After each of the Seattle Sounders' six seasons there has been a sense of disappointment. The Sounders weren't necessarily the MLS Cup favorites any of those seasons -- maybe even including this one -- but there was a belief they could have, and probably should have, done better.
This year had always felt different, though. Whether it was a come-from-behind win the U.S. Open Cup final, erasing two-goal deficits in Portland and Los Angeles or scoring a pair of late goals in the season finale to clinch the Supporters' Shield, this team always seemed to come through when they needed to most.
For a solid 50 minutes, Sunday's game seemed to be following a similar script. The Sounders had weathered a fast start by the Galaxy, grabbed an early goal and had even looked dominant while storming out to a 2-1 aggregate-goal lead. The prospect of hosting a MLS Cup final in front of a massive crowd was seeming very, very real.
And then it wasn't. Juninho's goal came from nowhere and sucked the life out of the stadium. The Sounders had chances -- even good ones -- but never regained the momentum. In the end, it was the Galaxy who got to lift the Western Conference trophy, shower in confetti and celebrate in the locker room. If the Sounders thought it was a bit unfair, you could hardly blame them.
Until Juninho's goal, the Sounders had done everything right. They had earned themselves home-field advantage and the easiest possible path to a MLS Cup. They had given themselves a realistic chance in the return leg even if they hadn't scored on the road. They had scored early at home, taken momentum and even finished the series without allowing any of the Galaxy's offensive stars any real highlights. It was, almost certainly, the way Sigi Schmid had drawn it up.
In the postgame press conference, Schmid was first a little defiant, unwilling to concede almost anything. He felt the Sounders played well, were a bit unlucky and "deserved" to be playing for the MLS Cup. This is not uncommon for him, mind you, but in this case I think he got it right.
In a sense that helped lessen the sting of the defeat. Unlike past seasons, there weren't some obvious points on which we could second-guess. The Sounders had come in with a solid game plan and mostly executed it. They had held one of the highest scoring teams in MLS history to two goals and managed to play them even over 180 minutes. The Galaxy currently sit at +37 goal-difference for the season and the Sounders managed to outscore them 6-4 in their final four meetings, winning the Supporters' Shield in the process.
But it wasn't enough, at least not to really make history.
As satisfied with the performance that Schmid may have rightfully been, there was also some obvious disappointment. He actually started to tear up when asked what he'd like to tell the fans. Apologizing not for the team's performance, but in the repeated inability to bring fans the prize he wants so badly to give them
While Schmid has expressed that sentiment in the past, the disappointment this time was in how close they came to not only achieving their goal but doing it in the best possible way. Winning MLS Cup this year wasn't just about being the best team in 2014, it was about permanently etching the Sounders into the history books as the first-ever treble winner.
The Sounders season was ridiculously successful by any reasonable metric. Winning two major trophies in one year is something only seven other MLS teams have done, but this was the Sounders' chance to do all of them one better. Chances like this don't come around very often. Everything needs to go perfectly. It almost did.