Seeing the Seattle Sounders lift the MLS Cup wasn’t the nauseating experience I’d expected it to be. And I think I have the 1991 Dallas Cowboys to thank for that.
Let me explain.
For this FC Dallas fan, it didn’t take long to recover emotionally from that ridiculously entertaining – though wholly frustrating – first-round defeat in Seattle. For one thing, you couldn’t ask for a better show of character than the one Luchi Gonzalez’s team delivered with two comebacks in front of a hostile crowd on the road.
More to the point, I found a familiar comfort in the look on Paxton Pomykal’s face after the final whistle as he sat on that fake grass they have up there. It was the look of a young man who knew he had learned something in failure.
The look seemed to say: How soon can we start training for 2020?
It was almost identical to Troy Aikman’s expression in the final moments of the Cowboys’ playoff defeat on Jan. 5, 1992, in Detroit. This was the season the Cowboys returned to the playoffs for the first time in six years, the one before they went on their run of three Super Bowls in four years.
You know Troy hated losing in the playoffs – especially getting crushed, 38-6 – but his plan for the future was written all over his face. His team fell short of his expectations, but he knew he’d figured something out in defeat.
FC Dallas didn’t exceed my expectations as a fan this season, but that’s mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. After the ups and downs of 34 regular-season matches – and especially the rollercoaster ride of that 4-3 playoff loss – it’s obvious to me now.
This team is exactly where it’s supposed to be.
So much of soccer is about players being exactly in the right place at the right time – to receive a through ball, turn away a shot or finish a cross into the net. In the big picture, too, this sport is about having the right players and the right coach, one who has the right vision and communicates it the right way.
When you watched the ’91 Cowboys play, you could tell right away they were Jimmy Johnson’s team. The laser focus in their eyes, the precision in their routes, the confidence that bordered on swagger.
Likewise, the best moments from FC Dallas’ season looked just like Luchi: opportunistic and adaptable, confident and accountable. Those qualities show in the players he helped raise in the Academy, sure, but also in the way veterans like Ryan Hollingshead and late-season Kobra stepped into the flow of play.
And that may be what I love most about watching Luchi’s team play, the way the team embodies its manager. It’s not just confidence, it’s courage.
None of this is to say that FC Dallas is ready to win three of the next four titles, like the Cowboys did after that loss to the Lions. Let’s win a playoff match first before we clear space in the Toyota Stadium trophy case.
But let’s also not lose sight of what’s being built here.
I bet if you ask Seattle fans, FC Dallas is the postseason opponent they’d least like to face again. And had we been playing a traditional home-and-home series – or had a certain late foul been whistled inside Seattle’s 18 – we could be talking about a different outcome.
As it stands, though, we got the result we should have gotten. Because this place – on the verge of a breakthrough if this group remains true to itself – is right where this team is supposed to be.