There are no moral victories. There are no excuses. The Philadelphia Union - who had earned the opportunity to deliver a first trophy to their fans - failed to come up with that special moment to make it happen. But man did they pour their hearts out on that slippery field and give it everything they had.
I saw Fabinho crying as he approached the fans after the game. My son and I, standing side by side yet separate in our thoughts, stared off into the bright lights dreaming about what could have been. As an adult I know that losing and sports are too often good friends, but there are unbelievable heights that balance these difficult moments out. I felt my pain and his pain as well, knowing that these feelings are new, and likely very unsettling. Why do we do this to ourselves, he might ask?
But just as my son needs to experience these moments to determine how much he wants sports to play in his life, so to do the Union need these moments to learn what it takes to win. While players like Barnetta and Nogeuira, Casey and Edu are experienced enough to know what it takes, there are plenty of players, coaches and front office staff that don't know what is needed to be a winner.
Sporting Kansas City is a club that has already passed into the chamber of winning clubs. They have the experience throughout the organization to know. They have hoisted a trophy now in three of the last four years. Their experience showed on Wednesday.
The Union outhustled Sporting Kansas City. There is no doubt. They outwilled Sporting Kansas City, but they ultimately did not have the experience or the skill to get the win. Sporting Kansas City committed 24 fouls in an effort to slow down the Union's attack, and earned a disrespectful seven yellow cards in the process. They brought an unorthodox, unattractive game plan to the field, and it worked.
However the Union will go about winning, they have not figured it out, but they have learned a few key lessons the past few years. They have wrestled with the winners of this league when the trophy is on the line. Through the New York and Sporting Kansas City games they know how deep they have to dig within themselves to compete in these games.
The quality is not there yet and that was evident Wednesday night. But the next best thing is to see that quality in your opponent and reflect on what everyone in the organization needs to do to make a difference for the next time.
And now the Union are moving forward with a new CEO. Certainly Nick Sakiewicz was proficient at running a soccer business but he had yet to prove he could build a winning club. Thankfully the ownership group recognizes this gap and is looking to fix it.
Fans have been angry about the Open Cup Final results and the way the team has been run, and perhaps they should be, because things could have been done differently, but the bottom line is winning in any sports league is a process. Very few teams rise to the top without experiencing disappointment and filing that pain away for the next match.
These Final losses are painful to both the young and old but hopefully the results are building blocks for an organization that becomes hungry to win and strives to do all it takes to build a winning franchise. A new CEO is a hopeful next step as well.