That's one of the many emotions Houston Dynamo players and fans are experiencing after their 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy in the 2012 MLS Cup. While the scoreline looks a bit worse than last year's final, the Dynamo certainly were in the hunt to make David Beckham's last MLS game a disappointing one.
The LA Galaxy scored three second half goals to complete another come from behind victory to win back to back MLS Cup championships - only the third team to do so (D.C. United, Houston Dynamo). The MLS Cup MVP Omar Gonzalez scored the Galaxy's first goal, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane added penalty kick goals for their other two, while Calen Carr scored the lone goal for Houston.
The Dynamo jumped out to the early lead, but a five minute window in the second half with a couple defensive mistakes changed the pace of the game and shifted the momentum to the home team. Houston outshot the Galaxy (15-11), had more crosses from open play (22-11), and controlled possession (59%) - but those statistics didn't translate to the final scoreline.
Despite dominating most offensive statistics, three moments changed the game for Houston and ultimately led to the Galaxy claiming the 2012 MLS Cup.
Three Defining Moments
The Dynamo put themselves in the perfect position in the first half, getting an all important first goal shortly before halftime. The momentum shifted back in forth between the clubs in the first 45 minutes, but Houston was able to get on the board in the 44' thanks to a nicely placed pass from Adam Moffat and a clinical finish by Calen Carr.
Moffat sent the ball to Carr who sprinted past the Galaxy defenders to have a clear shot at goal. Tommy Meyer tried to cut off Carr's angle, but he fired the ball right over the head of goalkeeper Josh Saunders. I was at the official watch party at Lucky's Pub and I felt like we were in the stands with the rest of the 2000 or so travelling supporters. It was a great goal, followed by Carr's now trademark celebration of jumping over the corner flag.
The biggest game changing moment for Houston was the loss of their catalyst Calen Carr to a knee injury shortly into the second half. In the 57', Boniek Garcia sent a pass to the streaky forward, but Carr and Omar Gonzalez collided as the ball was tapped out. It was evident it was a nasty injury, as Carr almost immediately signaled he needed a replacement.
With Will Bruin being neutralized for most of the match, Carr was the spark for Houston. He was responsible for their first half goal, and he was giving the Galaxy backline trouble all afternoon. Had he not been injured, I'm not so sure the game plays out the way it did.
In the 65', Ricardo Clark was called for a controversial handball in the box, awarding the Galaxy a penalty. Landon Donovan stepped up to the penalty spot and easily knocked in the go ahead goal.
Whether referee Silviu Petrescu got this call right or wrong, it killed Houston's momentum. It was frustrating to the players and it really got the Home Depot Center crowd back in the game.
Bright Future Ahead
In 2011, we believed the Dynamo could win the MLS Cup against an LA Galaxy team who was good from the start of the season until the end. In 2012, we knew we could win the MLS Cup. We talked about the differences in our two clubs from one year to the next and we saw the difference on Saturday afternoon at the Home Depot Center.
The loss of Geoff Cameron didn't have an impact like when we lost Dwayne De Rosario, Stuart Holden, or Ricardo Clark. Jermaine Taylor and Bobby Boswell were a great team in the back. Our future right back, Kofi Sarkodie, claimed a starting spot and shined. Corey Ashe, who rarely gets mentioned, has blossomed into one of the best left backs in MLS. Ricardo Clark's return to Houston had a tremendous impact, and his pairing with Moffat has been extremely successful in the midfield - both defensively and offensively. Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis will be a force to reckon with in 2013 after having a full offseason to build on their already great partnership. Will Bruin is young - and will only get better. He's built on a great rookie season and become one of the best young strikers in MLS this year. Calen Carr has been a solid partner up top with Bruin and the two forwards compliment each other.
So as we all try to get rid of this MLS Cup hangover (literally and figuratively), just remember - this team was put together over the course of the 2012 season. While there will be roster changes leading up to next season, the core players mentioned above will more than likely be in orange.
Imagine the possibilities of this club with a full offseason ahead of them and a year more of experience. While we're all a darker shade of orange today, that's a refreshing thought to help us get over this sinking feeling in our guts.