I feel exhausted. Like I got hit by an invisible Mack truck. So fatigued I’m not even sure that simile makes sense. It’s what I get though. I shouldn’t have ingested all that MLS.
The first weekend of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs was a kaleidoscope of insanity. Each turn brought something completely unexpected, hard to understand, a little frightening and wholly captivating. Even if you’re not quite sure how what just happened actually happened, just be glad you were around to be a part of it.
If you feel a bit concussed from it all and need a refresher or — bless your heart — you missed any of it all, here’s a crash course on the moments that made this the most brain-twisting weekend in MLS history.
Portland gets the Boba Fett ending
In the original Star Wars trilogy, Boba Fett is the bounty hunter hellbent on ensuring one of our main characters comes to his demise. He’s the strong silent type and while you don’t really get to actually see him do anything interesting, it’s genuinely assumed he really “wishes someone would” so he could do something amazing and intimidating in combat. After looking threatening for two movies, we come to the end of the trilogy and a battle ensues. “This is the moment,” you think. We’ll finally get to see Fett, who is canonically not a Mandalorian despite having the armor, bust some heads.
Nope. He accidentally gets bumped, his jetpack goes off, and he flies into a man-eating pit of death never to be seen again. It is a wildly anti-climactic character arc. And unfortunately for Portland, it’s kind of how they went out.
After bullying their way through MLS is Back and their reputation of generally being excellent in tournaments, the Timbers gave up an equalizer to Ricardo Pepi at 90’+3’. They then made seven straight kicks from the spot in the shootout before Jorge Villafana, who had scored the team’s lone goal in regulation, had his shot saved by Jimmy Maurer. The Timbers went from major threat to nonexistent in that one seemingly minor moment. Maurer bumped the jetpack. It was the most brutal loss of the weekend. And an amazing win for Dallas and fans of Google Slides.
Wondo equalizes because of course Wondo equalizes
GOAL: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes - 97th minute
A couple of extra minutes got added to stoppage time after Gianluca Busio scored a gorgeous go-ahead goal at 90’+1’. And I think most of us knew as soon as San Jose went forward with the ball and didn’t hear a whistle late into 90’+6’ that something amazing was on the way at 90’+7’. Then Wondo equalized. Because of course Wondo equalized.
I’m not sure we’ve ever seen an ending that encapsulates the ending of a team like the Viking funeral San Jose got yesterday. They went out because they were probably always going out, but they went toe-to-toe with the conference’s top seed, gave up a bunch of goals, scored a bunch of goals, and then found the greatest goal scorer in MLS history for an absurd equalizer at the last possible moment. They delivered a dissertation on Matias Almeyda’s Quakes. If that happens to be the last time we see that particular group together, I’m just glad they went out like they would have wanted.
Tim Melia goes full Inception
FULL PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Sporting Kansas City vs San Jose Earthquakes in Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs<!--SEPARATOR-->FULL PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Sporting Kansas City vs San Jose Earthquakes in Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs
11/21/2020 - The Earthquakes’ team hotel in Kansas City
Oswaldo Alanis hears a knock on his door. It’s a tall man with a thick mustache and glasses.
“Can I help you?” Alanis asked.
“Yes, I’m a bit lost,” the man replied. “Can you tell me how to get to the elevator?”
“Shouldn’t you oughta know?” Alanis said.
“Sorry. My wires are a bit crossed today. Muscle confusion and all that.”
“Yeah, got ya, it’s down there to the right,” Alanis said.
“To the right.”
“Oh ok, right, right?”
“And one more time.”
“THE RIGHT,” Alanis screamed.
“Got ya. Thanks!”
The door closed. Tim Melia began laughing as he headed down the hallway and removed his disguise. But before he made it to the elevator though, he left a gift for Jackson Yueill and Cristian Espinoza. A video game. He knocked on the door. And as the elevator door closed he heard their conversation.
“Hey, someone left us a NASCAR game.”
“NASCAR? All they do is go left.”
Gustavo Bou beats the buzzer
WATCH: Gustavo Bou's 95th minute golazo!
The idea of a buzzer-beater feels very American. It’s a Hollywood thing. The football team gets into the end zone with no time left on the clock, the basketball falls into the hoop as the clock hits zero, or a golden retriever slides into home plate to score the winning run in a totally legal baseball game that doesn’t endanger animals at all apparently. But we rarely get that moment in soccer. The late goal is usually followed by a little bit of play and maybe even one more chance for the opposing team.
But Gustavo Bou gave us about as close to a buzzer-beater as we could possibly get. And from distance. It’s not only an incredible moment, but it’s a tone-setter for the rest of the weekend. Gustavo Bou scored a goal from deep so Rodrigo Schlegel could save a goal from just yards away.
Amazingly, Bou probably didn’t even have the best goal of the weekend. The most important sure, but the best goal goes to Randall Leal.
WATCH: Randall Leal's banger is Nashville SC's first playoff goal<!--SEPARATOR-->WATCH: Randall Leal's banger is Nashville SC's first playoff goal
Rodrigo Schlegel becomes everything we want to be
FULL PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Orlando City vs New York City FC in Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs
Everyone has been watching a game and daydreamed for a moment or so about how if they got called from the stands down onto the field, they could make a name for themselves. Rodrigo Schlegel basically got that chance. And somehow he succeeded. Now he’s forever a legendary name in MLS. And he’s sold more goalkeeper jerseys than any of his regular shirt.
That’s just one of the reasons that, for all the absurdity of that shootout in Orlando, I think the people who have criticized how the shootout played out are misguided. And by misguided I mean totally wrong. I genuinely think everything about the situation ruled. Honestly, it could not have been more fun. And if you’re more worried about the refs than the entertainment value, I’d say first and foremost, for all the confusion, they got every call right. And then I’d add that 'perfect' is boring. It’s like going to watch an action movie everyone else loves and complaining loudly it wasn’t "The Godfather" as everyone in your group tries to figure out how to ditch you.
Anyway, how often do you get to see a singular moment turn someone into a cult hero? Keep in mind up until the point he saved that shot, Schlegel’s biggest contribution to the game was a botched throw-in. Schlegel awkwardly dove into our hearts and we’re better for it.
On the whole, we’re better for that entire weekend. Even if we are a bit dizzy still. Pretty much every conceivable ridiculousness happened. And it felt wonderfully, entirely distracting.