As the Best of 2013 begins continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 10 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. On Dec. 30 we'll reveal the Story of the Year, as voted by our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists.
But what about the ones that missed the countdown? In the end, 18 stories received at least one vote to make the top 10. Correspondent Dave Zeitlin takes a look at the three stories that just missed out on the countdown.
No. 11: Omar Gonzalez signs Designated Player Contract
Over the past six years, since the rule was established to help MLS teams compete for top talent, Designated Players have typically been world-renowned stars from Europe and South America, World Cup veterans or big-time scorers.
Omar Gonzalez is none of those things – which is precisely why it was such a big moment when the LA Galaxy made him their newest Designated Player in August.
Joining forwards Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane as the Galaxy’s DPs, Gonzalez became the first American defender to sign a Designated Player contract in league history. Adding to the significance is that he essentially took the DP spot held by retired international superstar David Beckham, for which the rule was created.
For Gonzalez, a product of the US youth national system and the University of Maryland, his path to a DP deal was certainly unique. But it wasn’t without merit. After being selected by the Galaxy with the third pick in the 2009 SuperDraft, Gonzalez quickly emerged as one of the league’s best players, winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2009, getting named to the MLS Best XI in 2010 and 2011, winning the MLS Defender of the Year award in 2011 and earning the MLS Cup MVP in 2012 after helping LA win their second straight championship.
Now, the 25-year-old defender is poised to anchor the US backline at the 2014 World Cup. And, perhaps equally significant, he’s shown that young American players can still achieve big things – and be justly rewarded for them – without bolting for Europe.
by Andrew Wiebe
When New York City FC dropped as MLS' 20th franchise in May, the media attention was manic, but the fan reaction was fairly muted. Understandably so, no fanbase existed just yet.
Six months later, Orlando City SC came on board with a flood of purple and more fans than could legally fit inside the venue where Commissioner Don Garber revealed the worst-kept secret in US soccer. Orlando were franchise No. 21, and MLS was back in Florida, with No. 22 a few hundred miles south in the nascent stages of making its own expansion push.
Twelve years prior, Garber had shuttered franchises in Tampa Bay and Miami. Now he was celebrating what was, by most measures, a complete and utter turnaround of the league’s fortunes.
A few blocks away stood the site of Orlando City’s future stadium, smack dab in the middle of downtown. The club’s deep-pocketed owners, fresh off another USL PRO title, spoke in definite terms of world-class Designated Players and competing for eyeballs on a global stage. Perhaps a bit of opening-night bluster, but certainly sincere all the same.
And while NYCFC may take the Big Apple by storm in 2015, Orlando’s reaction to expansion is an indication of what MLS has become. Mid-sized market? Sure, but that hasn’t stopped support from being major league in Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Portland, Vancouver and Montreal.
What’s next? David Beckham and Miami? Atlanta? Minneapolis? MLS still has three to go in order to hit 24 by 2020, and as NYCFC and Orlando City reinforced, expansion’s not stopping anytime soon. It’s just beginning.
No. 12: DC United win US Open Cup
Soccer, coaches like to say, can be a cruel game.
It can be a funny game, too.
In a season in which D.C. United was historically terrible, setting an MLS record for fewest wins in a season with three, the club still managed to do one thing right: win the 2013 US Open Cup.
Fittingly, the improbable run to the franchise’s 13th trophy ended in improbable fashion: with injury-ridden midfielder Lewis Neal netting the only goal in D.C. United’s stunning 1-0 road upset win of league powerhouse Real Salt Lake on Oct. 1.
Four months earlier, D.C. United were nearly the victim of an upset but managed to survive a scare from the lower-division Richmond Kickers, advancing on penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and overtime. From there, Ben Olsen’s crew rolled to back-to-back 3-1 home wins over the rival Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution, before shutting out the Chicago Fire, 2-0, at Toyota Park on goals from Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon.
Remarkably, D.C. United finished the 2013 season with more Open Cup wins than league wins. And thanks to the surprise title, D.C.'s already-revamped 2014 squad has a ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League – a juicy prize emerging from the rubble of a wildly uneven season.
No. 13: RSL lose two title games
As Sebastián Velásquez walked to the penalty spot, his Real Salt Lake teammates looked on, eagerly waiting for the chance to celebrate the club’s first MLS Cup since 2009.
They’re still waiting.
As the longest shootout in league history wound to its dramatic finish, Velásquez’s penalty kick was stopped, Sporting Kansas City made their next two PKs while RSL’s Lovel Palmer missed his, and Real Salt Lake had to watch SKC celebrate a title that was well within their grasp.
Adding to the pain of falling just short of the MLS Cup is that, a little more than two months earlier, Real Salt Lake were upset by D.C. United, at home, in the US Open Cup final.
And because of those two losses – and the fact that they finished the regular season in second place in the Western Conference, just one point behind Portland – RSL missed out on the chance to earn a CONCACAF Champions League berth. They also lost their head coach, New York City-bound Jason Kreis – making 2013 quite the painful year for a team that still won a whole bunch of games.