Back on April 14, when the season was still very young, David Villa did the damn thing. He got onto a chipped clearance at midfield, out-muscled rookie defender Jack Elliott, and with his second touch chipped Philadelphia 'keeper Andre Blake from 50 yards. People went berserk.
It was a great and audacious goal (and arguably more audacious is that Villa then went on a run of games in which he seemed determined to replicate the feat – look at his shot chart in late April and early May, it was like he had a "double or nothing" bet with himself that he could score from 60. I love David Villa), and I'm pretty sure it's going to win Goal of the Year. The only other one in the running seems to be Ike Opara's bicycle kick, another great and audacious goal.
Fie on that, I say. Villa's audacity was a bit of masterful opportunism informed by his own genius understanding of the game and scouting of Blake's habits, and Opara's was his outstanding athleticism and instincts on full display.
But goals like that are rarely/never my favorites. Each was an incredible finish; I want an incredible goal, in which team creativity or individual dribbling brilliance is so complete and overwhelming that the final strike is just the icing on top of a delicious jogo bonito cake.
So with that, here are my 11 favorite goals from the first half of the 2017 MLS season:
We're going to see more of this type of stuff from RSL in the season's second half.
There is a semi-famous test (I won't mention the name of it here) that measures certain aspects of a player's athleticism – strength, speed, agility, etc. And the possibly apocryphal the story I got from someone who teams and players through said test is that, when it came time to measure Nagbe's balance and agility, eventually the test stopped measuring him and he started measuring the test. It literally could not quantify what he was capable of, so rather than proving Nagbe's limits as an athlete, Nagbe proved the test's limits as a diagnostic tool. Think of it like Bean's intelligence test in Ender's Shadow.
So, there you go. The above goal is what that kind of balance and agility looks like on the soccer field, with a banger of a finish to boot.
This build-up was a minute long and ripped a short-handed United – they were playing with 10 men at that point – apart. It went from front to back, from side to side, and eventually up to the top of the box for that ridiculous finish by Herbers.
Movement on the ball, movement off the ball, a stunning pass and a buried finish all while refusing to let the opposing defense out of their own defensive third.
This is TFC at their best, working together to create high-percentage chances instead of settling for only pretty good looks.
San Jose, on the road at the second-best defense in the league, strung together eight passes to get out of their own end, get into a left-sided overload, and then created some beautiful magic via Hyka, Marco Ureña and Nick Lima.
The pass, the flick and the finish were all freaking quality.
This is the single best pass of the season and it literally made me squeal when I watched it happen. I love a good through ball. This was a great through-ball and an exquisite finish.
5. Six passes, 60 yards, and two posts in 10 seconds (May 7)
This is actually Villa's best goal of the year, and one that epitomizes everything about the 2017 version of NYCFC (and why I think they're the best team/highest ceiling in the league). Six lightning-quick passes, each one with a purpose, and each one creating multiple options for the guy making the pass and the one receiving it. Nobody's staying still, and everything is a misdirect until the ball ends up on the foot of the best striker in the league with daylight ahead of him.
Gorgeous, gorgeous soccer.
Long-balls, when used well, are still so great. And this sequence starts with an on-the-money diagonal long-ball from Kendall Waston to Sheanon Williams, then only gets better from there. That cross from Williams is an early, driven half-volley, Christian Bolanos's chest pass is inventive, and Techera's volley is a twisting, Street Fighter-esque (Ryu or Ken, your pick) thunderbolt.
I loved everything about this goal.
This is the Platonic Ideal of a Columbus goal: A 14-pass sequence starting with the 'keeper rolling the ball short, a series of short passes along the backline that draw the defense forward and create lanes of distribution upfield, a pair of diagonals that release the fullbacks forward, and then a pullback cross to Higuain lurking at the spot.
When Crew SC do this, there's not a prettier team in the league.
First: Dos Santos's check into space is exactly what he wasn't able to do early in the year when LA were struggling.
Second: Jelle Van Damme's distribution is underratedly brilliant – his driven pass to GDS's feet cuts five defenders out of the play.
Third: GDS's pass to the wing is early and accurate, which means Romain Alessandrini gets on the ball in a ton of space, and gets a chance to set up the Minnesota United fullback.
Fourth: Look at how Alessandrini disguises that pass. A slight hesitation, and then an inside-out chip totally flummoxes Francisco Calvo – a really, really good defender! He bites completely.
Fifth: That finish.
Possession with purpose, defined. And a top-drawer finish from one of the league's hottest attackers.