2013 Season Recap

2013 may ultimately be viewed as a watershed year for MLS. Off the field, commissioner Don Garber announced the desire to expand into five new cities by 2020, starting with the announcement of new franchises setting up shop in New York and Orlando. On the field, it was one of the most competitive seasons ever. On Oct. 18, 15 of the league’s 19 teams were still in postseason contention, and they were all spaced just 12 points apart. The Supporters’ Shield race came down to the final weekend, when at long last the New York Red Bulls won their first trophy by edging out Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake for the hardware. Ultimately, the season came to a close on a thrilling penalty-kick shootout in an MLS Cup championship game between two of the league’s most successful franchises, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City, over the past 10-plus years.

The MLS Cup Playoffs saw a first-time competitor in the Timbers, finally qualifying in their third year in the league under first-year head coach and former player Caleb Porter, highlighted by a Western Conference Semifinals showdown against rival Seattle Sounders. And while New York’s playoffs didn’t quite go as anticipated, being eliminated by the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, there’s no doubt the Red Bulls accomplished a lot in 2013. It all came to an end when SKC and head coach Peter Vermes took home their second championship to become the league’s fifth franchise to win multiple Cups.

And what about those Red Bulls? It was an entertaining season, if not a stressful one to be certain, epitomized perhaps by their season-opening 3-3 draw against the Timbers when they jumped out to a 3-1 lead before allowing Portland to claw their way back for the tie. The Red Bulls even went winless in five of their first six games before turning it on over the summer months behind their two stars, Thierry Henry (10 goals, nine assists) and Tim Cahill (11 goals, five assists). But the season ultimately fell short of their ultimate goal when they were knocked out by the Dynamo, begging the question of how many more chances will their current group have at a MLS title.

The Dynamo proved their postseason magic over the previous two seasons was no fluke by nearly advancing to a third straight MLS Cup despite squeaking into the playoffs after an up-and-down season. What can you say about head coach Dominic Kinnear and his group, other than they know how to turn it on at the right time of the year. They first dismantled the Montreal Impact 3-0 in a Knockout Round game before eliminating the Red Bulls in the semifinals. Ultimately, the injuries and inconsistent play that plagued them throughout the season, came back to haunt them in the conference finals against Kansas City.

Kansas City proved to be the opposite of Houston this season, consistent nearly from start to finish. SKC overcame their postseason jinx against the Dynamo – who knocked Sporting out of the playoffs in the previous two seasons – to win their first MLS Cup championship since 2000, when head coach Peter Vermes suited up as a player for the then Wizards. It also took an epic penalty-kick shootout that SKC won 7-6, the longest in MLS playoffs history, after the teams played to a 1-1 draw after regulation and extra time. A decisive miss by RSL’s Lovel Palmer on an attempt that banged off the crossbar was the decider after two lunging saves from veteran SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen on a chilly December night at Sporting Park.

Real Salt Lake’s success was nothing to shake a stick at, either. They were at or near the top of the Western Conference standings all season after a quasi offseason rebuild that saw them depart with former mainstays Jámison Olave, Will Johnson and Fabián Espíndola. Advancing to the championship game of the US Open Cup, which was ultimately won by DC United, was the highlight of RSL’s summer. A scoreless draw against the Timbers on the second to last week of the season at JELD-WEN Field prevented RSL from wrapping up the No. 1 spot in the West at season’s end. But they made up for it when they rolled over Portland in the conference finals with a 5-2 aggregate victory in the two-game series, giving RSL four wins in six games over the Timbers across all competition in 2013. The young offseason, however, has been pretty tough on RSL. After their brutal shootout loss, head coach Jason Kreis announced his departure for MLS’ newest club, New York FC. And they also missed out on a chance to compete in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League when the USSF changed the team allocation rules to include the team with the best record in the conference opposite of the Supporters’ Shield winner (Portland Timbers) rather than the MLS Cup runner-up.

It is Portland that came out of the 2013 season riding perhaps as high as any club not named Sporting Kansas City. The club that made headlines not for victories in their first two years in the league, but their raucous atmosphere at JELD-WEN Field, finally added success to the equation. And MLS is the better for it. Porter proved to be a revelation after coming to the Timbers after lofty success at the University of Akron. He promptly led the Timbers to a franchise-best 15-game unbeaten streak to start the season, which also proved to be the longest in the league in 2013, and won Coach of the Year honors. Porter’s offensive philosophy, which became dubbed “Porterball,” was one of the league’s highest scoring, run on the field by MLS Newcomer of the Year Diego Valeri. The Argentinean midfielder was one of only two players in the league to record double-digit goal (10) and assist (13) totals, the other being the LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane.

There were also plenty of headlines written about individual players. And it all started with Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee, who rode the momentum of a somewhat controversial trade from the LA Galaxy to his native city to win the league MVP award after scoring 21 goals in 2013. And even though his team missed out on the playoffs – making him just the second player in league history to win the award without advancing to the postseason – Magee’s breakout season was undeniable. Making his season all the more special was the fact that he hadn’t scored more than seven goals in any of his previous 10 seasons in the league, with that total coming his rookie season with the MetroStars in 2003.

The league also saw a player acquisition in the vein of a Thierry Henry or David Beckham when the Seattle Sounders inked US national team captain Clint Dempsey to much fanfare. The move may not have paid off – yet – with Dempsey’s 2013 being plagued by injury and inconsistency (one goal in nine games) as the Sounders flamed out of the playoffs at the hands of their rivals.

Vancouver’s Camilo Sanvezzo also burst onto the scene to score 22 goals and win the Golden Boot in his third year in the league. His scissor-kick goal Oct. 6 against the Portland Timbers, which won Goal of the Year, is not to be missed. And Keane proved once again that he’s one of the league’s best with 16 goals and 11 assists.

2013 MLS standings


Most Valuable Player: Mike Magee – Chicago Fire
Goalkeeper of the Year: Donovan Ricketts – Portland Timbers
Golden Boot: Camilo Sanvezzo – Vancouver Whitecaps, 22 goals
Rookie of the Year: Dillon Powers – Colorado Rapids
Defender of the Year: Jose Goncalves – New England Revolution
Goal of the Year: Camilo Sanvezzo – Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers – October 6, 2013
Coach of the Year: Caleb Porter – Portland Timbers

1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013