Following Atlanta United’s arrival in South Florida to play Inter Miami CF in Fort Lauderdale about 4-5 hours prior to kickoff, midfielder Jeff Larentowicz admitted he hadn’t been watching the news while in his room at the team hotel.
It was only after a shower prior to the club’s pregame meeting that he learned of yesterday’s boycotts in the NBA, setting in motion what turned out to be a historic night in MLS and the sporting world at large.
“I hopped out of the shower, put on ESPN and I noticed what was happening,” Larentowicz said during a media call on Zoom on Thursday, less than 24 hours after both teams decided to postpone their match in a show of solidarity following the Jacob Blake situation in Wisconsin. “That’s when I first became aware of it. Once we got to the stadium, there were text messages going on from players around the league.”
It was through those texts, already a channel where players had been frequently communicating through the year, that the eventual decision was made to not move forward with the match in Florida. But Larentowicz made it clear that despite the decision to postpone, it was not an end-all solution.
“It’s not a decision where we thought not playing the game against Miami would be the silver bullet to solve all issues,” he said. “It was the coming together of support, and I think that we can build this into tackling bigger issues and use the support we’ve show for each other to come up with ways to make things better.”
As far as the platform he and other players have as athletes, especially considering the number of fans that attend matches and watch on television, Larentowicz remarked that it could be a pathway to broader discussion.
“It’s on us to do more and find ways to effect change,” he said. “The platform we have shows that we are unified. If you enjoy what we do (in entertaining fans), maybe we can come together and you can listen to the things that matter most.”
While the match between Orlando City and Nashville SC, a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, went on as scheduled, all other matches were cancelled, with an MLS statement on social media stating that the league office made the decision to do so. Larentowicz, though, stressed that this wasn’t exactly the case.
“I didn’t see it directly, but there were obviously many discussions and everyone was attached to their phone in the locker room after our decision was made,” he said. “But the decision was the players’ in this circumstance.”
He was short and to the point on his feelings about controversial statements made by Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen this morning on a Salt Lake City radio show, comments that were met by a groundswell of disapproval from fans and even players from both RSL and Utah Royals FC, Hansen’s NWSL team.
“You’re a business owner that says you no longer want to invest in your business,” Larentowicz curtly remarked. “I think it’s pretty obvious. If that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel. Move on.”
As for the match on Saturday, the team is training with the intent of playing at Orlando City, but things could change between now and then.
“We’re preparing for Saturday. We trained today and we’re training tomorrow, (so) preparation is ongoing,” Larentowicz said.