FC Dallas played competitive soccer for the first time in over 5 months on Wednesday, but it is hard to find anything positive to take away from their return.
As the majority of fans in Toyota Stadium rose to their feet ahead of the national anthem, both FC Dallas and Nashville SC players and coaches, along with the referees, dropped to a knee in silent protest. In the silence that rang out just before the anthem began, and as FC Dallas defender Reggie Cannon put his clenched fist into the air, a “BOO!” rang out across the largely empty stadium.
As the first notes of the anthem rang out over the stadium speakers, an aluminum beer bottle flew end over end through the air, lazily directed at the FC Dallas players, before landing 10 yards away from them on the field. As the anthem ended, the Toyota Stadium PA announcer asked fans to observe a moment of silence in honor of those who had suffered due to violence, that silence was interrupted by chants of “USA! USA!”, seemingly in direct response to the players’ actions during the anthem.
It was the beginning of a night that everyone associated with the club will want to put behind them as soon as possible, but will hard to shake off as FC Dallas and MLS push forward with this truly bizarre season.
The rocky road to reach that first game back has been well documented, with FC Dallas being forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando due to an outbreak of COVID-19 within the team and staff. After finally returning to some sense of normalcy back in training in Frisco, the club entered another whirlwind of attention and controversy when they announced plans to not only host games back in Toyota Stadium as part of the restart of the MLS regular season, but to allow fans to attend at an adjusted capacity of 5110.
FC Dallas was suddenly going to be the team from a major American sports league (apologies to the USL) to not only host a game in their home stadium but do so with fans, all with the backdrop of one of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in the world in the state of Texas.
This decision was met with predictably harsh backlash from the national soccer media but FC Dallas pressed on with their decision, though the capacity was ultimately reduced to 3000, likely due to a lack of interest from season ticket holders in attending the matches.
Dallas 'Til I Die (of Covid) https://t.co/LdMF3sxuGj
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) August 11, 2020
In the days before the game, a liability waiver that fans had to sign in order to attend the match became a news story, leading to further questions as to why the club and the league as a whole were willing to go through with something they themselves apparently saw as dangerous.
To attend tonight's FC Dallas-Nashville game at Toyota Stadium, fans have to sign a waiver saying they will not bring legal action against the clubs, MLS, SUM, etc if they contract COVID-19: https://t.co/sQOR4s7VWf
— Ian Thomas (@byIanThomas) August 12, 2020
Dallas pressed forward with their decision, seemingly determined to prove the doubters wrong by being able to put together a properly socially distanced sporting event with protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Out of my own personal desperation to attend a match again, I made the decision to attend the match, promising myself I would do everything in my power to minimize my own risk as much as possible by avoiding concession lines and the bathroom if possible, maintaining social distance from others at all times and always wearing my mask. I was sadly disappointed to see that others in attendance did not seem to be in the same mindset. To be clear, this is not an attack on my fellow supporters, but if I had to estimate, I’d say roughly 20% paid little to no attention to the rule to have a mask on at all except when eating or drinking. But more crucially and most disappointing was that the security and staff at Toyota Stadium were not doing anything to actually enforce the protocols put in place by the club.
There was one group in my section of about 3-4 people that I never once saw wearing a mask, they were seated at the front of the section in clear view of a stadium security member, but nothing was done by staff and security to do anything about a group that was clearly in violation of the protocols put in place by the club. It begs the question of what the purpose of the protocols is if the club is simply going to rely on individuals to self-police themselves (to the fans’ credit, most in attendance did a fantastic job of this) and gets to a bigger question of why the club is so adamant in having fans back in the stands. It is hard to imagine that the club is making any money considering how few were in attendance (announced attendance was 2912 but I would be stunned if they were many more than 1500 in attendance).
Following the embarrassment of the behavior of certain fans during and after the national anthem, Dallas finally got back to what their entire goal here was – to play competitive soccer again.
Sadly, the match was about what one might expect from two teams playing for the first time in 5 months in 100+ degree temperatures, a boring, sloppy affair that Dallas ultimately lost 1-0, handing Nashville SC their first win as an MLS franchise. Record signing Franco Jara made his debut, but was unable to put away any chances afforded him and was subbed off at the 60-minute mark. Luchi Gonzalez tried out a 3-5-2 formation that failed to create consistent quality chances and seemed to play right into what Nashville wanted to do. Substitutions and a tactical switch did have Dallas on the front foot, but Nashville snatched the victory on a great counter started by former FCD midfielder Dax McCarty and finished by David Accam, who seems to adore scoring against Dallas. The final whistle capped off a poor performance that even in that moment, most around the club would want to forget.
But the final whistle on Wednesday only started another round of controversy and attention toward the club. In the post-game press conference, Reggie Cannon offered his thoughts on the national anthem situation. His response is nothing short of heart-wrenching as he emotionally described his feeling of disgust at having fans in his own team’s stadium boo him and throw objects at him and his teammates because of their decision to kneel. He mentioned that the players had requested that the anthem not be played at all to avoid this exact kind of situation, a request that was ultimately denied.
For obvious reasons, Reggie’s comments spread like wildfire across soccer media on Wednesday night, as it was, for many, the first time they had heard about what happened during the anthem. A situation caused by a minuscule group of fans was suddenly simply described as “FC Dallas fans boo kneeling players” as national media began reporting on Reggie’s post-game comments. By Thursday afternoon, the story had been picked up by just about every national. media. outlet, with discussions about the incident happening even on shows that would typically seem to pretend that soccer doesn’t even exist. FC Dallas was receiving more attention than they likely ever had in their 25-year history, and it was all negative.
The club’s response, posted on social media on Thursday afternoon, sparked even more negativity around the club, with many viewing the response as very non-committal in their support of their players and looking to shift blame to the league for the decision to the play the national anthem.
— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) August 13, 2020
The response to the club’s statement was so harsh that the club posted another statement hours later, this time noted as personally coming from owners Clark and Dan Hunt.
— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) August 14, 2020
Disturbingly, this statement made reference to death threats against Reggie Cannon and his family due to his comments following the game. Indeed, with so much controversy coming from the players’ decision to kneel for the anthem, FC Dallas and Reggie were pulled into the middle of an argument that has been going back and forth for the better part of half of a decade and FC Dallas’ social media posts were flooded with people criticizing Reggie for exercising his first amendment rights, echoing the same criticisms that have been lobbed at every black athlete that has chosen to kneel in protest during the anthem. After so much build-up to playing soccer again, all the discussions after the game were about just about everything except for the soccer.
Luckily for the club, they’ll have an opportunity at redemption on Sunday as they host Nashville once again at Toyota Stadium. FC Dallas fans across social media have poured out their support for Reggie Cannon and his teammates since Wednesday night and it seems highly likely that there will be a strong show of support for him and the team on Sunday. The club also has a chance to re-evaluate some of their COVID-19 protocols and possibly ramp up enforcement of their protocols, which, when followed, actually seem to be quite well put together and effective. But the ultimate question of “why?” still comes to mind. If the club had made the decision to play behind closed doors, the national anthem, according to the club’s own statement, would not have had to be played.
This entire controversial situation could have been avoided with the change of one thing but that decision to allow fans has had a knock on effect that has led to the club’s players describing their own fan’s behavior as “embarrassing” and “disgraceful” and has seen national and international media pick up news stories that paint the club and its fans in an incredibly negative light. It remains to be seen how the club will move on from here.
Do you agree with the club’s decision to allow fans to attend? If you attended the match, what was your experience?
How can the club recover some of their image following this week?
Featured Image: Omar Vega/Getty Images