Erik Friberg’s reaction to the final whistle told the whole story for the Sounders FC.
As Jair Marrufo stood in the center circle at CenturyLink Field and sounded the final tone on Seattle’s season, Friberg collapsed to the ground in exhaustion.
While Brad Evans walked around on crutches and Alvaro Fernandez hobbled on a strained hamstring, both injuries which occurred in the game’s first 18 minutes, the club saluted the 36,020 fans in attendance for supporting them to the final whistle, but the effort on the field in Wednesday night’s 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal may have been tribute enough, even though they fell 3-2 on aggregate and ended their season.
“We came in here and gave everything we had,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “We sure as hell made it entertaining for everybody to watch, both here and on TV. We just came up a little bit short. But it was an honor. The guys did tremendous and I’m proud of each one of them.”
Effort was the key ingredient for the Sounders in what proved to be their season finale. Head coach Sigi Schmid openly questioned the effort in the first leg, a 3-0 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, but had nothing but praise for his side after their season came to a close on Wednesday.
“We know we should have done better in Salt Lake. We know we should be going on to the next round if we had done better and so that's disappointing,” Schmid said. “But we're also proud of the fact that we showed our character and we showed our true colors today.”
That feeling of simultaneous pride and disappointment permeated the locker room of a club that went down swinging after a season that saw them win more games outright than any team in MLS history while also advancing the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals and winning their third straight US Open Cup title.
“The most important thing for us was our effort. We did a great job tonight and we are so proud because we played a very hard game,” forward Fredy Montero said.
Added defender Jeff Parke, “I can say that every guy here did whatever they could for the team to help the team get the win. It’s a disappointing end to a good season. There’s only going to be one team at the end of the day that goes home happy.”
In 2011, that team won’t be the Sounders FC.
The talent was there. The effort was there. It was a tremendous season. In the end, though, they are left to think what might’ve been as two players who started the match on Wednesday were injured in the first 18 minutes and three other players who figured to be key to the club’s success – O’Brian White, Steve Zakuani and Mauro Rosales – watched from the seats.
It was for them and for Keller – the club’s captain for three seasons who was playing his final season – and for the thousands upon thousands of fans who watched games at CenturyLink Field and on television that the Sounders FC laid themselves on the line to ensure that if they were going to go down in the Western Conference semifinal, they would go down fighting.
“They really threw their body on the line,” Keller said. “We just came up that little bit short.”