First off, please note some key ground rules: We’ve considered all tournaments and competitions, at home and abroad, in which MLS clubs competed during the 2018 calendar year. And to keep things a bit simpler, we’ve limited our deliberations to moments that occurred on the pitch.
Alas, this eliminates incredible stories like LAFC’s bold and stylish introduction to the City of Angels, FC Cincinnati’s warp-speed rocket ride into the league and the grassroots gumption of the #SaveTheCrew movement to help keep their team in Columbus. But it also helps keep the focus where it generally belongs – on the players who delight us with their gifts.
Honorable mention nods are due to several scintillating occasions: The final goal of MLS and US national team legend Clint Dempsey's career, Zack Steffen’s Knockout Round PK shootout heroics at Audi Field vs. D.C. United’s sizzling LuchoRoo, Houston’s Orange-crushing U.S. Open Cup final defeat of the luckless Philly Union and FC Dallas’ ridiculous 3-2 comeback win over Atlanta United at a packed Toyota Stadium on US Independence Day.
10) July 4, TCF Bank Stadium: Darwin’s divinely devastating hatful of chips
Look, I know I’m inviting a heated debate over the definition of “chip” here, because many will consider the first of Darwin Quintero’s superb trio of goals in a wild 4-3 win over Toronto FC too heavily-hit to carry the term.
But let’s not lose the forest for the trees here. Minnesota United’s brightest star truly announced his arrival this day, notifying both local and international audiences that he was appointment viewing, and hinting at TFC’s dizzying fall from grace. All hat tricks are special; it’s rare for even the greats to string together three finishes of THIS quality.
9) July 28, BC Place: All hail Fonzie the great
In a disappointing year for the Vancouver Whitecaps, Alphonso Davies was not so much a bright spot as a blinding pyrotechnic flare, sparked into life and sent aloft to seize the awestruck attention of the world. And this game – besides being a rollicking good time in and of itself – was the teenager’s definitive performance.
Buoyed by the completion of an MLS-record transfer deal with Bayern Munich earlier in the week, the ‘Caps Homegrown repeatedly torched the Loons, notching two goals and two assists in a 4-2 home win. As TSN play-by-play announcer Peter Schaad put it after Davies’ first strike: “ausgezeichnet!” (excellent!)
8) Nov. 9, CenturyLink Field: The mother of all Cascadia Cup clashes
Golazos, howlers, VAR-disallowed winners, PK-shootout drama and even a case of format-confusion-precipitated premature celebrations at the end of 120 minutes – this Portland-Seattle postseason street fight had it all, and I’m not the first to struggle for a pithy summation. Just watch:
7) Aug. 24, Orlando City Stadium: Josef breaks the record
For most of the year Atlanta’s dazzlingly prolific Josef Martinez was the leading striker on the league’s leading team, rendering his conquest of the single-season scoring mark a question of “when,” not “if.”
The occasion pulsated just the same, as the driven Venezuelan surely derived some extra enjoyment from the fact that the milestone eventually turned out to be a cold-bloodedly cruel game-winner at Orlando, would-be regional rivals the Five Stripes have viciously tormented since arriving in the league in 2017.
That lingering stare down at Joe Bendik? Blood-curdling!
6) Nov. 29, CM Park: Blanco blasts a worldie in KC
We’re all very familiar with defenders’ dejected reactions when they’re caught on film after conceding great goals. The best part of Sebastian Blanco’s long-range howitzer in the 52nd minute of the Timbers’ 3-2 Leg 2 upset of Sporting KC in the Western Conference Championship, however, is that it was stunning enough to leave even his teammate and countryman Diego Valeri looking aghast as it slammed into Tim Melia’s net:
It would turn out to be the jaw-dropping gateway to an impressive upset.
5) Apr. 25, Estadio Akron, Guadalajara: TFC spot the promised land… then expire
How quickly we forget. In 2017 TFC did things no other MLS team ever has, and then climbed closer to the Concacaf Champions League trophy than any other MLS team ever did.
After grinding out series wins over Colorado, Tigres and Club América, the Reds disastrously lost at home in Leg 1 against Chivas Guadalajara before a brutal injury crisis forced them to play Michael Bradley and Gregory van der Wiel as a center-back pair in this high-altitude decider.
Against all odds they conjured up a 2-1 road win, only to crumble in the shootout as Liga MX’s mastery of this tournament stubbornly persisted.
4) Aug 12, Audi Field: Wazza, WilJo and The Tackle
This one resonated around the world, fueled by the individual commitment and class of one Wayne Mark Rooney.
How influential was Wazza’s brilliance? It:
- gained a euphoric last-gasp victory that inspired a late-season sprint from the Eastern Conference basement into the postseason reckoning
- birthed the legend of “LuchoRoo,” the dynamic Rooney-Lucho Acosta superduo and MLS Best XI combo
- rekindled the love affair between D.C. United and their fans at their cozy new Audi Field home. Not bad!
3) Oct. 28, BMO Field & StubHub Center: Atlanta, Galaxy crater on Decision Day
Sometimes inspiration comes not from winning things yourself, but stubbornly, cussedly ruining it for the other guys. And the drama spikes when 11 games unfold simultaneously on the final day of the regular season – particularly in Toronto, where TFC defiantly routed Atlanta...
… which, combined with the New York Red Bulls holding serve at home vs. Orlando, denied the Five Stripes the Supporters’ Shield and delivered it to RBNY. Meanwhile, out in Carson, all the LA Galaxy needed to reach the playoffs was a home win against the long-since-eliminated Dynamo, but, well…
You just don’t see epic meltdowns like that very often.
2) Nov. 25, Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Tito sinks RBNY’s third coffin nail
As strange as it may sound to pick the first leg of a Conference Championship series ahead of a rousing MLS Cup win, I reckon Hector “Tito” Villalba’s daisy-cutter from distance was THE key play in Atlanta’s march to the league title:
Why? This was the backbreaker in the slugfest between the top two teams in the regular season, padding ATLUTD’s aggregate advantage beyond the Red Bulls’ ability to mount a Leg 2 rally. Supersub Villalba had just hit the post on amazing solo run in the 90th minute, and kept at it with this 95th-minute left-footer to make it 3-0 in front of a fervent MBS crowd that literally left the players’ ears ringing.
1) Mar. 31, StubHub Center: El Trafico I gets Zlataned
What more can be said about the improbably Hollywood first meeting between the Galaxy and crosstown newcomers LAFC? Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his Galaxy debut two days after his flight landed, coming off the bench to net two show-stopping strikes that turned a 3-1 deficit into a delirious 4-3 victory on national TV:
Looking back, we can safely say that this was the big Swede’s “I’m the captain now” moment in LA, and the made-for-TV ending of the year.