The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with out Best of 2010 awards, running Dec. 13 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of Major League Soccer and US international players, including Biggest Controversy, Breakout MLS Star of the Year and the Moment of the Year.
The series starts off with the Game of the Year, which goes to Cruz Azul's dramatic 5-4 win over Real Salt Lake in Mexico City during the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League on Aug. 25.
The sun was, in fact, peaking through the clouds at times above Mexico City on Aug. 25. But that’s not what we remember. We remember the good stuff. We remember how the skies opened up around nightfall and a torrential downpour ensued. We remember the sloppy stuff, the soggy stuff and the spectacular stuff, a game that not only trudged on through the muck but even turned out to earn our Best Game of 2010.
For those who stayed up late on the East Coast or made time after dinner somewhere out West, it was worth it. Mexican side Cruz Azul somehow overcame a 3-1 deficit in absolutely waterlogged conditions to topple visiting Real Salt Lake 5-4 in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage.
It was, as RSL head coach Jason Kreis put it, “shattering” to his players. They’d allowed a stunning four goals in the last 15 minutes of regulation and three minutes of extra time combined, something just about as out of character for RSL as hosting Mardi Gras in Salt Lake City. They’d also missed out on the chance to earn the first meaningful MLS win in Mexico, a hex that still hangs over the league after their best opportunity was (pun intended) hung out to dry.
The game simply had it all. RSL had an early goal controversially taken off the board and then watched Cruz Azul score an equally contentious goal on a breakaway off a free-rolling direct kick near midfield. RSL eventually built a lead behind two goals and an assist from CCL hero Alvaro Saborio, but Cruz Azul’s Javier Orozco scored three of his four goals on the night after the 75 minute mark, including a nifty flick in the 89th minute for his second goal in two minutes and a stunning 4-3 Cruz Azul lead.
[inline_node:324828]RSL, though, weren’t done. Will Johnson scored in the 92nd minute, a cathartic finish that seemed to, at least for a minute, salvage a draw from what could have been much, much worse.
But was it such a surprise that the draw didn’t last? A stalemate simply wouldn’t do this one justice, and the game only gained more resonance with an awestruck crowd back in the States when Cruz Azul surged out front again on literally the last play of the match.
Christian Giménez hit a fateful right-footed shot from the top of the box from that skipped through the standing water and past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Perhaps the most important aspect of RSL’s loss? Damage control. Kreis was quick to assure his players after the match they’d proven themselves that night in Mexico, and that if they had to go down, they’d certainly gone down swinging in one of the great scraps of the year on the soccer field.
Was it a moment that rallied RSL? Perhaps. They eventually did make MLS history nearly two months later, topping Cruz Azul back on drier land back at Rio Tinto Stadium to become the first MLS team to win the group stage and advance into the quarterfinals.
In other words, they endured long enough to see the sun shine another day.
Second place – US draw Slovenia at World Cup (June 18)[inline_node:324829]
The Americans stuck to their World Cup script by taking a few punches early before they picked themselves off the canvas during this group stage match in Johannesburg. A close-range rocket from Landon Donovan and an opportunistic finish from Michael Bradley evened the match before the real drama even started. For referee Koman Coulibaly – who called back a potential late game from Maurice Edu – life has never been the same.
Third place – Kansas City rally to top Houston (Sept. 22)
Kansas City’s backs were against the wall, trailing 3-1 in the first half with their playoff hopes fading fast. But goals from Teal Bunbury and Ryan Smith leveled the match heading into stoppage time, and veteran Josh Wolff nodded home a Michael Harrington cross in the 96th minute to cause absolute bedlam at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. Kansas City never reached the postseason, but on this night, it felt like they’d just won the MLS Cup.
Honorable Mention: Monterrey rally to top Seattle in CONCACAF Champions League, Brian Ching scores three in Houston’s 4-3 win over Chicago, US top Algeria in World Cup, FC Dallas tie New England late to keep unbeaten streak alive.
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