When Jack Elliott headed the Philadelphia Union 3-2 ahead in the 124th minute of their MLS Cup clash with LAFC on Saturday, even head coach Jim Curtin must have thought the job was done.
The Union were just mere moments away from sealing the biggest prize in US and Canadian soccer, with the league’s best defense during the regular season only needing to hold out for a few more minutes.
Of course, that’s not what happened. Instead, none other than Gareth Bale beat Eliott in the air at the other end to deliver an incredible 128th-minute equalizer, forcing a penalty shootout in which Philadelphia missed all three attempts to lose 3-0.
The Union did way more than just snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and right now, Curtin is understandably hurting.
“It was a game that, you know, a deflection here or there for both teams and goals were going in. It was chaotic, it was end-to-end, a lot of emotion from both teams,” Curtin said in his post-match press conference. “It was what a final should be. I just feel terrible for our guys. Again, you know, it’s one of those ones, I was going to say we’ll rewatch it, but I don’t know if you rewatch that one. I think I lived it through the 130 minutes and aged probably five or six years.
“It’s a great game, and unfortunately we came out on the wrong end.”
Despite the obvious pain and regret, Curtin went out of his way to praise his players, who sat level on 67 points atop the overall standings alongside LAFC during the regular season and went further in the Playoffs than they’ve ever gone before.
All that despite one of the lowest salary spends in MLS.
“You can have a great season, but the season only ends perfect for one team of the 28. That’s LAFC this season,” Curtin added. “So again, we, you know, think back to that last 3-3 game, this one is an incredible game. I think I’ve only said I’ve been proud of a group in a loss maybe two or three times in my career as a coach. And you know, I’m still very proud of the team. We’re as close as we could possibly be to our first MLS Cup.
“…It’s hard, man. Right now it’s really difficult. I feel terrible for the players because they put so much into the season, into the game, and they are hurting right now. And that’s natural and normal. We’ll try to have a beer or two tonight and have some kind of way to put a smile on each other’s face because they did accomplish something pretty amazing this year.”
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