Major League Soccer returned with a powerful statement Wednesday, as players from every club in Orlando showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of the opening match of the league's World Cup-style tournament.
Before Orlando City and Inter Miami kicked off, Black players from other MLS teams joined the two sides on the field. They wore masks and T-shirts with various messages of support for the Black community, including "Black Lives Matter," "Silence is Violence," and "Black and Proud."
With raised fists, they formed a large square around the field at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, while the Orlando and Inter Miami players took a knee around the center circle. The silent demonstration lasted for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
The demonstration was organized by the "Black Players Coalition of MLS," which launched last month on Juneteenth and "aims to address racial inequalities in MLS, fight racism in soccer, elevate Black voices, and positively impact Black communities across the USA and Canada."
"We as professional athletes, we see what's happening across the sports landscape in North America and the world, and how us Black players have been galvanized by the death of George Floyd," said Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow, who serves as the organization's executive director.
He added, "Everything that you saw tonight came from us ... (Orlando) gave us a unique opportunity to all be together, so what you see tonight was a special moment that was driven by the players, and Major League Soccer helped collaborate to make that happen."
Morrow said there will be more events and initiatives throughout the tournament.
After the players not involved in Wednesday's match left the field, those remaining on the pitch from Orlando and Inter Miami took a knee once more ahead of the opening whistle, echoing the situation in England's Premier League since that competition returned to play.
The gesture is a sign of protest against police brutality and racial injustice, and has been employed by numerous athletes in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis in May, which spurred mass protests worldwide.