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Soccer Poet

A Good Day to Kill Me Dead

Yesterday was the closest thing I’ve ever known to being on Death Row, awaiting the inevitable arrival of the black-hooded executioner. Not exactly the way you hope to feel on Selection Show Monday.

When we got back from Orange Beach on Saturday night we knew we were more than a bubble team. We were THE bubble team. In a 64-team tournament, we were either going to be elated to be #64 or devastated to be #65. We also knew our chances would be heavily swayed by Sunday’s results. What we didn’t need was upsets. We needed the favorites, the teams who would go to the NCAAs regardless of whether they won or lost, to win. Every one of those teams that got upset allowed the team that beat them to eat up one more slot on the dance card. No we didn’t need upsets. We needed favorites to steamroll the underdogs. But upsets were exactly what we got.

A UC-Irvine win would have helped us. They lost.

A Hofstra win would have helped us. They lost.

A Denver win would have helped us. They lost.

A win or tie by Michigan would have helped us a lot. They lost. With 13 seconds left. In the second overtime.

And with each upset the pin prodded a little deeper into our bubble.

It’s not that we aren’t one of the best 64 teams in the nation. That’s just silly. It would be difficult to find someone who would argue that we aren’t one of the Top 25. But the tournament field isn’t filled out that way. And in the end, it wasn’t our losses that did us in – though they certainly didn’t help matters. The loss to Tennessee was the nail in our coffin, but we could have survived that if not for three ties. We tied three very winnable games and ultimately those were the games that came back to bite us.

So we, the coaches, spent the day replaying those moments in the season, any one of which would have cemented us a spot in the field. If one of those 29 shots at Ole Miss had found the net... Or one of the 27 we fired at Arkansas... Or the 15 against Kentucky. If we can grind out one more goal in the span of those 330 minutes and 71 shots, right now we’re dancing.

The thing about being a bubble team is you just never know. I mean we knew, but we just didn’t completely, absolutely, 100% beyond a shadow of a doubt for sure know. We did the math and we concluded we’d be left out, but there’s always that chance. And for all the moaning we’ve been doing about our travel for the past few weeks, we would have given anything to have to get on one more bus or one more plane and to sleep in one more hotel bed for just one more night.

We were 99.9% sure that our season was over and we wished that the reaper would just come along and get it over with. Unfortunately, just like everyone else in bubble land, we wouldn’t be certain-certain of our fate until the selections were announced at 4:30 that afternoon.

Nooj had the team over to his house to watch the selection show on ESPNU, and when the final bracket was announced and our fate was sealed, that room was so quiet you could hear dust land on a sponge.

I felt especially bad for the seniors. We all did. They had been to the tournament 3 times. It would have been nice to send them off going 4 for 4.

I also felt cheated. Not by the selection committee. We didn’t win winnable games and that’s no one’s fault but our own. I felt cheated by some greater force. I felt cheated because this team played its best soccer of the year in its final two matches and we all wanted to see how far we could go playing like that. It didn’t matter who. We wanted to play Stanford and Carolina and Portland and Notre Dame. Because the way we finished, there wasn’t a team in the nation we couldn’t sting. I really just wanted to watch this team play more soccer.

Instead I went home and deleted a bunch of games I had on the DVR... games recorded at a time when every team in the nation had the potential to be our opponent in the NCAAs. Now they were just space-eaters that needed to be cleared to make more room for reruns of The Office.

Instead of going dancing, we have to take the lesson. The NCAA tournament isn’t a divine right. It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege that you earn in September and October. And if you want to dance, you gotta take care of your business. You gotta win your winnable games because if you don’t, there’s a price to pay. Hopefully it’s a lesson we don’t have to learn more than once.

The word that comes to mind is urgency. It’s the that one concept that coaches understand because we have the benefit of hindsight and the one concept we try desperately to make our players understand because they don’t.

Urgency. It means get it done right freaking now. Because if you don’t, you have to wait ten months before you can even start to ride the ride again.