"...win, and they're in."
Yes, it was cliché as could be, but it was a part of my final call this past Sunday in Vancouver, and I was ecstatic to utter those words. I don't know when we want to say this year really began, was it when we hired Jesse? Was it the home and season opener? Was it when Dave left and Tom took the helm? Was it the move to Leitch? I feel like 2017 for the San Jose Earthquakes has been about as wild a ride as can be had by a team, and yet here we are, in control of our destiny. It's not perfect by any means, I'd rather have already clinched, but I counter that by saying I know, with 100% certainty, that Sunday will provide an arena for the range of my emotional spectrum (and yours) to fully let itself be known. At 4am Sunday morning (I'm an early riser), I'll be even more nervous than I am now (very). At 6am, I'll be bouncing off the walls, and it will just get worse until kickoff (I apologize now to my wife for my insufferable energy sure to be on display that morning), but that's what this is all about; sports are the last great unknown in our world, and the reactions they illicit from us are real.
That is what has made this season such an interesting one to be a part of. I'm there. I'm on the periphery, I'm not held accountable like the players, but I've seen these guys after tough losses (at Atlanta), huge wins (#CaliClasico), and draws both disappointing (vs. Seattle), and inspiring (at Vancouver). Egos have most definitely been bruised, but bruises heal on their own. They don't require an operation, a cast, but just some ice, some resolve to grind through the pain, and time. I feel that what this team has been through, makes them different than any other team in Major League Soccer. Atlanta has been riding a high of being the cool new kid. Seattle is the reigning champ. Portland is the hip team. Toronto, sparkling like a perfectly cut diamond. Houston, the sleeper. Chicago, the turned around. And then in walk San Jose, banged up, scarred, rolling in the mud and the blood and the beer, and you know nobody else wants to get a stain on their kit.
The Earthquakes are survivors, and the scary thing about survivors for every other team, is that they don't die. There isn't a death blow, a kill shot, or a cut too deep. If there was, you'd have seen it by now. Myself, specifically, I would have seen it by now. All I see, however, is belief, purpose, and opportunity. I don't claim to know what is going to happen on Sunday, but I do know the Quakes are the only team capable of walking into a deciding game, with a goal differential like the one they own, and making it totally irrelevant. It brings me back to Florian Jungwirth's comments after the first match of the season, "It was really hilarious..." Only now, in light of the near entirety of the season, does that quote's absurdity really shine through as somewhat relative, if not prophetic. These guys just aren't like the rest of the league, and that's a good thing.
See ya Sunday.