The Union and D.C. United are among the most politically active teams in Major League Soccer, and they will take that spirit into Saturday night’s meeting at Subaru Park (7:30 p.m., PHL17).
“Soccer is completely secondary to what’s going on in the world, and the police reform that needs to happen and the treatment of African-Americans in this country,” Union manager Jim Curtin said Thursday. “It’s been too long, it needs to change, and look: soccer is certainly not even [in] the backseat — it’s not even in the car in this discussion for me. The priorities are different.”
There were discussions in recent days about not playing the game. But it will go on, and it will go on because Major League Soccer’s Black Players for Change group wants it to.
“As the BPC, we decided it’s important for us to get back to playing,” said D.C. goalkeeper Earl Edwards. “We were happy with the impact of the statement that we made by boycotting the games on Wednesday. I think now, with the following steps that will take place, getting together [with] ownership in MLS, I think we’ll be able to put together a concrete plan moving forward where we can truly start to affect social injustice.”
Edwards said the BPC had a meeting with MLS commissioner Don Garber on the subject, and it “provided us with the confidence that getting back to play makes sense for us, knowing we’re in a league that is going to start to prioritize our lives and fighting [for] the movement.”
The Union and D.C. were both off Wednesday night, when five of the six scheduled games in MLS didn’t happen because of players protesting the Jacob Blake shooting. Edwards said that when D.C. players gathered the next morning, “talking with my team, they were fully in support, fully willing to boycott the game this weekend if it came to that.”
Curtin and his D.C. counterpart Ben Olsen relayed what they observed about the meetings their respective teams held.
“We have a few influential players within the Black [players’] coalition, and we as a group decided that we will support what they feel is right in this moment,” said Olsen, a Middletown, Pa., native who has his own long history of political activism. “There were real discussions about whether or not to sit or double down on the platform we have currently.”
Olsen, who is white, added that his locker room is “super-supportive of those players that are frankly affected more in these times than people like me.”
Curtin said the discussions within the Union haven’t just been “a one-day thing where now it just comes up today — this has been going on for quite some time.”
“Everybody has a voice, everybody is open in our team,” Curtin said. “We’re supportive of each other. We recognize now the things that are going on in this country aren’t right and need to be changed and need to be fixed. ... I’m really proud of our players for the voice that they’ve shown throughout the league, and I think we have some of the guys at the forefront of this moment.”
Curtin also thanked the Union’s ownership group for its support on the subject, saying “it makes us feel strong and more together.” But he made sure to give the players the most credit.
“I’m incredibly proud and supportive of what the players in the NBA, the WNBA, [and] MLS did Wednesday night,” he said. “To be clear, this is a player-driven movement and they deserve the credit. It’s not good when others maybe twist and turn the narrative and make it political. Very powerful from the players and I’m in full support of them.”
Curtin was a stalwart of the MLS Players Association in his days on the field, which started almost 20 years ago. He called the current solidarity movement among players “far and away the most important” that he’s seen in the league, “and it’s not even close. It speaks to the growth of the league, the power of the players’ union, how unified they are in the statements that they put forward.”
And he is plenty aware of the stakes.