MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2012, running Dec. 17 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS and US international players, including Biggest Controversy, Breakout Player of the Year and, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 31, the Moment of the Year.
New media editor Nick Rosano starts off the series with a look at the Game of the Year, a dramatic showdown between the San Jose Earthquakes and the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium on June 30. We chose among all MLS regular-season and postseason games, as well as all CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup. No international games for the US, Canada or other national teams were included in the voting.
From the epic 1994 World Cup quarterfinal between Sweden and Romania to the US national team and numerous MLS clashes, I’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing soccer at Stanford Stadium.
But this year’s clash between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy on June 30 may have just topped them all.
Sure, there was no Gheorghe Hagi, no Henrik Larsson this time around. But Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski and David Beckham – three players who have each served as a face of MLS over the past few years – were present, and they added another worthy chapter to the long history of pro soccer in Palo Alto.
Not only was it a game chock full of quality goals, but the dramatic swings in momentum took the crowd’s energy to another level.
Starting with Steven Lenhart’s early strike and ending with Wondolowski’s sublime heel flick, there were no cheap goals. Each had a very real effect on the sold-out crowd, and it was impossible not to feel their energy.
When the Galaxy scored three unanswered goals in the first half, showcasing Beckham’s otherworldly dead ball skills and their relentless pressure, there was legitimate cause for Quakes fans to worry. All signs pointed to LA’s continued resurgence after a horrendous start to the season.
However, Víctor Bernárdez changed things. San Jose’s most important offseason acquisition picked an opportune time to register his first goal in black and blue, turning home an unstoppable shot from Marvin Chávez’s corner kick to pull it back to 3-2, leaving the Quakes hopeful and the Galaxy off balance heading into the locker room.
It was clear where the momentum lay as the second half picked up. Sam Cronin finished off a superb counterattack to equalize, and only a stunning triple save from Josh Saunders denied the Quakes a go-ahead goal.
San Jose, however, were not to be denied after all that pressure, and Wondolowski got the back of his foot on a redirect from Ramiro Corrales to push home a worthy game-winner.
And as if to make it clear this was no ordinary game, the proceedings were capped off with some Beckham-inspired unpleasantries fitting of the rivalry that returned to its status as one the best in the league. Can’t wait to see it in 2013.
2. D.C. United 3, Columbus Crew 2 – October 20
WATCH: Neal’s late winner for DC
Where to begin? Between the back-and-forth, the playoff implications, high tempo and Branko Boskovic’s no-look assist on the winning goal, this game had it all.
With a playoff place at stake for both teams, Eddie Gaven’s opportunistic finish after a fine Crew passing move stood for most of the first half, but Nick DeLeon pounced on Lionard Pajoy’s rebound to equalize.
The Crew once again staked themselves to a halftime lead as Jairo Arrieta’s curling strike clanged against the post, only to bounce back into the goal off Bill Hamid’s legs, but it wasn’t to be for the playoff-chasing visitors. Marcelo Saragosa’s equalizer and Lewis Neal’s fine finish off that brilliant feed from Boskovic secured a playoff berth for D.C. while simultaneously booting the Crew out of the postseason for the first time in four years.
3. LA Galaxy 5, Portland Timbers 3 – July 14
WATCH: Beckham scores from distance
This game proved perhaps the best iteration of MLS 2.0. Four Designated Players combined for seven goals and three assists in front of one of the most vocal and devoted fan bases in the league, and the LA Galaxy showed the kind of dominance that would later propel them to a second consecutive MLS Cup.
Kris Boyd staked the Timbers to an early lead, but the Galaxy came roaring back, scoring an incredible four goals in 11 minutes, highlighted by a 35-yard bomb from Beckham, who would also score a trademark free kick.
The Timbers made a game of it, but LA simply proved too much, and quashed any hopes of a Timbers comeback thanks to Robbie Keane’s 64th-minute strike.