MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2013, running Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS, including Biggest Controversy, Gaffe of the Year and, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 30, the Moment of the Year.
New York Red Bulls beat writer Franco Panizo starts off the series with a look at the Game of the Year, a dramatic showdown between the Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena on July 27. We chose among all MLS regular-season and postseason games, as well as all CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup. No international games for the US, Canada or other national teams were included in the voting.
From the redemption of a traded player to a stunning hat-trick performance to late drama that would make even Tom Hanks jealous, the New York Red Bulls-Real Salt Lake meeting in the regular season had it all.
The Red Bulls edged league-leading Real Sale Lake 4-3 in their only encounter during the 2013 campaign on July 27, but the 90-plus minutes at Red Bull Arena were even more scintillating than the seven-goal score line would already indicate. There were twists and turns for both teams, highs and lows, and moments that left you trying to wrap your head around what just happened.
It all made for a chaotic but memorable game between two of MLS's marquee clubs – and MLSsoccer.com’s Game of the Year.
The game began with the Red Bulls taking an early 2-0 lead through former RSL striker Fabian Espindola and Tim Cahill, who ultimately played 85 minutes and found the back of the net despite suffering a torn PCL in the fourth minute courtesy of a studs-up challenge from Yordany Alvarez. The New York fans in attendance were rowdy and elated, knowing that they had a healthy lead against a team that had become a proven thorn in the Red Bulls' side in recent years.
Real Salt Lake found a lifeline late in the first half, however, as Alvaro Saborio converted a penalty kick to score the first of his three goals on the summer night. He then officially kick-started the match's pandemonium in the waning moments by scoring an equalizer in the 80th minute that stunned the Red Bulls, frustrated New York head coach Mike Petke and silenced the demoralized crowd.
Before the Red Bulls could even refocus, Saborio struck again. The Costa Rican international capped his impressive outing with a spectacular strike that saw him cut inside of Dax McCarty before unleashing a shot that Luis Robles could do nothing about. The goal sent RSL's players and staff into a frenzy, and just about everyone at RBA assumed the visitors had stolen three points in the Big Apple.
New York, however, refused to go down without a fight. The Red Bulls pushed on in search of an equalizer and found it in the 89th minute when Espindola converted his second penalty kick of the match.
The drama continued, with the Red Bulls continuing to attack in search of the winner they felt was rightfully theirs. They found it through McCarty, the diminutive midfielder who atoned for his earlier blunder by meeting a deep desperation cross from Brandon Barklage and nodding it past Jeff Attinella in the 94th minute to send Red Bull Arena into scenes of hysteria. New York had delivered the final blow.
The only question left: Can anything possibly top that in 2014?
No. 2 San Jose Earthquakes 3, LA Galaxy 2 - June 29
It was hard to imagine that the California Clasico at Stanford Stadium could be as intense as the same fixture the previous year, but it turned out to be just that.
Playing in front of another large crowd at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, the Earthquakes scored three second-half goals, including two in stoppage time, to knock off the defending champion Galaxy. LA took advantage of some brilliant play from Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane to jump out in front, but the shorthanded Earthquakes once again relied on their Goonie magic to pick up a late 3-2 victory that seemed impossible.
After Donovan and Keane combined to set up goals for Marcelo Sarvas and Hector Jimenez, San Jose pulled one back through an Alan Gordon header in the 68th minute but were reduced to 10 men nine minutes later when Victor Bernardez was shown a questionable second yellow card.
That still did not stop the Earthquakes. San Jose tied the game two minutes into stoppage time after Shea Salinas pounced on a ball that goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini spilled right in front of goal, and seconds later Gordon donned the hero's cap and came up with the timeliest of headers to lift the Earthquakes to victory.
No. 3 Portland Timbers 3, Sporting Kansas City 2 - April 27
The Portland Timbers made an early statement in an impressive first year under head coach Caleb Porter, leaving Sporting Park with a 3-2 triumph over Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers fell behind twice in the match courtesy of a pair of strikes from right back Chance Myers, but they responded each time and ultimately proved too much for Sporting KC. Ryan Johnson negated Myers' first-minute header with a nodded effort of his own following a Diego Valeri corner and Darlington Nagbe also found an equalizer in the first half after Myers had reclaimed the lead for Sporting.
That opened the door for Rodney Wallace's well-taken winner in the second half, giving Portland one of their many signature victories on the season.