By Siobhan Nolan
To say losing the second leg of the CCL semifinals hurts would be a gross understatement. It wouldn’t capture how much hope and blind faith fans had in the Union going into this game. It wouldn’t convey how disheartening it was to hear how the traveling Club America made a home game sound like an away game. It’s a disappointing result, to say the least. But it wasn’t for a lack of fight or passion..
It needs to be said how composed and disciplined the defense looked in the face of a creative and calculated Club America side. Kai Wagner played the left side of the field as if he was in a training exercise, Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott knocked balls away from the box with the same ease as when a human breathes, while Olivier Mbaizo was left with enough freedom to roam the right side of the field almost completely unchecked.
The midfield diamond is where the Union really shined. Leon Flach was the personification of passion and energy, quite literally throwing his body on the line to gain possession and push the ball forward. He wasn’t afraid to back up Jose Martinez in the numerous altercations Martinez got involved in. Alejandro Bedoya was the picture of calm, collected, and focused. Jamiro Monteiro was simply a blur as he dashed up and down the field in search of the ball and in search of a goal.
Cory Burke never stopped working for his goal, and came close quite a few times. Kacper Przybyłko read the game well, and was able to weave his way through a steadfast Club America defense. It was one of those games where the Union played incredibly well (some might even say they were the better team), but had nothing to show for it. As childish as it may sound, the circumstances just weren’t fair. Club America players threw themselves to the ground and rolled around in feigned agony at the slightest contact from a Union player. The Union created great chance after great chance, but didn’t put themselves in the right positions at the right time. When they did, they just couldn’t capitalize the way they should have (ahem, the magnificently bottled Monteiro penalty kick.) The referee very much caved into the fans’ pressure to make a call on more than one occasion. It would have been a herculean feat indeed if the Union had been able to overcome the odds stacked against them.
So this year, it wasn’t meant to be. Another CCL final will be played where an MLS team has no chance of winning. And while it’s safe to bet one’s life savings that Jim Curtin, and the team as a whole, won’t be satisfied to have gotten this far and come away empty-handed, it says something the way they approached and played this game. They didn’t cower in the shadow of the competition’s most successful team. It looked like every jeer from an opposing fan only made them run faster and shoot harder. They didn’t bow out gracefully, nor should they have. They were dragged out of this competition kicking and screaming, and with an unspoken warning: They’ll be back, and God help Club America if they meet again.