Down a man, FC Dallas are fighting for their lives. In a much better position than last week, they are holding their defensive shape, and continuing the fluid passing that has become their trademark. The Red Bulls attack down the east side of the field, playing at half speed in the Texas heat. Andrew Jacobson furiously closes Eric Alexander, the New York Red Bulls left midfielder, down in their attacking third. He gains control of the ball, and passes back to Matt Hedges. Hedges, like a young, defensive David Beckham, attempts a first-time cross field pass to Castillo. Castillo touches the ball down from the air as if he were the prince in Toyota Stadium's version of Swan Lake. Kimura battles him for possession, but he remains composed and balletic, staying on his feet and retaining the ball, while Kimura stumbles and bumbles his way to the ground. Castillo glides away as if he is pirouetting and touches the ball to the youngster, Danny Garcia. Danny lets loose the juice and storms down the field.
I don't remember any of that happening. I honestly had to look it up, and watch the replay. Maybe it was the beer, the pounding drums, or the tension headache I had from the earlier red card, but everything about that play prior to Garcia being knocked down by Cahill is a blur. Yet, the moments after it are carved into my memory with a chisel. It's interesting how that happens. How, the game boils down to a handful of plays that are etched into my memory, instantly recognizable, vivid enough to not just remember, but to feel it again with the same intensity as that moment. Pure unadulterated joy followed by nauseating despair. I can almost taste, smell and feel the texture of those moments while the rest of the match melts away from my memory, like a clock in a Salvador Dali painting.
Garcia crashes to the ground, and we erupt. All of the anger, the fear that we in the beer garden collectively felt dissipated, leaving only effervescence and hope. This could be 'the Moment', the moment in every match that is burned into my mind, the moment that I will remember with pride and joy. As Blas Perez stood tall and proud a few steps away from the ball, staring Robles down like a wrestler in a grudge match, all I could do was smile, and think about how much I love this sport. These moments are the reason why I watch this game.
Then, Perez hit a weak penalty kick waist high and to Robles immediate right. Robles guessed correctly and that was it. Moment over. The fear returned, the frustration came back, and a weight dropped into the pit of my stomach. I was in despair, but the game didn't care. It moved on without me, while I was still picking up the pieces of my shattered hopes and dreams.
Occasionally, I like to listen to podcasts and one of my new favorites is called The Moment by Brian Koppleman. The concept is simple. He speaks to famous people and they talk about a transcendent moment in their lives, one where their whole world changed. It could be one big job interview, or a moment of deep despair, or a single moment of clarity that lit their way to success. It's fascinating to think about those moments, yet really difficult to ascertain when they happen, or the feelings attached to them. I think soccer is full of these moments, except you don't need the distance one needs to determine a life well lived, or understand a pivotal existence defining experience. They happen at least two or three times every game, and are generally here and gone so fast that if you weren't paying attention, you would miss the whole thing. But they are so deep! They can be plays in three acts. The missed PK was a Shakespearean tragedy complete with a tragic hero, but they can be a comedy of errors, a story of good defeating evil, or a combination of all of the classic tropes. There can be enough emotion in one moment to feel like you have lived an entirely new life.
During the match, the play that led up to the penalty kick and the ensuing PK miss only took a maximum of two minutes to transpire. It began and ended before I could let the moment's narrative arc build, and before I could create a storyline in my head that gave it the importance that it deserved. But I could feel it. Blas standing, staring at Robles, the run-up, one step, two steps, three, and the shot, the stop, and the very evident despair that consumed Perez. That felt like a Jean-Luc Gerome painting come to life. It was all gladiators, and lions.
I think that's what I like about soccer, and maybe sports in general. These moments are singular and are not always a huge play like Saturday's was. It could be the battle between a left back and a right winger. It could be the passion of a central midfielder, leading his teammates to victory, or a keeper having the best or worst day of his life. They can feel so personal in their emotional depth, yet something that everyone can experience together. Soccer isn't just two teams of eleven competing against each other to see who can put a large ball into a net more times. It can be so much more. Perez's miss will haunt me for a while, but I cherish the fact that that sort of emotion can be derived from watching a game of soccer.
What do you think? Have any moments from other FC Dallas matches stuck with you?