Voices: Sam Jones

Leagues Cup's wildest moments: Messi to magic goalkeepers & beyond


Personally, Leagues Cup has surpassed all expectations. It’s not just that games have been wildly entertaining. It’s that everyone got together and decided to ask and answer the question: “What if we crammed a whole MLS season's worth of wild into a one-month tournament?”

From figurative and literal magic to a chance to get acquainted with local wildlife, we’ve truly witnessed something special. We can’t even cover it all, but here are some of the best moments of the tournament.

Nahuel Guzmán: Card-carrying member of The Magician’s Guild

With a spot in the Round of 16 on the line, Vancouver were on the verge of a major upset. The Whitecaps took Tigres to penalties after playing to a 1-1 draw over the course of 90 minutes and just needed to send a few close-range shots past Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán. Seemed easy until Guzman revealed he’s a level six Conjuration Wizard and…uh… part-time mime.

He brought some of the same brilliance to a late penalty against Monterrey, but his high-wire act didn’t quite have the same effect.

Tigres were eliminated. Guzmán remains in my heart forever though.


Full credit to Vancouver for refusing to be involved in a normal penalty shootout. Prior to the Guzman affair, the 'Caps took León to penalties in the group stage, a pretty remarkable result against the reigning CCL champs. I’d put what happened next ahead of that accomplishment though.

After both teams mirrored each other with misses in rounds three, four and eight, everyone (including both 'keepers) put the ball into the back of the net for the next 10 rounds of penalties. Vancouver eventually missed the final and deciding penalty to lose the shootout 16-15, but at least both teams can be proud they produced this.

Elite at both ends of the field

Some 'keepers have to take penalties because they’re forced to. Others take penalties because they choose to. Toluca’s Tiago Volpi chooses to.

He scored as many non-shootout goals in this tournament as Andre-Pierre Gignac, Chicho Arango and Duncan McGuire. He’s basically soccer’s answer to Shohei Ohtani.

Nashville lose to Club América, then beat Club América

One last penalty thing, but it’s the penalty thing from this tournament. First, though, the journey to get there is worth remembering:

With Nashville and América tied at 1-1 in stoppage time, an unlucky handball sent Julián Quiñones to the spot. He converted, and it seemed like América had avoided a potential upset. But, in his debut appearance, Nashville’s new DP Sam Surridge made a heckuva introduction.

That moment alone would have made this list. But it immediately got overshadowed by what happened next… if you even saw it happen.

With the subsequent penalty shootout at 5-4 in favor of América, the Liga MX side's 'keeper Luis Malagón saved Jack Maher's attempt for Nashville. Game over.

Anyway, I went outside to let my dog out after that, and when I came back, Nashville had won the game. Only I didn’t know that because I had already flipped to another game. So.

Turns out Malagón was judged to have stepped off his line early on Maher's kick. Maher retook, scored, and then, following an América miss in the next round, advanced. Also there were multiple pitch invasions, and Nashville head coach Gary Smith went full "Are you not entertained?" gladiator mode as he left the pitch while getting showered in beer cans thrown onto the field by América fans.

I missed a lot.

Anyway, Nashville are now in the Leagues Cup Final.

Minnesota missed it too

I wasn’t the only one. Things took so long with Video Review and fans storming the field and the general chaos in Nashville that plenty of folks found out well after the fact Malagón had come off his line too early. That included a few good folks in Minnesota.

Brandon Vazquez kills his childhood

They’ve always said the two days you truly become an adult are the day you immediately score a brace against the club of your first childhood jersey and the day you immediately score against that same club following the postponement of the first game due to weather.

Congrats to Brandon Vazquez for reaching a moment we all have to go through at some point and handling it with grace.

Seize your opportunity

Life is about seeing opportunity and capitalizing when the time comes. Some of us simply aren’t brave enough to do so. Some of us cower at the consequences of the boldest decisions that float through our minds. Some of us just don’t have the gumption. But a few of us – a select and celebrated few – see the opportunity to slam home a perfect free kick from the greatest soccer player of all time and take it with all of the force allotted to us by the higher powers that allow us to be in the world.

Even… uh… if we’re on the other team. 

Raccoon Salt Lake




The controller shut off

Unfortunately, beautiful stories can overwhelm the senses sometime. I have to think the RSL raccoon becoming ungovernable was on the team’s mind when this moment happened. Otherwise, I’m not entirely sure what happened here.

Jim Curtin is sick and tired of being sick and tired

The Philadelphia Union advanced to the quarterfinals after a penalty shootout win over the New York Red Bulls. Jim Curtin took that moment to share some thoughts on their neighbors to the east.

“I still respect them a ton, despite my first line there,” said Curtin after the match. “But all I'm talking [about] there is be a little humble. When you're the little brother and you get beat up a lot, just know how to act.”

Agree or disagree with the content of the statement as you will, but I think we can all agree more coaches need to air their grievances like they’re cutting a wrestling promo a little more often around here.

A free kick (and once more, with feeling)

Alright, we’ve made it this far without mentioning him. But for obvious reasons, we have to mention the best player on the planet walked into what had been one of the worst teams in the league, brought some friends, and turned them into the favorite to win the entire tournament overnight. Lionel Messi’s Leagues Cup started with this:

And continued with this:

Yeah, the second one might have needed a few slight adjustments before it could be perfect.

But there’s no denying this guy is pretty good at this.

The second-best player in the tournament

Only barely better than Bongokuhle Hlongwane, though.