Cross-posted at my SBNation blog, Villarreal USA:
As a sports fan, I am on the brink today. My hometown hockey team, the Washington Capitals, is surprisingly in a 3-0 hole against a lower-seeded opponent. And Villarreal, of course, faces an incredibly uphill climb tomorrow in attempting to overturn a 5-1 first leg deficit against FC Porto. Both of my teams may be knocked out in the next 24 hours.
This is the test of a true sports fan: How do you react when everything looks bleak? After years of heartbreak, from decades of playoff failures by the Capitals to Juan Román Riquelme's penalty miss against Arsenal, I am behind my teams until the end. For better or worse.
The fútbol plot thickens with allegations that the first leg referee went to dinner with the Portuguese side's management after the match. Manager Juan Carlos Garrido admits that the match was lost on the pitch, but I agree that the Falcao penalty was rather questionable. Anyhow, we digress.
Let's look at a few factors and see if there's a miracle or two in store:
Nilmar notes that you have to score one goal before you can score four. Profound but true. And Diego López says that you have to believe before you can achieve. If we had not shut down for the final half-hour in Porto, the tie would still be in our control. After watching the highlights again, I have confidence that we can score four goals. Keeping Falcao, Guarín, and Hulk out is the big question.
And here is what the Capitals' star player, left wing Alexander Ovechkin, had to say:
"It is not over. We won’t give up. We’re going to win. Well I think we’ve had all three games in our hands, but we lost all three. It is hockey and it is hockey. Again, it is not over. They win three. We can win three. It is going to be a battle."
Villarreal captain Marcos Senna will be in the squad for tomorrow's match, providing a lift to the team in its hour of need. For the Capitals, goaltender Semyon Varlamov may come in cold with the season on the line, and defenseman Dennis Wideman may return if the series goes back to Washington.
And owner Fernando Roig's visit to the dressing room after the Porto match was a nice touch. Last Thursday was a bad day that should not ruin what has been a fantastic season to date. Unfortunately, expectations are a bit higher for the regular season juggernaut Capitals.
El Madrigal will be packed to the hilt tomorrow evening, with nearly 22,000 fans expected in a town of only 50,000. The Capitals have lost both games at home against Tampa Bay, but fans will turn out at the Verizon Center if the series goes until Saturday afternoon.
Expectations are low, but the payoff could be significant. Villarreal could reach its first-ever major final, while the Capitals could move one step closer to Lord Stanley's Cup. I don't expect either milagro, but anything is possible. Endavant Villarreal, and let's go Caps.