Emotions ran high before the opening game of the MLS is Back Tournament opener July 8 in Florida when more than 170 Black players, coaches and officials joined Orlando City and Inter Miami players on the field at ESPN's Wide World of Sports.
Players stood, their fists raised, for eight minutes 46 seconds -- the time a Minneapolis police officer spent kneeling on George Floyd's neck before he died.
It was a powerful, silent protest. And a remarkable show of solidarity and brotherhood.
"I think everybody on that field had a chill," said Philadelphia Union midfielder Warren Creavalle. "I remember getting back to the hotel and it felt like I had just played a game -- the adrenalin was still that high. It was an amazing first night."
The 30-year-old Creavalle, a former Toronto FC player, played his part in getting the Black Lives Matter message out by designing a T-shirt that players and coaches wore throughout the tournament. Many still do.
Design was already part of his game.
Creavalle and his cousin Stephen Creavalle started their Creavalle clothing line in 2014, the same year that Warren joined Toronto in a July trade from the Houston Dynamo. Former Toronto FC defender Ashtone Morgan, now with Real Salt Lake, was involved early on and continues to work with the Creavalles on the project.
Philadelphia plays TFC on Saturday in Toronto's adopted pandemic home of East Hartford, Conn., in a battle of 8-2-4 teams. The Union currently holds second place in the Eastern Conference on goal difference over Toronto -- two points behind Columbus which plays at FC Dallas on Saturday.
"It'll be a good measuring stick for both teams," Creavalle said of the game.
Creavalle may be an observer on the weekend. The nine-year pro sat out the last two games with an adductor strain but is nearing a return.
Creavalle's T-shirt has the words Black Lives Matter in gold lettering on the front, as well as a statement on the back inspired by a blog post from Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse. Proceeds from sale of the so-called #MLSisBlack solidarity top -- it is available both through the MLS store and Creavalle's clothing line website (www.creavalle.co) -- are going to the NAACP Legal Defence Fund, 100 Black Men of America, and Player’s Coalition in partnership with Black Players for Change.
Creavalle takes pride in helping get the message across for the players and the Black community.
"I was really humbled to be able to create that, and to have it visible like that in the (MLS is Back Tournament) bubble and past that," he said. "For it to be available by the league, I think, was amazing."
The idea came up during a Zoom call between players looking to make a statement at the tournament's opening game. The idea expanded, with Philadelphia teammate Ray Gaddis suggesting Creavalle design something and the league jumped on board .
With the pandemic and the ongoing fight for social justice and racial equality, it's been an unprecedented year.
"So many different factors, so many different perspectives of what has been just a crazy whirlwind year," said Creavalle. "But through it all, I think everybody has to find ways not just cope but see what good can come out of every situation. So that's kind of been my focus throughout this whole year."
Asked if progress is being made, Creavalle says he sees positives in "shining light on things that people may or may not have known were going on."
"I think a lot of people have spoken their truth. A lot of people have shared their stories," he said. "That itself is progress. I think it's getting harder and harder to hide from those truths. And if it continues that way, I think it will be really tough to look yourself in the mirror if you are hiding from those truth if you continue to do so."
Creavalle left Toronto for Philadelphia in an August 2015 trade. But he still has fond memories about his time as a Red.
"I think there were a lot of foundational moments for me in that city," he said. "I'm really grateful for my time there."
Creavalle, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Georgia, has found a home in Philadelphia. His wife, originally from Houston, is expecting their first child in January.
Injury aside, he is enjoying his soccer with the Union.
"Football is football, man. And it's always better if you're winning as well. It's been enjoyable out on the field. To this day, it's still a place where you can play the game you love. Leveraging that, I would say, to then elevate messages has been really powerful for me."
Internationally he has represented Guyana, where his father was born, although he has opted to focus on club soccer in recent months.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2020