When it was all over, long after the shootout heartbreak, long after the final player had boarded the team bus and long after the team had arrived back at its downtown Kansas City hotel, Real Salt Lake celebrated.
No, the Claret-and-Cobalt didn’t win MLS Cup 2013 at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, coming up agonizingly short in the 10-round shootout. No, the team wasn’t happy. They were devastated, with players and coaches crying so many tears on the field and in the locker room after the match.
But, through it all, RSL was proud.
It was a quiet, resilient pride. There was no misunderstanding that this was a missed opportunity. Not one of the players, coaches or any of their families and friends congregated in the hotel lobby for the postgame party intimated otherwise.
But this team, this fantastically together team, understood that it accomplished something this year. The smiles – if rueful – and the laughter – if shaky – at the postgame celebration indicated that.
When preseason opened way back in January, no one thought that Real Salt Lake would make it to Cup. Most prognosticators had RSL finishing fourth or fifth in the Western Conference; some had the Claret-and-Cobalt missing out on the playoffs entirely. Yet, despite those early predictions and the loss of three key players in the offseason, the team made it to MLS Cup, the U.S. Open Cup Final and stayed at or near the top of the table all regular season.
The players, the coaches, the fans – the entire club – always believed. Things didn’t work out exactly as we all dreamed they would, but this RSL Family will only become stronger for it. The club will be back next year and, no matter what happens this offseason, it’ll be better than ever.
Thanks, RSL Family. What an incredible 2013.