SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 02: Fredy Montero #17 of the Seattle Sounders FC writhes in pain against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on November 2, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Montero left the game but returned a few minutes later. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
During Wednesday's post-game press-conference, a reporter asked Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid about the taste that game left in his mouth. While far from dismissive of the question, Schmid corrected the reporter a little.
"I don’t know if it’s in our mouths," he said. "It’s definitely a very empty, hollow feeling in our stomachs at this stage."
I think a lot of us who have followed this team as closely as we have can relate. Sick. Empty. Gutted. No matter what adjective you want use, it all means the same thing. An absolutely glorious season has ended much earlier than most of us had expected and it feels like something is definitely missing.
The mood in the locker room was very much the same. Players were getting dressed with glazed looks in their eyes. I won't say they were emotional as they were all perfectly composed, but guys clearly weren't sure how they should feel.
It's safe to say none of them had probably ever gone through a game with such conflicting emotions. They had turned in an absolutely dominant performance, scored two goals and shut out the opponent. If a couple of breaks had gone their way, the Sounders could have easily scored a few more. But it wasn't enough.
Fredy Montero had two glorious chances in the first half, the kind of goals we've grown accustomed to him scoring. Osvaldo Alonso had a couple good looks as well. Tony Beltran made the kind of save on a Jeff Parke shot that is among the best you'll ever see an outfield player make.
"We pressed and pressed and sometimes you just need that one bounce to go your way," Sounders forward Mike Fucito said. "It's unfortunate, but I thought everyone's effort was spectacular. I thought our quality was very good. That's where you kind of kick yourself because the third goal last game changed things a lot. I'm proud of how we responded. I thought tonight was a great overall effort and something we can build on."
The idea that this was a positive step was a common one among the Sounders. Schmid and others talked about the team finally winning a playoff game, something they failed to do in the previous two years. He noted that last year he said the moment was "too big" for some of his players and that he didn't feel that was the case this year.
"I think we showed our fans our character tonight," he said.
Perhaps no player turned it around more dramatically than Lamar Neagle. Coming off an absolutely disastrous performance in the first leg, the midfielder got called upon much earlier than expected this time. Neagle entered the game in the 14th minute as a substitute for the injured Alvaro Fernandez.
It took him a little while to get into the flow of the game, but once he did, we saw the player that excites us so much. Neagle created several glorious chances, and then finished off a gorgeous feed from Montero that nearly brought CenturyLink Field off its foundation.
"Going to Salt Lake and losing like that it's not something we wanted and planned, so we definitely had something to prove to ourselves," Neagle said. "And for our fans we wanted to show them that we were a different team. I think we did a good job of that."
Alonso, too, was due for a bit of redemption and, a couple missed chances aside, he got it. His penalty was well taken and gave the Sounders life in a game that seemed to be slipping away. He was, once again, tenacious and all over the field. He was the Honey Badger we've grown to love.
Still, there was no hiding the disappointment. Despite their best efforts, the Sounders are going home at the exact same time they did last year and the year before. A season in which they set the MLS record for most all-competition wins in regulation (27), which included some epic come-from-behind performances, a victory in Mexico, another U.S. Open Cup and countless memorable moments is now over. There's so much to feel good about, and in time maybe we will.
Right now, though, we feel empty. There's just no getting around it.