Players, coaches and officials took a knee during the playing of the Canadian and U.S. national anthems before the Union’s 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Sunday night at Subaru Park, continuing a leaguewide anti-racism protest that started during the summer.
It was the first time this year that any national anthem was played at a Union home game, because it was the first one with fans in the stands. Major League Soccer’s rule since the regular season resumed has been that the anthem is played when fans are in attendance, but not when the gates are closed.
No boos were audible from the press box while the Union’s usual singer, Delaware County-born recording artist Ashli Rice, sang both anthems.
During the closed-door games, everyone took a knee at kickoff. That did not happen this time.
“We all know what’s going on out there, it’s no secret,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, who wore a mask emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” during his postgame news conference.
“We just thought that we had a moment to use our platform to continue to send a message, and show that’s what we stand for,” Blake continued. “It was a tough decision, because the national anthem and the flag mean so much. But we all understand that it’s not about whether you love your country or not, it’s about what you really stand for and the changes that we want to see.”
The Union and Impact’s rosters reflect the diversity of the world’s game. Philadelphia has players of 14 nationalities, and eight of the players eligible to play Sunday night were Black. They included starting defender Mark McKenzie and midfielder Warren Creavalle, who are influential in MLS' Black Players for Change group. Defender Ray Gaddis, currently out injured, is on the organization’s board.
Creavalle designed the Black Lives Matter T-shirts that have been worn leaguewide since the start of the MLS Is Back Tournament in July. They have been popular with fans too, selling out repeatedly.
Across the field, Montreal’s roster has 11 nationalities. Five of the Impact’s Black players started, and another four were on the bench.
Impact manager Thierry Henry, a World Cup-winning legend of the French national team, is one of only two Black head coaches in MLS. Colorado’s Robin Fraser is the other. There has never been an American-born Black head coach in the league, which is now in its 25th season.
Blake said the demonstration was the Union’s idea, and when they let the Impact know, “they were all in” to join.
The Sons of Ben showed their support of the demonstration by raising a big banner that said “VOTE” over the River End after the anthems. The raising of decorated banners before kickoff is a soccer tradition at Union games and worldwide, and they usually come down after a few minutes. This one stayed up until halftime.