This was originally posted on my blog, but I thought many here would be able to sympathize with the emotions...
Last night ranks number two in my sports-heartbreak hall of fame. Right behind the 1996 Denver Broncos. You'd think that being 27 years old instead of 11, and having a little more perspective on things and the relative importance of sports -- or lack thereof -- would make it hurt a little less. But it doesn't. Perspective doesn't help with these kinds of things. Not really anyway. I didn't cry like I did in '96, but I wanted to. All the emotions were there. The feeling that this wasn't supposed to happen. Questioning why things ended the way that they did. The feelings might be illogical, but they're completely authentic. If you're a sports fan, you get it.
What made last night especially gut-wrenching was that we really, truly could have won. And that's the worst way to lose. After the first leg a week ago, we had a mountain to climb, a three goal deficit to overcome. But we could have done it. From the kickoff, you could tell that the team was playing with a fire and an intensity that LA simply couldn't match. We wanted it and we wanted it badly. When Eddie scored early (and then scored again since the first one didn't count), the feeling started to spread throughout the stadium that maybe, just maybe there was hope. You could see it with the players too. Zakuani played the best game of his career -- broken leg be damned -- blazing down the wings, beating defenders one-on-one and creating opportunity after opportunity. Ozzy proved that, contrary to popular belief, honey badgers can freaking fly. He dominated the entire midfield, trouncing Keane and Beckham countless times and sending them crying to the referee. We played with heart, and desire, and determination. Surely it would pay off. It had to.
When Zach Scott scored off a spectacular diving header in the 57th minute, the stadium went ballistic. No longer was the comeback just a pipe dream, it was destiny. Everywhere you looked, you could sense it. Something special was happening. This would be one of those games that they talk about years from now. Whenever a team needs a miracle comeback, they'll mention the 2012 Seattle Sounders and say "anything is possible". I remember running through the narrative in my head. Revenge Tour 2012. Real Salt Lake -- defeated. Los Angeles Galaxy -- defeated. Houston Dynamo -- defeated. All our playoff demons exorcised. I contemplated where this game would rank in my all time sports moments. It wasn't a championship, so it couldn't beat out the 1997 Broncos. But it would be every bit as memorable. I would never forget this game, where I was or how I felt. And then, everything was ripped away.
In the 68th minute, Robbie Keane had some space down the left hand side and Johansson ran him down to defend. Keane tried to cross it but Johansson sent it out for a corner. Except instead of taking the ball to the corner, everyone headed to the edge of the box. It was a penalty. A soul-crushing, earth-shattering penalty kick. From where we were sitting, there was no way to see whether the ball bounced of Johansson's face, his hand, or whether it even hit him at all. I've been told it could have gone either way. Not un-callable, but not blatant either. Personally, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the replay. What's the point? Maybe if that call and the incorrect off-sides call on Eddie go the other way, we end up winning the series -- probably we end up winning the series. But they didn't go our way, and that's sports. That's life, really. If you don't win in a knock-out and you leave it up to the judges, there are no guarantees. It sucks and it hurts and it's unfair, but it's over. No, that doesn't mean we have to get over it right now, or tomorrow, or next week. But it means we can't change the outcome and eventually we'll need to move on.
Before the game, the Sounders front office played a montage of inspirational sports movie speeches. Something to get people motivated and hopeful for the game. They ended with a great quote from the last Rocky movie:
The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.
Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not point fingers and blame other people. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.
Classic corny movie cliche to the letter, but no less true. I've been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. And in all my seasons of watching, caring, crying, and cheering, I've had two seasons not end with some kind of disappointment. But honestly, I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. Heartbreak and all. A sports cynic might say it's silly to care so much about sports, but I'd hate to know what it's like to not care.
Eternal Blue Forever Green.