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Chapecoense Tragedy a Blow to the Entire Soccer World

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Things will never be the same for a city, a country, and an entire world full of soccer fans.

Botafogo v Chapecoense - Brasileirao Series A 2016 Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images

What are you supposed to say (or write) when you can’t even comprehend the magnitude of an event?

We woke up Tuesday morning to the horrific news that the plane carrying upstart Brazilian side Chapecoense to the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final had crashed near Medellin, Colombia, killing the vast majority of those aboard. My first thought, after the initial shock wore off of course, was of those who lost their lives and the friends and family they left behind.

That really hit home when photos were published on social media of team members who didn’t make the trip, sitting in their lockers, trying to make sense of how the players, trainers, and team staff members they had fought so hard with to become successful were suddenly gone and never coming back. I found myself suddenly shedding silent tears for people I had never met, from a club I had barely heard of, and wanting desperately to just hug someone – anyone, especially those three Chapecoense players in the picture.

In stunned silence I tried to scratch out some kind of message to the world on Twitter – to voice…well, something – but could only come up with the usual sending of thoughts and prayers. It seemed insufficient, and it was, but it felt better to say something than nothing, as impotent as it felt.

I had zero desire to work on this blog or at my real job, and even debated whether to run any stories on the site on Tuesday, because it just didn’t seem right for us to be sharing news about our club when supporters of Chapecoense suddenly had no team at all. I really struggled with that decision, but in the end decided not to do anything, and let our scheduled stories simply land via the automated scheduling tools that pushed them live at the previously determined times. But even seeing them auto-tweet out amidst a timeline full of outpouring of condolences for Chapecoense irked me. They stood out like the sorest of thumbs.

That’s when I realized how connected our entire world is through soccer. This didn’t feel like a tragedy that happened to Chapecoense as a club and its supporters. This felt like it happened to soccer and everyone who loves the sport. It felt like it happened to all of us who watch men (or women) kick a stupid ball around a field for 90 minutes every week.

It didn’t matter that Chapecoense was a story akin to Leicester City in 2015/16. It didn’t matter at all whether the club was a successful one or struggling; profitable or hemorrhaging money; adored globally or just a local attraction for the people of Chapecó, Brazil. Talking to others online, I realized I wasn’t alone. People throughout the soccer community were feeling the same way. I can’t speak for anyone else but I had a sudden urge to drive to the Citrus Bowl and just sit in the stands. But that thought only made me sadder still, because the imagery of an empty stadium brought back the magnitude of this tragedy. I was affected tangentially. Those empty seats would represent people who were very directly impacted.

Because humans are imperfect creatures, a sense of normalcy will return for most of us. We’ll get back into our routines. We’ll watch MLS Cup. We’ll talk about the Expansion Draft. We’ll get irrationally excited about our club signing a player we know very little about. Opening Day will arrive and we’ll head to our new downtown soccer palace and we’ll cheer for those guys wearing purple.

But a little over 4,000 miles away, things will never be normal again. Even when the club eventually brings in new people to fill the shoes of those who were on that chartered flight and talented new players to wear that green kit out on the field, it won’t be the same. It will never be the same. And that hurts, no matter who you are or where you live.