The morning breaks, and that scenario described by the recently departed Davy Jones in the song, “Daydream Believer,” unravels. The feet are placed on the floor, maybe a stretch of the arms, and then it hits you.
“<Insert expletive>, why do I feel like a zombie? Oh yeah…we…..lost….”
This has been a periodic ritual for many years in my life. I recall when I was a child watching Keith Smart sink a 3-point basket to help Indiana sink the Syracuse Orangemen (as they were called in the day) in the NCAA Final. I don’t know if that instance was quite the sleep-depriving disappointment I would experience later, but still the heartache persists.
The one that hangs with me even to this day was in the late spring of 1999, when a scrappy, upstart Buffalo Sabres hockey team rode legendary goaltender Dominik Hasek to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be dispatched by the Dallas Stars and a still-controversial goal that by the rules shouldn’t have counted. Their playoff run was agonizing at times, seeming to go multiple overtimes on at least three occasions. That meant late nights. Needing a victory in the 6th game of the Series to force a Game 7, they went into the 3rd overtime period. Brett Hull scored the clinching goal in that period, a dubious goal that Sabres fans remember to this day (search No Goal at Wikipedia for proof). I still can’t remember when, or even if, I fell asleep after that heartcrushing moment.
I’m reminded of it this morning, only a few hours after the United States U-23 team suffered the ultimate sucker punch late in stoppage time, sending El Salvador into the Semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic Tournament.
As is usually the case in CONCACAF matches, the US got no breaks at all from the officiating. Terrence Boyd mysteriously had his nose pummeled with nary a referee to witness late in the match. There were many suspect fouls called against the US throughout the match, with the Mexican referee being duped often by the embellishments of a savvy El Salvadoran team. But the ultimate knife came nearly 4:30 after the 4th Official held up 4 minutes of stoppage time. The Yanks struggled to maintain their composure, conceding possession as if the ball was infested with larvae. An El Salvadoran prayer from 25 yards, perhaps the last one they would have been allowed by the match official, was inadequately parried by Sean Johnson, and the US fate was sealed.
The deflection bounded into the gaping net, a caricature of the five-day tournament for the United States. The dive by Johnson was an effort that was certainly good enough to take care of business, but like the Canada match it lacked the proper execution at the most crucial of times.
While the Yanks fought back well behind the inspired play of Freddy Adu and the excellent finishing of Terrence Boyd, it seemed fitting that Adu wasn’t even on the pitch when the tying goal crossed the plane of goal. If there was anyone that appeared to display leadership in the second half, it was Adu. He had a major hand in both 2nd Half goals scored by the US. You could actually see the former child prodigy grow throughout that 2nd half, maturing from self-absorbed stepovers to quality service to his targets in the box. Yet after all of that, Coach Caleb Porter withdrew the one guy who seemed to settle and focus this team towards earning the desperately needed three points.
Whether Adu would have made a difference in those final 5 minutes, we’ll never know. The team never held composure during stoppage time, failing to maintain possession, and move away from haphazard clearances and passes that led to the key turnovers. That’s usually the job of a team Captain, but he was on the bench.
What was clear was that the first two goals allowed by the US were typically routine saves for a fully-fit goalkeeper. Whether Porter with clear conscience could have taken Bill Hamid sooner, we’ll never know. But the University of Akron Coach had several tactical and personnel decisions seem to go against him in this tournament, so much so that Twitter had already flushed his career down the commode by the time the final whistle was sounded – whether justified or not.
And speaking of Twitter, I’m not sure how social media has helped this phenomenon of the late night pity party. On one hand, it can serve as the place to vent your frustration. On the other, you end up interacting with fans in the same boat as you, fans who bring up new points and perspectives which continue your mind rolling down the Insomniac Highway. So again, this morning, I’m feeling a little less rested than I should. That’s sports, and that’s big games. The thing is, I’m not sure the sleeping is much easier after a victory…