COMMERCE CITY, Colo.—The fight has ended for the 2016 Colorado Rapids.
For head coach Pablo Mastroeni and his men, the grieving process for the season that could-have-been will now commence.
Sunday's 1-0 Western Conference Championship Leg 2 loss to the Seattle Sounders – and their 3-1 aggregate defeat – ended the Rapids season in the penultimate round of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Jordan Morris' 56th-minute strike provided the dagger in this surprise season.
"Obviously there's a grieving period," Mastroeni said. "You lose the game, but what people don't realize is the amount of work: sleepless nights, arguments with the players, with your staff, with your family. You sacrifice a lot, and the emotion that goes into that sacrifice and the pain that goes into it, that's what you feel down about."
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"It vanishes into thin air. It's a lot like life. At the end, it's about what you leave behind, and what I think these guys left behind is incredible. It's powerful."
A 1-0 home victory would've put them through, and Colorado came precariously close to hosting the club's third MLS Cup final appearance. But despite holding 60 percent of the game's possession in the first half – along with an 11-1 shots advantage – the much-needed goal failed to materialize.
"We had a couple good chances and if those go in, it's a whole different game," Mastroeni said. "These little moments are what football is all about and I don't think we finished those moments.
"Obviously disappointed, very disappointed," Doyle said. "I felt all season, we were destined to get to the MLS final and it felt like in the end, it was a massive downer."
Despite failing to convert their chances in the opening half, Colorado entered the locker room with a sense of confidence.
"The mood was calm, we did some good stuff in the first half," Mastroeni said. "We put [Seattle] in some really difficult situations and they really handled it well."
But Morris' second-half goal changed the tone, and reversed momentum in favor of the Sounders.
"It was tough," said Rapids defender Jared Watts. "We knew we had to get two [goals] and we had to get one pretty quickly and there was nothing left to lose there. We would've liked to get a goal in the first half. But our goal, we wanted to keep them at 0-0 and get them close to the 65th or 70th minute where we knew that the altitude would kick in. We really wanted to get a goal late."
It didn't happen. Seattle's defense held strong for the second 45 minutes, plus four minutes of extra time.
After a magical season and breakout year for Colorado, Mastroeni still felt the team has much to hang its hat on.
"For me it's more about the bigger picture and that is where we started this season and where we finished it," Mastroeni said. "No one gave the guys in the locker room a chance before the season started this year. They wrote us off from the beginning.
"I couldn't be more pleased and proud of a group of men who rallied in the belief in themselves and the belief in the group and put together one of the greatest seasons in the history of this club; not coming in 8th position and vying for a playoff spot, but really being at the top of the league this whole year."