October is one of my favorite months. It finally starts getting colder in Dallas after five months of scorching heat. It’s the end of the MLS regular season, which means the beginning of playoff soccer is on the horizon. And the transition toward the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas is right around the corner.
So as I put on a dreamily comfortable sweatshirt, some sweats and slippers (it’s not quite that cold yet, but I’m too antsy and excited), let me tell you what this fall season looks like in our house.
First, gearing up for playoff soccer is the best, there is nothing like it! The drama, the excitement, the passion — not that the regular season doesn’t also contain a similar passion, but playoffs are on a different level. After a 34-game season, it comes down to five games: the conference semifinals (which are a two-game aggregate series, meaning you play the opposing team once away, and once at home, adding up the two game scores together to get the winner), the conference finals (which are the same aggregate setup as the semis) and the MLS Cup (which is just one game, winner take all). Since each series is so short, the pressure that rides on each game is immense.
Most of my favorite memories from my professional career have come from playoff games, including a particular matchup against the Seattle Sounders. We played the first game of the Western Conference semifinals in Seattle and lost 2-1. But we returned home for the second leg, and had to win to move on to the conference finals.
After a scoreless first half, we broke the deadlock with 10 minutes left in the game, giving us a 1-0 advantage, a score line that would have won that series. But only three minutes later we gave up a goal on a set piece, and the game was tied 1-1. We pushed everything we had forward for the last three minutes of the game, needing to score to force overtime. With one minute left and the ball bouncing around in the box, I scrambled to flick the ball into the net and put us up 2-1. The passion, emotion and atmosphere of those last 10 minutes were some of the best I have ever been a part of.
As I remember that series, it reminds me of the same passion and emotion that often gets me excited during the Christmas season. Now, my faith isn’t based off emotion alone, but often times the Lord is gracious to give me this feeling of intense emotion and love for Him during this season.
Thinking about the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, descending from Heaven and taking on flesh, living among humanity, often overwhelms me with emotion and passion — in a similar way that playoff soccer can. It’s just another way my sport parallels my faith in Christ.
I’ll end with this: In some ways, Jesus’s incarnation — His becoming human and putting on flesh and walking this world like every other human has — is a come-from-behind playoff victory. When all of Israel is expecting the Messiah to come as a king, Jesus comes as a baby. He is not born in a palace but in an animal’s feeding troth. He is not celebrated but persecuted from the moment He is born — with Herod trying to wipe out all baby boys under the age of 2 — to being nailed to a cross for claiming to be God.
And the Messiah dies on that cross. So the fans stand up and start to walk out of the stadium. It looks like the game is over and there is no way He is going to come back from this. Even His disciples leave and desert Him, returning to their former occupations and ways of life.
But with all the time off the clock, when the game seemed out of reach, Jesus rose from the dead, and His resurrection changed everything. He didn’t just save His own life by removing Himself from the cross, but through His death and resurrection, He defeated death, and brought true, eternal life to all those who would believe in Him.
The holidays are a reminder for me, a reminder filled with emotion, passion and joy that Jesus is the greater playoff series, the better come-from-behind win, the greater joy. And He took on human flesh, becoming like us in every way. One-hundred percent human, 100 percent God, and trained His entire life to complete the greatest victory this world has ever known.
— Ryan Hollingshead, FC Dallas midfielder/defender
The Increase, part of the Sports Spectrum Network, is a community of Christian pro athletes sharing their personal stories of the decrease of self and the increase of Christ (John 3:30). Visit TheIncrease.com for more stories and videos.