Editorial — As Portland lifted the shiny and ridiculously named MLS is Back Cup, the MLS community quickly turned their attention to what comes next. Before we move on from this once-in-a-lifetime tournament, let’s look back on five memorable MLS is Back moments.
#5 — Union’s Brenden Aaronson Doops
One thing this tournament will be remembered for is it’s 9:00 a.m. ET kickoff whistle for some games. Many speculated these early games were meant to make it easier for European audiences and scouts to watch games, but Don Garber denied that.
“It wasn’t our intent when we scheduled at nine,” Garber said in an interview. “It was very focused on the weather and what we thought would be was the appropriate time to start, then take a large break during the hottest part of the day and get back in the evening.”
Whether it was the intent or not, one particular young American talent, Brenden Aaronson, impressed enough that he is already seeing serious interest from European teams. He’s even earned himself the nickname The “U.S. Havertz.”
Aaronson had some terrific performances in the tournament, playing well every time he set foot on the field. But the moment that that will live in infamy and cemented his future move to Europe is this creative touch that opens him up to play this incisive assist:
Are you kidding us with that ABSOLUTE DIME from Brenden Aaronson? 🎯
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 31, 2020
Understandably, and righteously so, the MLS twitter community went nuts. Even the official Fox Soccer account quipped “Enjoy Brenden Aaronson in MLS while you still can.”
#4 — Chicharito Scores in MLS (Finally)
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez did not follow in the footsteps of former LA Galazy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic in having a fairy tale debut, failing to tally a single goal. In fact, the Mexican International failed to score in his first two MLS matches, and in the Galaxy’s first game of the MLS is Back tournament, had a kick from the penalty spot blocked and had a glaring miss from point blank range:
Chicharito didn’t end up scoring until the 88th minute of the LA Galaxy’s first MLS is Back tournament game. It wasn’t enough to win that game, let alone help them progress in the tournament, but it will go down in history as the “little pea’s” first goal in MLS.
CHICHARITO SCORES HIS FIRST CAREER MLS GOAL!
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 14, 2020
In unrelated news, current president, coach, and player at AC Milan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, just got himself a new record.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the first player to score 5️⃣0️⃣ Serie A goals for both of the Milan clubs 🇮🇹
The King of Milan 👑 pic.twitter.com/Q9i7HScESH
— Goal (@goal) July 29, 2020
#3 — The Rise of Orlando and Nani
If you somehow chose Orlando to go to the final when filling out your bracket (like my mom did) then I would’ve ridiculed you mercilessly (like I also did to my mother). Lion shaped egg on my face.
Orlando entered the tournament as a second thought, and weren’t given much of a chance to win by anybody. An online betting site gave Orlando 50-1 odds to win the tournament, with only Cincinnati, Vancouver, and Nashville below them.
That’s before Nani went Super Saiyan. Starting with this goal to clinch Orlando’s first win against the new Inter Miami CF:
— Nani (@luisnani) July 9, 2020
In the quarterfinals against LAFC, after a close and contested game that went to penalties, who else but Nani gave Orlando SC a walk-off finish:
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) August 1, 2020
Nani then went on to lead his team past Minnesota United FC before ultimately falling to Portland in the final. Before he did, Nani put in this amazing curler in the semis to essentially seal the win:
NANI AGAIN!!! 🎯 pic.twitter.com/EEeS272nwQ
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 7, 2020
#2 — Atlanta United Exits Tournament Without a Win or Goal
Atlanta United FC announced that Josef Martinez was being placed on the Season-Ending Injury List on July 31, 2020, due to the injury to his ACL suffered in Atlanta’s season opening win.
Would Atlanta United be able to overcome the absence of their star striker? Would head coach Frank de Boer’s tactics be successful absent the raw talent of Josef on the field, and win the hearts and minds of Atlanta fans?
The answer to these questions was a resounding “no.”
Atlanta United ended up losing all three of their group stage games, failing to tally a single goal. I would have included a video highlight of Atlanta’s games, but there really aren’t any worth watching.
Instead, here’s a video showing how Josef’s rehab is coming along:
— Josef Martinez (@JosefMartinez17) June 26, 2020
The retched performances from Atlanta United caused #DeBoerOut to trend on twitter once again. Ultimately, Atlanta United’s failure to perform in the tournament caused the club and Frank de Boer to mutually part ways.
#1 — MLS is Black
The MLS is Back tournament will live in memories not only because of its association with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because it took place during the height of Black Lives Matters protests being held throughout the nation.
Black Players For Change is Formed
On Juneteenth, a group of players formed the new Black Players Coalition of MLS. The Black Players Coalition statement upon their formation, which you can and should read in full here, pledges to “help bridge the racial equality gap that exists in our league by lobbying for initiatives like implicit bias training, cultural education courses, and diversification hiring practices.”
The coalition then went on to put on a powerful demonstration before the kickoff of the MLS is Back tournament’s fist game. In a tribute to George Floyd, who was killed while in custody by a police officer, the demonstration was 8 minutes and 46 seconds long, and will forever be etched into the memory of any who saw it.
EXCLUSIVE: @BPCMLS gathered to make a statement and took 8 minutes and 46 sec. to do it before the first game in the #MLSisBack Tournament. Read about why this protest was so important to them and why it won’t be the last by this group. https://t.co/Si1XonzsRW via @tennessean
— Drake Hills (@LiveLifeDrake) July 9, 2020
Montreal Impact’s head coach, Thierry Henry, also took the opportunity to show his support during his team’s first group stage game:
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 10, 2020
MLS is Black Outshines MLS is Back Tournament
After all of the soccer, all the goals, and all the disappointments, the MLS is Black movement will outlive them all in the memories of fans. It was an important moment for MLS as a whole, which is a league that hasn’t been the friendliest to political speech in the past.
While it was an incredibly powerful demonstration to watch, MLS and everyone who watches it were quickly reminded how far we have yet to go on these issues. When the MLS restart happened prior to the recent FC Dallas game, fans booed the Black Lives Matter demonstration.
Justin Morrow, the Black Player Coalition’s executive director, says the group isn’t going anywhere:
“We’re quickly becoming a strong voice for the Black player pool,” Morrow said. “But we know that we have a lot of work ahead of us to change the systemic racial problems that exist in Major League Soccer. We are there for that and we’re there for the long run.”
*Honorable mention goes to Andy Polo for this:
Dance your heart out, Andy Polo. 🕺 pic.twitter.com/V0Y370Bwnp
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 2, 2020