Match week 1 of the 2023 MLS season has mostly come and gone, giving rise to the new Apple TV deal with a variety of entertaining and unpredictable matches. But one theme was commonplace amongst teams in the league as the games finally got underway.
In some shape, form, or fashion, clubs honored the memory of Atlanta United and Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes, who tragically lost his life in a boating accident earlier this year.
Black armbands and pre-match shirts were standard attire for players, coaches, and staff as the league’s opening whistles blew, and it was a stark reminder of the bonds and camaraderie that players form during their endless training sessions, travels, and matches; the “intangible” aspects that fans and media don’t typically witness. Far too often players in this sport can be viewed as pixels on a screen, robots, or simply transactions amongst clubs, and that’s - quite frankly - not fair. Anton Walkes was a loving husband, father, and teammate, and he left a lasting impression on folks involved in the game on both sides of the ocean and beyond.
Two MLS teams took their tributes far beyond any others, and rightfully so; Atlanta United and Charlotte FC were Anton Walkes’ clubs during his professional career in the United States. After cutting his teeth over in England with Tottenham Hotspur he was one of Atlanta’s earlier signings on a loan in 2017. He then returned to England as a part of Portsmouth before rejoining Atlanta in 2020. Just prior to the 2022 season Walkes was selected by Charlotte in the Expansion Draft, where he would play until his passing.
Absolutely beautiful #ATLUTD #WeAreTheA pic.twitter.com/QNO20L2ffi— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) February 26, 2023
For their part, Atlanta United had a wonderful tribute on the halo board in Mercedes-Benz Stadium along with a moment of silence, followed by a beautiful tifo created by the club’s supporter groups. The tifo itself was an image of Anton taken just moments after he scored his first goal for the Five Stripes in 2017 against none other than the San Jose Earthquakes, the same team Atlanta was playing on opening day.
Story behind the Anton tifo:— Terridactyl ⭐️ ♥️ (@terrinh73) February 26, 2023
1. Image came from a pic in @DirtySouthSoc
2. It’s Anton’s first goal w/ AUFC in 2017
3. We were playing San Jose
4. There was supposed to be a “skyline” in 101 to honor Bobby Dodd…didn’t work out :-/
AW4ever a 17 ❤️ ❤️ ❤️#WeAreTheA @ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/KGLTA5Vbnq
Charlotte FC lit up Bank of America Stadium their traditional blue while a large pull-tarp with Anton’s logo adorned midfield during the pre-match ceremonies. His number 5 was also displayed over their own tifo and on the main television board, and they had their own tribute that played prior to the game. Both clubs made it very clear how much Anton was genuinely loved.
Charlotte FC owners David and Nicole Tepper placed a crown on the throne for Anton Walkes for tonight’s coronation. pic.twitter.com/4wilHxHNaS— Ashley Mahoney (@m_a_h_o_n_e_y) February 26, 2023
The soccer world, and especially those in the south who watched Anton Walkes as a part of their respective inaugural teams, will truly miss the kind-hearted, loving character who would light up any room he entered. It’s only fitting that the two largest crowds of opening weekend, 65000-plus, belonged to both Atlanta United and Charlotte FC at their home stadiums for these beautiful memorials.
Expect to see the black “Anton Walkes” armbands on captains across the league for the entire 2023 season as his memory lives on throughout the beautiful game.