Anybody who is a soccer fan, or an Major League Soccer fan, must have at least checked in a couple of times to watch Real Salt Lake take on Sporting Kansas City last Saturday for the right to, once again, be crowned MLS champions.
Its championship hopes were doomed by the announcers when, once RSL took the lead, either Adrian Healey or Taylor Twellman had to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, that in several of previous versions of the MLS championship, the team “that has scored first wound up losing the match.”
The soccer gods listened, and roughly 22 minutes after RSL took the lead, Sporting KC tied the match at 1-1 on a free kick.
Regulation ended without a winner, and both overtimes yielded zero goals leading to a shootout.
RSL lost 7-6 in the shootout when defender Lovel Palmer’s shot hit off the crossbar, ending the team’s chances at a second championship in five years.
It’s really, really tough to lose a match like that, but RSL had its chances. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando allowed the first two goals to score pretty easily, but came up big when RSL had the chance to win the cup for itself.
But after KC midfielder Lawrence Olum completely whiffed his shot, giving RSL the chance to score and win the match, Sebastian Velasquez’s shot was saved.
Two chances later and needing a goal to keep the shootout going, Palmer missed.
It was a great match from start to finish, and I was rooting for RSL to come home with a championship, but it also reminded me of how much an inch can make the difference between a win and a loss.
It’s true in many sports, really. RSL’s clank off the cross bar is only the first of a number of instances where a championship game is won or lost by a mere inch or two.
On Sunday during Tiger Woods’s host tournament, Woods lost in a playoff to Zach Johnson by missing his putt inches outside the hole.
Football games are decided in the same way on several occasions. “The Catch” of Dwight Clark from Joe Montana, according to an article written on ESPN recently, was caught by Clark’s “six middle fingers,” as he described it.
The “Immaculate Reception” may not have been immaculate at all had Franco Harris not caught the football just moments before the nose hit the grass of the field.
In many sports, there is a wide field of play. What is also true; however, is that within all of that space, important plays either are or aren’t made by inches.
RSL’s championship run came to an end by inches. Maybe next time, the soccer gods will notice the agony Real went through, and grant them a championship in the same manner.