It could have been jubilation. For a while on a wet, wet Friday night in D.C., it was.
Until it wasn't.
New York City's season is all but over. They bagged a tremendous opener just thirty seconds into the match courtesy of Frank Lampard, who's finally found his scoring touch. That goal, set up by Andrew Jacobson and David Villa, would be all they'd get on a puzzling evening in the nation's capital, in which the final twenty minutes changed everything.
The Bronx Blues absolutely dictated the proceedings in the first half, bossing the pace of the game and appearing exceedingly comfortable doing so. They'd feel hard-done going into halftime with just the one goal-- it could have easily been three, with two David Villa attempts in the closing five minutes missing the back of the net by the narrowest of margins.
At the break, there was everything to play for, and more than enough reason for NYCFC-ers to stay bullish. The second period, unfortunately, was anything but kind to them.
Ned Grabavoy was horizontal on the pitch most of the time, but only due to effort. R.J. Allen raced up and down the right like a banshee. Andrea Pirlo skied about seven thousand free kicks innocuously over Bill Hamid's crossbar, and never really got himself into the game. Villa's industriousness was beyond doubt, but was rather muted in the tragically sludgy hurricane weather. Mix Diskerud was an abomination; his performance was a disappearing act of the highest order. And it came when his team needed him most.
In the 73rd minute, D.C. stabbed the Bronx Blues in the heart. Chris "Party Boy" Pontius pinched in from the right wing and blasted a shot on goal. NYC keeper Josh Saunders parried it, but only as far as Fabian Espindola, who made quick work of the rebound. Saunders was on the ground and dead to rights. The result was a 1-1 deadlock. New York City had work to do, but the result was still within reach.
It wasn't meant to be.
By stoppage time, New York City's playoff dreams were on life support. A draw wouldn't do them a lick of good; they needed that goal. But it was United who would own the night, as Alvaro Saborio collected a deflected ball off an Espindola free kick and tucked it home from point-blank range to beat Saunders and twist the knife. That would be the final statement of the evening, as the whistle blew with a 2-1 result in favor of the home team. It was a positively deflating second half for the Blues, who somehow, some way only managed a single goal.
There will be hard decisions to make this offseason, and you'd best believe that this team is going to get better. They have to, right? There will be plenty of reasons to get excited as the club steels itself for a sophomore campaign in 2016, but until then, the fans will be stuck harping on what didn't happen. What very reasonably could have happened.
It wasn't meant to be. Not this year.
The season, unlike their playoff dreams, isn't strictly finished in NYCFC land. They'll get a week off before heading back down to the Citrus Bowl for a third and final showdown with fellow expansion boys Orlando City. The Boys in Blue will hope to play spoiler in Central Florida, where the hosts are clinging to playoff hopes of their own. After that, it's back to Yankee Stadium for the regular season finale against New England Revolution, who famously provided New York City's first-ever win back on a magical and downright hopeful March afternoon.
It wasn't their year, folks. But with two games left on the calendar, a couple of wins for the sake of pure pride would go a long way to dressing the wounds of this inaugural campaign.