As the Best of 2012 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 12 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 19 until Dec. 30, when we unveil what our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2012.
But what about the ones that missed the countdown? In the end, 28 stories received at least one vote to make the top 12. Senior editor Nick Firchau takes a look at the three stories that just missed out before the countdown begins in earnest on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
15. Two players suspended for homophobic slurs
Colin Clark and Marc Burch were workaday league veterans before the 2012 season. Clark was plugging away in his third season in the midfield for the Houston Dynamo and seventh in the league overall, and Burch was establishing himself as a reliable outside back for the Seattle Sounders after coming over from D.C. United via the Re-Entry Draft in January.
But two instances set the two players apart from all others in 2012. They unwittingly became the faces for Major League Soccer’s intensified stance against offensive language, and both players served humbling three-game suspensions courtesy of league Commissioner Don Garber.
Clark’s moment came first, when he was overheard yelling a homophobic slur at a ball boy when the Dynamo took on the Sounders on March 23 at CenturyLink Field. He apologized for the incident via Twitter once it became very, very public that he’d been sniffed out via the on-field mics, but the damage was done.
Burch followed with his own slip-up much later in the season, when television cameras caught him uttering a similar slur in the direction of former Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson during the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals. This was one more damning – the three-game suspension that followed shelved Burch for the conference championship against LA, and the Galaxy shredded the Sounders defense for three goals in the series opener. Burch will also miss the season opener in 2013.
14. Sporting Kansas City win US Open Cup
Was there a better scenario for fans of the nation’s oldest soccer tournament than to see Sporting KC and the Seattle Sounders duke it out in the final? OK, so the game itself wasn’t amazing – sour weather, sloppy play and one of the year’s most controversial calls – but the sold out crowd at Livestrong Sporting Park seized the moment and so did SKC, who won their first crown of any kind since the 2004 USOC.
The two moments worth remembering? Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was whistled by head ref Ricardo Salazar for leaving his line early while making a save on Paolo Nagamura, and the SKC midfielder promptly buried his second chance. Reborn Sounders striker Eddie Johnson then rocketed his attempt over the bar, and Livestrong erupted.
Not only did Seattle’s three-year reign in the Open Cup end in that moment, but Livestrong also got its due as one of the premier venues for hosting big-time events.
13. MLS eyes expansion in New York in 2016
One of the biggest storylines in MLS every year is the tantalizing idea of expansion. It’s debated in boardrooms, town hall meetings, on online message boards and almost certainly in the comments on this very article, but there was some clarity this year in the form of one three-character moniker: NY2.
MLS went public with its 2016 expansion plans in October, insisting that next on the league’s to-do list is to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens and, for the first time in the league’s history, bring a team to the five boroughs.
“In the back of our minds, we knew the perfect place would be Queens,” Garber told a town hall meeting there in December. “We needed to go to a place where there was a passion for soccer. There’s no question that that exists here.”
The decision was not without controversy, as a number of other locales throughout the States felt their own plans warranted greater consideration. This was especially the case in Orlando, where USL Pro side Orlando City had another banner year both on and off the field. Fans from Minnesota, Atlanta and Raleigh also voiced their displeasure.
But the league office has been clear: NY2 is the target, because a successful team in New York City proper would be a game-changer. Even if that change is four years away.