Kragthorpe: In RSL's magic moment, dreams go poof
All evening, the giant trophy stood on the platform extending from Dave Checketts' box, flanked by two guards.
The ceremonial plaza is among the international features the Real Salt Lake owner included in the design of Rio Tinto Stadium, just for a night like this.
That trophy was there for the taking Wednesday. And then it was gone, headed to Mexico in the hands of a Monterrey team that earned a 1-0 win in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final and a 3-2 aggregate victory.
When the eight-month quest ended after RSL's final flurries came maddeningly close to delivering the necessary result, Real players were scattered about the field sitting, crouching or kneeling, some with hands on their heads, others with heads in their hands.
Wow. What a letdown.
Afterward, coach Jason Kreis described the 90-minute episode as "a major, major disappointment" and "a huge, huge opportunity gone missing," and it was all that.
This stadium was built for this moment. RSL's overachieving team was built for this opportunity. And then the script became twisted, with Monterrey's players dancing on the field in an emptying facility after accepting the trophy.
Undoubtedly, the 0-0 or 1-1 tie that RSL needed was well within its grasp. All it would have taken to send this team to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan was for goalkeeper Nick Rimando to have corralled the ball that somehow eluded him after his defense's lapse at the end of the first half, enabling Monterrey's Humberto Suazo to easily knock home the game's only goal.
In the second half, any of those RSL shots that sailed over the crossbar, the corner kicks that never quite became scoring chances, or those bouncing balls in traffic in front of the net during extra time also could have created the sweetest tie anyone could have imagined.
So this will be a haunting defeat, just because RSL clearly was Monterrey's equal for most of the match and the opportunity was so immense.
All that ultimately was missing, in Kreis' words: "One bit of extra something."
The atmosphere was unlike anything in the franchise's seven-year existence. The sellout crowd, the streamers and the chants all played into a night of possibilities. RSL was on the verge of establishing itself as one of the best teams in the world. How could this happen? Until last year, this team never even won more than half its games in a Major League Soccer season, and now Real was representing all of American soccer on a big stage in Sandy.
RSL seemingly did everything possible to extend its 37-game home unbeaten streak, only to lose for the first time in two years.
In the end, captain Kyle Beckerman wearing a jacket and tie, the symbols of his being sidelined for the second leg due to an accumulation of yellow cards led his teammates onto the stage to receive their silver medals. Nobody could have pictured this team reaching this point when the tournament began last summer.
Yet coming so close only turned the achievement into more of a disappointment, in this moment.