As I put the finishing touches on my final story from the MLS is Back Tournament in the wee hours of Sunday morning, a realization washed over me. Alone in a hotel room that I’d called home for the previous 24 days, I began to reflect on the experience in Orlando.
It had been anything but normal, even so much as we’ve come to define “normal” since our lives were flipped upside down in mid-March. Along with 44 other members of the New England Revolution delegation, I had spent the better part of a month isolated at a (gorgeous) resort, wearing masks and credentials at all times, served meals from behind Plexiglass, and being tested for COVID-19 almost daily.
So, far from “normal.”
But late Saturday night and into Sunday morning, as the Revs bowed out of the MLS is Back Tournament in the Round of 16, unable to break through in a maddening 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, the full scope of the league’s mission in Orlando came into unmistakable focus.
As I scoured the hashtag and my Twitter mentions, I saw the familiar conversations unfolding. Who was the Revolution’s best center back pairing? Had Kelyn Rowe locked down a starting spot in central midfield? Who will fill Carles Gil’s shoes if he misses time? How do the Revs find their attacking verve?
There was frustration, of course, as the Revolution’s run in Orlando fell short of the lofty expectations set by both the players and supporters. There was consternation as the Revs generated chance after chance but failed to find the finish that could’ve extended their time in the Sunshine State.
But on Saturday night – and on all four match days in Orlando and several days in between – those conversations revolved around soccer. For a few precious hours we weren’t shackled by the chains of a global pandemic. We weren’t wondering when the next game would come. We didn’t have to imagine what it’d be like to have sports back in our lives.
We got to talk soccer. And watch soccer. And live soccer. And it felt normal.
And while the ending left a bitter taste, there were moments to savor in Orlando. Gil’s sparkling performance against Montreal – not to mention Gustavo Bou’s golazo to win it and Matt Turner’s save to preserve the three points. Adam Buksa’s perfect header against D.C. United. A hard-fought point vs. Toronto FC to clinch a spot in the knockout rounds.
The hope is that we won’t have to savor those moments for too long. We hope that Major League Soccer and the Revs are just getting started, gearing up for the resumption of the regular season in the coming weeks and months. We hope – as Revolution II kicked off their inaugural season this past weekend at Gillette Stadium – that soccer is well and truly returning to Foxborough.
The fire that fuels that hope was sparked to life in Orlando, where the Revs helped lay the foundation not just for a return to soccer, but for a return to sports. And while we’re still far from “normal” – there can be no mistaking that – we’ve been given a glimpse back into the world for which we’ve longed.
So while the Revolution’s four games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort didn’t provide a fairytale finish, they undeniably offered up their own brand of magic. For that, I am grateful, and as we push ahead I am enthusiastically eager to tackle whatever’s next.
In the famous words of our old friend Mickey Mouse, “See you real soon.”