John steps up to accept the blame
TORONTO -- The final whistle brought no liberation for George John, the way it did for his opponents, the Colorado Rapids. It only sealed his fate as the first man to decide an MLS Cup final with an own goal. So the FC Dallas central defender, who had had a serviceable game against the Rapids' lauded forwards, hunched over. For the next long, excruciating minutes, as the Rapids celebrated, hugged and high-fived, joy exuding from their bodies, John looked to the ground, deeming himself unworthy of eye contact, of the consoling pats on his back.
He'd given his all for 120 minutes of a furiously fought final. He'd helped shut down Conor Casey, who scored the most fortuitous of goals, and Omar Cummings, the league's hottest striker. He'd even come close to equalizing in the dying minutes. But in the end, John's deserving FC Dallas went down on the deflection a Mac Kandji toe-poke took off his thigh, beating his own talismanic goalkeeper, Kevin Hartman.
Nobody said anything negative to John, after his own goal, or after the game was lost for good. Dallas is too tight a team to point fingers, and his teammates certainly weren't going to blame John now, after the game he had, after the season he had.
"We don't talk about those types of things," said head coach Schellas Hyndman in his postgame news conference. "The game of soccer is a cruel game. It takes a deflection and then you say, 'How did that happen?' If you only look at one bad deflection, then you're very narrow-minded. He had a very good game against two of the best strikers in the league."
Hyndman's players agreed, speaking to the team chemistry Hyndman so painstakingly cultivated.
"What is there to say?" said captain Daniel Hernandez. "It was a deflection. He didn't hit the ball to the goal. That's the way soccer goes one day, the bounces don't go your way. I thought we did a great job against two great forwards."
"I don't think he should dwell on that," added John's partner in central defense, Ugo Ihemelu. "You're in a good spot and the ball is toe-poked with no real aim at all and it goes off his thigh. Hartman was in a good position to deal with it, there was no one else in the box, and it went [in] the only place it could go. You can't blame him. It's just unlucky.
"It just wasn't going to be tonight," Ihemelu lamented, throwing his arms up in despair. "It's a mean game."
None of that could console John, standing in a morgue-like locker room after the game, beads of water dripping off his ears and hair, ever so polite to reporters intruding on his grief. "It's my fault. It cost us the Cup. I should have done better with it," he said. "I take full responsibility for it."
"I feel like I'm in the twilight zone, in shock," added John. "Kind of a surreal moment. I tried to compose myself as well as I could, get back on the field and help my team out. I got a shot off, but we ended up losing. So "
That loneliness will surround him for a while longer, no matter how many supportive teammates he has around him. Until that moment of redemption breaks another dawn on his psyche.
And that redemption will come, according to Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty. "You live and you learn," he said. "And you tell a guy like George that he's a fantastic player and that he's only going to get better."
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.