As the Best of 2013 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.
The Armchair Analyst was a die-hard New York Red Bulls fan in a former life. So imagine his excitement when the team stunned their fans – and perhaps themselves by winning their first-ever Supporters' Shield this year. That story comes in at No. 5 on our list in 2013.
Four games into the season, the New York Red Bulls had two points and no hope. Thirty games after that, they had their first trophy, a coach moved to tears on the field, and a celebration that will live forever in franchise lore.
Let it be said that in the year 2013 of the Common Era, the New York Red Bulls won the Supporters’ Shield. They outpaced Sporting KC by a single point, taking home the regular-season title 59-to-58, and sent their fans into delirium.
But this is a team that was – and given their playoff elimination, maybe still “is” – star-crossed on some level. So before we get to the 5-2 win over Chicago that made Mike Petke a little bit misty, you have to recall the dropped points to Toronto, and Chivas USA, and D.C. United. You have to recall that just when things looked like they were about to get easy, Juninho Pernambucano made them really, really hard.
You have to recall that Petke and Thierry Henry exchanged something – maybe punches, maybe shoves, maybe just hot words – in a late-summer practice. You have to recall that Roy Miller did Roy Miller stuff.
“That’s so Metro” is a phrase among the most long-suffering of New York fans, harkening back to the days of the MetroStars and blown playoff leads, vacationing German stars and blown ACLs. It’s saved for those special moments when something goes so inexplicably wrong, that it seems like it couldn’t possibly have happened to any other team.
That was the early-season story for the Red Bulls after Miller’s brainfart gave Chris Wondolowski a second crack at a late PK, and sent New York to a painful and embarrassing last-minute loss. It was only the second game of the season, but the script seemed like it was yanked straight from previous playoff collapses.
And it really was soooo Metro. Words don’t do it justice – you have to watch.
Petke’s squad sputtered for another month after that game, but then came the traditional mid-spring hot streak: six wins out of eight to rocket up the table; Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty and Henry banging home timely goals; and Petke holding it all together while still trying to figure out the lineup.
They bounced between a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-5-1 before eventually settling on a fairly traditional 4-4-2. Sometimes Henry was joined by Fabián Espíndola, and sometimes by Péguy Luyindula. Sometimes Cahill would push up top.
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Just as predictable as the spring hot streak was the summertime lull. From May 26 through August 25, New York went just 4-5-3 despite a pillowy soft schedule. And by “pillowy soft,” we mean “0-4-3 against non-playoff teams in that stretch.”
It was incredible to see this team produce the game of the season against RSL one week, follow it up a 3-2 win over Sporting the next, then take one point out of nine against Columbus, Philadelphia and Chivas USA.
Juninho was sent packing, back to Brazil, during that summer swoon. Henry and Petke had it out after the Chivas loss.
And then the switch was flipped.
After the fight, New York dropped just four more points all season. They eased past D.C., 2-1, then they pounded Houston, 4-1. They avenged themselves on Toronto, then took care of business against FC Dallas (with a bit of luck on their side). They went to Seattle and got a late draw, then hosted New England and got an even later one.
Then they smacked the Dynamo again, 3-0. Cahill, who had by then emerged as the heart of the team, scored the fastest goal in MLS history, sending New York to the final weekend with their fate in their own hands.
Win vs. the Fire, and win the league. Win a trophy. Exorcise the Curse of Caricola.
Of course, this was still Metro – a team haunted not just by ghosts, but by their former players and coaches as well. So when eventual MVP Mike Magee buried his 21st goal of the season six minutes into that final match, it seemed the script was written: New York would come oh-so-close, but cough up the goods at the finish line.
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This year, finally, was different. Henry tied it up in the 24th minute, and New York collectively wrenched open the floodgates in the second half. Luyindula was the conductor in a memorable attacking display, and Henry doubled-down on his classy goal with an equally classy second-half assist. That was the one that put a cherry on top, the fifth goal in an evening of celebration that was only just kicking off.
Four games into the year, they had no hope. Eighteen years into their existence, they finally have a trophy.
That’s so Metro.