by uniting at midfield before the Loons' 4-0 loss.
They leaned in a center circle, standing side by side and shoulder to shoulder, arms linked with one another and with some coaches. Players wore black armbands and jersey shoulder patches that read "Equality, Acceptance, Diversity" for racial and social justice as well as for victims of COVID-19.
Some Loons players approached club management with the idea, which was a response to last Sunday's killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer while former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial in downtown Minneapolis for killing George Floyd last May. Wright and Floyd were Black, the two officers are white.
The Loons invited the Sounders to join them, and they accepted.
"We as players try to — as many people say — leverage your platform for awareness on many things," Minnesota United veteran midfielder Wil Trapp said by video call after the game. "Obviously, the news coming out of Minneapolis this week was very saddening, very difficult to process. I think anything we can do to bring attention to that is important while also doing our jobs right.
"I think our loudest voices come when we're playing our sport and doing our jobs, and I think this was a way to do that."
Loons coach Adrian Heath said players from both teams discussed what they could and should do.
"It was a gesture from them, a little bit of solidarity for what people are trying to achieve," Heath said. "So anything we can do, however little at this moment in time. It seems to be this is a problem. We've got to keep it in the mainstream, keep it highlighted and not let this persist. …
"The one thing is we're just all so disappointed that here we go again. We thought after last year that maybe it might be different this time. But maybe it's not and we've still got an awful long way to go."
Loons newly acquired striker Ramon "Wanchope" Abila made his debut as a second-half substitute Friday and needed just a minute to hook up with former Boca Juniors teammate Emanuel Reynoso in the 65th minute.
Abila couldn't firmly connect on a rushed, twisting volley in a 1-0 game after Reynoso played a long crossing ball to him. Three minutes later, Sounders keeper Stefan Frei dived to stop Abila's heavy, dipping half-volley strike from 25 yards.
"Obviously, they played together awhile so they know each other," said Heath, whose team allowed all four goals after halftime. "He had a few good efforts. He'll be better for the minutes. It's a long time without playing 90 minutes competitive football. He'll be better for the game and we'll work hard with him this week and see where we are regarding his fitness for the game next week."
Waiting on Opara
Heath said in preseason he hoped the team soon would reach a resolution with injured veteran Ike Opara, a center back with a history of concussions who hasn't played a game in 13 months. Opara was still on the Loons' opening day roster Friday without a contract settlement that would have freed his salary from the club's salary-budget space.
"I'll wait and see when we get back and see how he is," Heath said. "For the moment, he's still on our roster. Hopefully, we can get him fit and get him on the field, which would be nice for everybody."