Each year, the MLS Cup Playoffs provide moments that will be remembered beyond the season. In 2016, there was no shortage of memorable moments, and after careful consideration, here are the Top 5 memorable moments from the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
5. Valdez scores at the death vs. SKC
One of the most dramatic goals in the entire 2016 postseason came on just the second night of the playoffs, when Seattle forward Nelson Valdez – who hadn’t scored a single regular season goal – headed home a Joevin Jones cross in the 88th minute to give the Sounders a 1-0 Knockout Round win against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field.
The moment was plenty controversial, as SKC, who had a goal disallowed for offside earlier in the match, argued after the game that Valdez was offside on the play. It was the first great moment of an excellent postseason for the much-maligned Valdez, as the Designated Player recorded two goals and one assist in six postseason matches, surpassing the one goal in 31 regular season games he’d scored as a Sounder.
4. Toronto mauls NYCFC
After Toronto FC beat New York City FC 2-0 in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series, we knew that NYCFC would have to open things up in Leg 2 at Yankee Stadium. Toronto, of course, knew that too, and knew they’d have some solid opportunities on the break as New York pushed for a goal.
What we didn’t know? Just how lethal TFC would be in front of net. Led by a Sebastian Giovinco hat trick, Toronto put up a five spot on NYCFC, pouring it on in the Bronx to defeat David Villa and Co. 7-0 on aggregate.
3. Howard stands tall in shootout vs. LA
One of the biggest signings of the 2016 season, Tim Howard stood on his head to help the Colorado Rapids past the LA Galaxy in their Western Conference Semifinal series. LA won the first leg 1-0 in Southern California, but a brilliant Shkelzen Gashi goal in the return leg in Colorado pushed the series into a shootout. Howard came up huge in penalties, saving two spot kicks to power the Rapids to a 3-1 win in the shootout at a jubilant Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
2. The entire Eastern Conference Championship
The tantalizing all-Canadian matchup between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Championship series more than lived up to the hype, with the two rivals trading haymakers in front of a couple of record crowds to determine who would move to MLS Cup.
Montreal got off to the fast start, scoring three times in the first half of Leg 1 to race out to a 3-0 lead in front of a crowd of over 61,000 at Olympic Stadium. Montreal could’ve put the series out of reach if they’d kept Toronto off the board, but TFC clawed back, scratching out two second half goals to reduce the deficit to 3-2 for the return leg at BMO Field.
Much like Leg 1, Leg 2 was an instant classic. Played in inclement weather in front of a BMO Field record crowd of 36,000 fans, it featured extra time, seven goals and the biggest win in TFC history. Montreal actually got out on the front foot, with Dominic Oduro scoring in the 24th to give the Impact a 4-2 aggregate lead. Toronto hit back with two goals before the half, but Ignacio Piatti pulled Montreal back ahead 5-4 on aggregate with a strike in the 53rd minute. TFC got a goal from an unlikely source to push the match into extra time, with Nick Hagglund heading home a set play to level things at 5-5 in the 68th.
Things looked dire for Toronto after Giovinco went out injured in the 97th, but his replacement Benoit Cheyrou delivered in huge fashion, scoring with his second touch of the game to give Toronto the series lead. Tosaint Ricketts sealed it up with another goal two minutes later, sending the 6 into hysterics and taking TFC to MLS Cup.
1. The Save
Toronto were the better team, but the Seattle Sounders are MLS Cup champions. That’s primarily thanks to goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who made the save of his life – and perhaps the best save in MLS Cup history – when in the second period of extra time. With the match tied at 0-0 and Seattle essentially playing for a shootout, Frei somehow got a hand to Jozy Altidore’s looping header to keep things knotted up. That set the table for the Sounders’ win in the penalty kick shootout, which saw Frei make one save as the Sounders claimed the first MLS Cup in club history.