"Wake up wake up!"
"We won we won!"
"...what did we win?"
"Us? Nothing. But the Crew! Best comeback ever! Holy guacamole! Woooooo!"
"...you're an idiot I'm going to bed"
This was the conversation I had with my sleepy wife just before I ran back out of the bedroom to rewind the last 15 minutes of the Crew SC and Philadelphia Union game for a fourth time on October 11, 2014.
It was in the 75th minute when Andrew Wenger scored to push the Union up 2-0, effectively eliminating any hope of Columbus gaining a result from the game. A victory would have given the Black & Gold a six-point cushion with two games to go. A loss would leave them with an uphill battle at obtaining the the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
I sat back and let out a long breath. I'd seen this play out before. A season that left me optimistic only to crush my hopes in October.
"Hector Jiminez flying up the right side, crosses to Ethan Finlay...And its in!"
What a response! immediately after conceding a second Finlay slots it past the keeper on a one-time shot to make it 2-1 in the 78th minute. He immediately picked the ball out of the back of the net and sprinted to the center circle.
After the restart Crew SC quickly won the ball back and Jimenez hit Finlay with his thrown in. Finlay was decimated by Ethan White but not before pushing the ball towards a charging Justin Meram. The winger slipped around a hapless Union defender and easily beat the keeper one on one to draw level. A mere minute and 32 seconds after Finlay scored
In the 82nd minute, a surging Black & Gold side was poised to take advantage of a shattered Philly defense. Bernardo Anor found a confident Tony Tchani attacking the penalty area. Tchani picked out Jario Arrieta at the edge of the 6-yard box to fired past the keeper to give Columbus a 3-2 lead in. Four minutes and 22 seconds was all it took a Columbus team that was backed against a wall to take the lead.
Arrieta believed. And the team believed.
The remaining eight minutes were among the most tense all season. The Union, aware that a loss meant playoff elimination, threw everything they had at Crew SC. The Black & Gold subbed in defender Emmanuel Pogatetz who led the back line by winning headers and attacking 50/50 balls, as if giving up a shot was a personal attack on his character. His tenacity was infectious as every Columbus player committed to defending the 18-yard box against any potential threat.
Balls were blasted off the line only drop to the feet of another attacking Union member. The final moments of the game like 33 against 11 as Crew SC bunkered in to protect what was theirs.
As the final whistle blew, signaling the Crew SC's Spartan-esq defense held, I jumped up, thumped my chest and yelled "This. Is. Columbus!"
I would go on to re-watch that electrifying four minutes and 22 seconds 11 times that night. Each time shouting
"Jairo ar-ri-e-ta!" With corresponding rock-em sock-em robots fist pumps.
These kinds of things don't happen to Columbus. Let me rephrase that. I'm all too familiar with them happening TO Columbus. But they don't happen FOR Columbus.
From time to time I'm asked "why do you like soccer so much anyway?" My mind flashes back to this game. The despair of going down 0-2, the glimmer of hope after scoring, the "what if..." after drawing level, and the elation of taking the lead.
We don't get many moments like this in sports. In a society that is bottom line driven it is all too easy to miss the highs soccer can give us. As years go on without "winning it all" I beg you to not get so caught up in chasing trophies that you overlook the moments that remind us of why we do this in the first place.
An impossible victory in the closing minutes is why we stay out late. It's why we spend our money on jerseys and tickets. It's why we wake our wives up in the middle of the night and then spend the night on the couch. We do it, because every once in a while we can put our fists in the air and declare, "We did it." Many of us may never get the chance to defy the odds and win when everyone is expecting failure. But on one October night in Columbus, Ohio, even if you've never strapped on a pair of soccer cleats, you could raise your arms and say "we did it."