CARSON, Calif. — Someone quickly flipping by Sunday’s Decision Day match at StubHub Center, with little context, might have written it off as a rote, even dull affair. Even the weather seemed mediocre – threatening to bring gloom, but only yielding a lukewarm drizzle, just strong enough to annoy. And around the 80th minute, after two grinding halves with few offensive or defensive fireworks, the score between the home team, the LA Galaxy, and visitors FC Dallas still hovered at 0-0.
But context, of course, is everything. And with each second that ticked by, a small contingent of fans in one corner hovered ever closer to tears. Thanks, of course, to the whims of the soccer gods and the special nature of this sports beast – 0-0 be darned, but a draw meant that FC Dallas would still take home a trophy, the team’s first Supporters’ Shield in its history.
And a small but fiercely devoted contingent of Dallas-fan faithful were ready. As the clock dribbled away, two fans in Dallas red, practically shaking, grabbed and unlocked a clunky, black flight case. And from there, inside, it sparkled – the round Shield itself, catching a late-game ray of sun. And the trophy itself had traveled an even more circuitous route to the game than the fans.
Last weekend, when it looked like Dallas would clinch, the Shield trophy headed to Portland – and even went missing along the way, thanks to an airlines’ bungling of checked baggage. After the Shield went unawarded, the Timbers Army kindly shipped it to the school where Dallas Beer Guardians supporters' group president Bailey Brown works, ready for her to travel with it in person to L.A.
“I checked it as luggage yesterday and brought it,” she said. “I was incredibly worried. There’s video of me picking it up and I kind of did a dance, like, ‘Oh good, it made it!’”
But it was here, now, on the sidelines at StubHub Center, and that’s all that mattered – and, with the caprices of the MLS schedule shaking out as they did, the Dallas faithful had thrown together a quick plan. At the whistle, they’d run the Shield onto the field to the team for a ceremony, then find somewhere quickly to celebrate after the game – a window of about an hour or so until they had to catch their flight back home.
With the Shield poised, Brown and friend Phil Crone, president of the Dallas Football Elite, bounced on the sidelines. They cradled the trophy and marveled at how their longtime rivals, the Houston Dynamo, had helped settle the Shield race once and for all in 2016.
Houston’s 1-1 draw at the Colorado Rapids meant a 0-0 draw would still do the trick for Dallas. “I’ve never loved Houston so much,” Brown cried, shifting from foot to foot in excitement by the nearest goal.
“No, I still hate Houston,” said Crone.
Then there were just five minutes left. “Waste time, Dallas!” Someone in the stands yelled. They unfurled a Dallas flag, a pride flag, more signs. Then, groans at the announcement of five minutes of stoppage time.
And all of that – the tedium of the actual game, any thoughts of Houston – instantly dropped away at the whistle. Brown and Crone raced towards the waiting team, who, meanwhile, had knotted into a circle, whooping and dancing, arms around each other.
“They’re family,” Brown said of the team.
“They really are,” Crone added. “They’ve connected with us so much. It really feels like this is a special year for us.”
After the celebration, Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta echoed as much. “No words, honestly,” he said of his feelings as he raced towards his fans for a photo. I mean, it’s been a tough year. I’m glad we could finally give back with the first Supporters’ Shield in our history. Through the ups and downs, they’ve always been there and supported us. We’re obviously not done yet.”
If Dallas’ fans got emotional about all that, the players themselves found some extra poignancy in lifting the trophy, too. They had managed it, after all, without Argentine playmaking wonder Mauro Diaz, at one point thought to be an MVP front-runner, his season ended last week by a torn Achilles tendon.
“He played such an important role in this run, and for this trophy in particular, so to be able to bring that back and bring it back to Mauro is a big thing,” said defender Walker Zimmerman. “A lot of the Argentines had been talking to him on this trip. We even had Maxi [Urruti] set up a fake dummy in his room of Mauro, with clothes and a hat and scarves and everything, and dressed him up, so it was like, Mauro Diaz is with us on the road.”
But Diaz wasn’t totally absent from the celebration on the pitch, either– the Argentine contingent made sure of it. Urruti wore a Diaz jersey onto the field post-game, and he and Mauro Rosales made sure to snag a photo with it stretched over the Shield.
And, with all of the euphoria still vibrating through the air, the Shield went back to its keepers for the year, the Dallas fans themselves. They only had about an hour left to celebrate before taking it home, after all.
“We’re gonna go with the Shield out to the parking lot, and then we’ll see what happens from there,” Crone said.
“Any place that has alcohol!” Brown added.
Then she and the rest of the Dallas crew, high on fumes of pure joy, reluctantly headed for the StubHub exit, and then LAX airport and back home, where an even bigger party awaits.