In the 34th minute of a 1-0 win for the Real Monarchs on Saturday, Rio Tinto Stadium went quiet when midfielder Omar Holness collapsed to the ground. Suffering from apparent seizures the 22-year-old Jamaican was treated on the field just outside the 18-yard box as his teammates and fans looked on.
At the front of that pack was Devon Sandoval. Like Holness, Sandoval was on loan from Real Salt Lake, getting some valuable playing time during an off-week for the MLS club. When he saw his teammate in need, he sprung to his aid, doing what he could to serve as a brother at his side.
“I just wanted to be there and help calm him down as best I could and be there for him,” Sandoval said after the match.
Nobody was further from Holness the moment he collapsed than goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, yet he was quickly by his side as well.
“It’s a scary moment. It’s a teammate. It’s a brother,” Attinella said. “It kind of puts things into perspective that it’s a soccer game and there are things that are more important.”
Holness was taken to a local hospital and treated. But as he was being loaded into the ambulance, the Monarchs had a serious question to consider. To play or not to play?
After serious consideration, the group concluded that the best thing they could do was not just to finish off the remaining 56 minutes of the match, but to win in Holness’ honor.
“The guys came together and decided they wanted to play for Omar and finish off the game,” Monarchs Head Coach Freddy Juarez said. “We finished the game and now it’s time to and support Omar in the next couple days.”
Added Attinella, “We felt that if Omar heard about it, he would want us to play. It was a family reaction. Everyone came together. We said a prayer for Omar, made sure everything was alright and got back to business.”
Players and coaches alike admitted that the next few minutes were difficult. But as the game wore on, the field started tilting the way of the Monarchs and in the 90th minute, Maikon Orellana scored the game-winning goal on an assist from Sandoval.
It was a fitting conclusion for Sandoval, who was among the greatest proponents of continuing on in the match.
“When they asked us if we wanted to continue, I said ‘Let’s do it. It’s what Omar would want,’” he said. “’We’ve got to get these three points for him and leave it all out there.’”
By the end of the match, word had gotten back to the stadium that Holness was alert and responsive.
That news was greeted with smiles in the Monarchs locker room, where heavy hearts celebrated the win with the 2,453 fans in attendance.
Attinella and Sandoval contained their emotions when talking about moving forward from a difficult match.
“It’s pretty traumatic when it’s one of your friends – your brothers – is out there and something serious like that happens,” Sandoval said. “You just try to focus on the game and do it for him.”
Attinella was quick to offer continued support to his RSL teammate.
“He has a family here. We’re his brothers. We’re here with him,” he said. “Anything he needs, he has a couple of teams behind him. The whole organization is behind him.”
By 11:45, Holness himself tweeted that he would be returning home Saturday night. The always jovial Jamaican no doubt was proud that his team had fought for the win in his absence.