And now for a review of this weird, absurd and wonderful year in MLS. There were originally supposed to be like 10 of these, but cutting any of them felt like a public disservice. So instead there are 25. As in, “25 for the 25th season of MLS.”
Because if there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s when you can’t self-edit like someone who's actually good at their job, you turn it into a gimmick. Also, there were just so many things because...well…gestures broadly.
It should be noted that we’ll have a recap of the less strange and perhaps more evocative year in MLS coming soon. Until then, and in no particular order, let's dive on in.
The magic of magic spray
Fine, I made this one first on purpose. It immediately came to mind when this piece got thrown my way. Just look at it.
It’s important to remember we had just witnessed an MLS After Dark at MLS is Back moment becoming an all-time celebration. I can’t quite remember, but I’m pretty sure this game started at about 11:30 pm on the east coast. Vancouver scored twice early thanks, in half, to perhaps the own goal of the year from Judson, who sprinted so, so very hard and failed spectacularly. The lesson as always, is “never try.”
Eventually, San Jose came back from 2-0, then 3-1 to win 4-3 in the 98th (!!) minute and thus, appropriately, the magic of magic spray jettisoning its way into the night sky and our hearts and probably someone’s mouth.
Election Night Timbers guy
With the anxiety of Election Night slowly consuming the mass of other anxieties already created by the last few months, the nation’s eyes turned to Atlanta, home of the 2018 MLS Cup Champi — hey is that guy wearing a Portland Timbers lanyard???
The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter quickly tracked him down for an excellent Q&A.
FC Dallas memes their way to glory
It all began with a rain delay. With a downpour of downtime as Dallas and Nashville waited for their first match since missing MLS is Back, the FC Dallas Twitter account ushered in a new era of irreverence and worry for the account runner’s well-being.
Hans Zimmer Anthem
The year pretty much kicked off with a new MLS anthem written by HANS. FREAKING. ZIMMER.
This is still absolutely wild to me. It's a real thing that happened. It’s pretty high up there on my “Real MLS things that happened that sound like Mad Libs” scale. Like a solid eight. With one being “Brian White went to Duke” and 10 being “Andrew Shue of Melrose Place played for the Galaxy.”
I’m pretty sure you already know which one I’m talking about. We only get a finite number of words in our lives. No reason to waste them on something that will be watched for years.
Steve Clark, Jurgen Locadia make us dream at MLS is Back
Now this needs some words, because I’m pretty sure everyone forgot about this one.
In the 80th minute of their MLS is Back Round of 16 game against FC Cincinnati, Portland’s Steve Clark brought us the soccer version of "making dropping your coffee worse by trying to catch it." Clark just kind of let the ball roll back to him instead of picking it up, and when a Cincinnati player startled him by, ya know, trying to get the ball, Clark dove at his legs and gifted Cincinnati a penalty.
Moments later, Jurgen Locadia gave us the close-distance miss of the season.
Portland went on to win the entire tournament.
It’s not often that you get two of the greatest moments of the season packed together. But Clark and Locadia have taught us that anything is possible. Dare to dream, folks. Dare to dream.
Ben. Sweat. PUNNNNCCHHHHHHHHHHHH.
If you can’t quite make it out, Ben Sweat punched the ball into the net. Orlando eventually beat Miami by kicking the ball into the net — a much more legal way to win a soccer game. It happened in the 97th minute after a Miami player let the ball bounce off his rear and to Nani, who was like five feet from goal.
I wrote this in The Daily Kickoff, MLS’s daily newsletter:
Anyway, this kind of feels like a huge win for Orlando, a team that has...struggled in the past against anyone who might have been labeled a rival. To get the first win in the series thanks to your star player has to feel real, real, real good. Like they metaphorically punched the ball into the net.
Go out there today and punch the ball into the net until you don’t get caught. It will count eventually.
Pretty much the entire playoffs
Nashville and New England went on runs. Toronto and Philadelphia didn’t. Orlando and NYCFC expanded our minds. Seattle went full invincibility mode until they didn’t. Minnesota reminded everyone to make a bunch of underdog jokes as they came minutes away from MLS Cup. Sporting left Wondo very open in stoppage time. Dallas and Portland made every single penalty but one. And Columbus did the dang thing. The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs ruled.
Ah, yes. The Lazer Snakes. And Kicky McKickertons. And (lol) Louventus.
Strange that St. Louis might have peaked as a club years before they’ve ever kicked a ball.
Thierry Henry isn’t mad, he’s just disappointed
One of my favorite running subplots of the season involved Thierry Henry and Thierry Henry’s clear desire to understand why no one near him is as good at soccer or as handsome. It’s one of the fascinating parts of any legendary player turned coach. And Montreal gave Henry a regular reason to question everything. Because anyone who isn’t scoring 40 goals a year in MLS in their prime has to be confusing to a player like Henry.
