It's amazing how far footballers can push their bodies.
The top stars in today's game can find themselves playing well over 60 matches per year between obligations to club and country. The constant competition takes a major physical toll.
And you know what? The fans put in their work as well.
This story starts with a road trip, two friends making a simple drive from Michigan to California. That 2,200-plus mile trek would be arduous enough in itself. Deciding to do that in just a few long chunks? That's pure insanity.
The first leg of the road trip was a rather uneventful 1,200 mile jog to Boulder, CO to crash with my buddy's cousin. After 18 hours of driving through the flat plains of Nebraska and the foothills of the Rockies, we arrived in Boulder with the most important part of the journey still ahead—a seven and a half hour, 534 mile trip to Salt Lake City to watch Real Salt Lake take on FC Dallas at the Rio Tinto stadium on July 24th, immediately followed by an 11-hour, 768 mile overnight drive to San Jose in time to move into an apartment and watch the San Jose Earthquakes and DC United on the 25th.
The idea for this insane two MLS matches in two days, in two time zones road trip started courtesy of fellow Bleacher Creature Patrick Johnston. The basic Michigan to California road trip plan was already in place, with plans to catch San Jose and DC on the 25th, when Patrick emailed me, mentioning that Salt Lake had a match at home on the 24th. I began to think that we could somehow turn an already good road trip into an awesome one.
Leg two started too early, roughly 6:30 AM Mountain Time. The goal was to reach Salt Lake City early enough to have a nice, long break before the match and subsequent drive across the barren desert of northern Nevada.
You don't really get an appreciation for just how massive this country is until you try to drive across the damn thing. I can get to Chicago in just over two hours from my house, but this trip was going to take the better part of three days.
We rolled into Salt Lake City about four hours before kickoff. After walking around for awhile, and finding a nutritious dinner at a Fuddrucker's by the stadium (delicious!), we snagged a pair of seats in the upper deck for $15 apiece.
Little did we know that the next couple of hours would be arguably the most thrilling match of the season.
FC Dallas came out with guns ablaze thanks to the great passing of Dave van den Bergh, and some serious struggles on the part of Salt Lake's Fabian Espindola. Crucial mistakes by Salt Lake all over the pitch led to two first half goals for Dallas and they went into the locker room at halftime with a comfortable lead.
Enter Yura Movsisyan.
Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis brought on the Armenian at halftime, and he wasted no time in getting to work. He put RSL on the board with a goal in the 55th minute. Finally, the hosts had found some confidence.
Real scored again just seven minutes later after Robbie Findley blasted home a penalty. The comeback was in full effect.
But, it looked like Dallas would halt Salt Lake's momentum after Salt Lake was whistled for a handball on a set piece. Jeff Cunningham stepped up to the spot, knowing that a goal would put him past Jason Kreis on MLS' all-time scoring list.
He struck, Nick Rimando dove, and the net didn't bulge. Rimando came up bigger than the surrounding mountains, stonewalling Cunningham with a great penalty save. Momentum was fully with Salt Lake, and Dallas would not be able to hang on.
Salt Lake would add two more goals, an own goal and another Yura Movsisyan strike in stoppage time to seal it. For the price of $15, we'd witnessed six goals, a penalty save, and a brace by a halftime sub.
Adrenaline pumping, we piled in the car and began travelling west on I-80 once again, hoping to reach San Jose in time for the next night's match.
After a very frustrating 13-hour drive that involved a great deal of dust, a minor car issue, and two very tired football fans, we arrived at Buck Shaw Stadium in the 15th minute.
DC had already taken a 1-0 lead thanks to a Christian Gomez penalty. We had barely settled into our seats when Gomez struck again, this time taking advantage of a sloppy rebound given up by San Jose's defense. 2-0 for the second night in a row, would we be treated to a repeat?
At first, it looked like DC would be the team scoring the third goal of the match. They were completely dominating play in the first half, stringing together long amounts of possession and essentially toying with the Earthquakes. San Jose was struggling just to advance the ball to DC's half of the pitch, much less threaten Josh Wicks in goal.
Everything changed in the 36th minute when San Jose won a free kick on the left wing. Cornell Glen flicked the cross toward the far post, where Ryan Johnson was lurking unseen behind a DC defender. Johnson stuck his foot out and hit a spectacular volley past a helpless Wicks.
San Jose came out with a renewed sense of purpose in the second half. They had managed to pull a goal back before halftime and that restored some measure of confidence. The Quakes went on the attack through Bobby Convey and Darren Huckerby.
The Quakes hit paydirt in the 62nd minute when Huckerby lofted a cross into the box. Wicks missed getting a glove to it, and Rodney Wallace handled the ball. Penalty kick to the Quakes, and it would be pounded into the back of the net by Cornell Glen.
Despite some promising attacks from both sides and a Jaime Moreno appearance, neither team could break the deadlock. Still, it was an exciting match to watch. Plenty of chances from both sides and some quality play to boot.
After our second match in two days, we stumbled off to find sleeping quarters. Two raging football fanatics, two matches, two time zones, two days. Never has a road trip felt so good.