It regularly produced hard cuts to him on the sideline looking like a parent deciding whether or not to ignore several recently-read articles on how raising your voice can be damaging to a child’s permanent psyche. But sometimes you just gotta let it out.
Jackson Conway scores, takes shirt off for red card
OK, technically not MLS. But I’m still laughing at now-Homegrown forward Jackson Conway, then of ATLUTD 2, forgetting that removing his shirt would earn him a second yellow card and getting sent off after scoring a go-ahead goal. Very rarely do you see someone fail so successfully.
Atlanta United earn a CCL spot
The first good DJ set
When MLS teams returned to their home stadiums after MLS is Back, they needed someone to pump in the fake crowd noise. How’s that for a sentence, random teenage MLS fan trying to understand this season in 2042?
Anyway, Philadelphia rightly figured there wouldn’t be anyone better to control the noise than an actual person from the crowd. And thus, Corey Furlan put on the first good DJ set in history. Certainly at least the best in Pennsylvania’s DJ-ing history.
D.C. United subs on a player not on their roster
Whoo boy, this would have been way higher on everyone’s list if it wasn’t totally exhausting to explain and/or care about what happened in a game between the 2020 editions of D.C. United and Atlanta United.
The official statement from MLS reads as follows:
At half time during the match between D.C. United and Atlanta United on Saturday, Oct. 3, D.C. United made a substitution; however, the player who entered the game was not listed on the official match roster. After two minutes and 16 seconds, the match officials recognized the error. The player was immediately removed from the field and replaced by a substitute who was listed on the official match roster. The change which D.C. made at half time still counted against their allocation of substitutes and substitution opportunities.
I think the important thing to recognize is it was so silly that we got an official statement out of it. It’s also important to recognize Ben Olsen and Stephen Glass had words over this. Because people sometimes forget how confusion can trigger a fight-or-flight response.
This is a personal favorite. From first seeing the incredible “Let My People Goal” sign at the inaugural Nashville game, to finding out he plays guitar for the band “Jars of Clay” in addition to running a local barbershop, Soccer Moses is my favorite character I got to encounter this MLS season.
Luckily, I got to write a feature on him.
Jaap Stam is real?
WHO IS JAAP STAM?????
Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti just do it, become legends
I wrote 1,000-plus words on this and had plenty more still left in the tank. It remains a monument to friends encouraging each other to make bad choices.
“If you see a knee, you gotta punch it” - Rudy Camacho
Just like Ben Sweat punched a ball into the net, Rudy Camacho saw a knee and knew he had to punch it. It just so happened he punched Fredy Montero's knee inside the 18-yard-box and gifted the opposing team a penalty in a game with Canadian Championship implications that would have pushed his team to the brink of a CCL berth if they won. They did not win.
The punch cancelled out Toronto’s loss from the Pozuelo-Piatti tag team penalty and TFC advanced to the Canadian Championship final instead. The lesson here is...um...look, I think sometimes the best part of MLS is that we learn absolutely nothing about ourselves or the human condition.
Miami Death Owl
Total Soren moment from Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, directed by Zack Snyder, right?
Joe Corona in the Joe Corona Draft
Which team will select Joe Corona in the next Joe Corona Draft? Will he actually be able to join their team, or will he be selected in one of the nine remaining Joe Corona drafts?? Who knows??? You’ll have to find out next time on "MLS: Joe Corona."
MLS changes MLS is Back format thanks to math
Shortly after MLS announced the MLS is Back Tournament format, MLS announced a change in the MLS is Back Tournament format. I can’t figure out who pointed it out first (my gut tells me it was the lovely folks at American Soccer Analysis), but everyone quickly realized the teams in the format’s lone six-team group were at a disadvantage to everyone else in four-team groups. Only two teams from each group would reach the knockout round. Six teams competing for two spots meant an extra challenge for those involved.
To their credit, the folks in charge quickly granted the group an extra spot and did some other things to make the format work. Just trust me when I say it all worked out.
All hail the Minister of Culture
The keeper of the pool
This is maybe the most “MLS in 2020” thing on this list. To recap in the simplest way possible: The league has what’s called a pool goalkeeper. The current pool goalkeeper is named Charlie Lyon and you can read more about him here. Teams in need can bring him onto their team at any time. Well, kind of.
Lyon made it on the bench for Sporting Kansas City in a 3-2 win over Colorado at MLS is Back. He returned to the pool (possibly literally in both senses) right after and then appeared to have a chance to join Vancouver a few days later. The Whitecaps were missing their first and second-string keepers. But there were some issues with getting Lyon onto Vancouver’s roster partly because Canada, but mostly because MLS.
We’re already in deep MLS territory. But all this gets ratcheted up when you realize Lyon’s absence cleared the way for 21-year-old, third-string Vancouver keeper Thomas Hasal to make a start he never dreamed he would get. He earned back-to-back clean sheets, became one of the stars of the tournament, and ultimately started eight games for the Whitecaps in 2020.
Will Ferrell gave a very normal interview
How can you not be romantic about MLS?