American sports culture holds a special place for players that can raise their game when pressure-packed, playoff-deciding moments arrive.
Each US-based sports league has its own pantheon of postseason lore, and MLS is no exception. But cutting this headline group down to 10 was a mighty chore, so perhaps consider this more a representative list of noteworthy playoff aces than a strict ranking of the best. After all, celebrating playoff memories is about the stories – and the players saluted below have plenty of good ones to tell.
As tradition dictates, we'll lead into the list by saluting the near-miss honorable mentions: Will Bruin, Dwayne De Rosario, Omar Gonzalez, Roy Lassiter, Preki, Nick Rimando, Taylor Twellman and Diego Valeri.
The US men’s national team striker has truly lifted his playoff game since joining Toronto FC. Altidore was omnipresent as the Reds rolled to MLS Cup in 2016, efficiently putting up five goals and three assist in six games. The following year, he bagged the winner that took them back to MLS Cup, and then their treble-clinching goal to finally win it at BMO on the second chance. The club's third title match in four years might have ended differently had Altidore been fit for more than 22 minutes (a brevity that didn't keep him from scoring, it bears noting).
To paraphrase Vizzini from “Princess Bridge,” there are two classic blunders. The most famous is to never get involved in a land war in Asia. The slightly less well-known one is to never go in against this Colombian when your season is on the line. During the regular season, Asprilla is a serviceable depth guy that contributes just .30 goals and assists per 90 minutes. In the postseason, the winger becomes positively iconic, notching .92 goals and assists per 90. And it's not just garbage-time impact, either. Asprilla has conjured some magic moments for Portland, and has converted attempts in two winning penalty shootouts.
What else can be said? A league-record 25 playoff goals, 15 assists, six-time MLS Cup champion and two-time MLS Cup MVP. Five goals in title games, including two crown clinchers. Donovan bagged eight playoff winners in all, and he made good on all six of his postseason penalty kicks. We could go on, but you get the idea.
The Bolivian playmaker was the true architect of all that D.C. United built during their early trophy-hogging years. Textbook restart serves from Etcheverry played a big part in all three rally goals in the first MLS Cup, culminating with Eddie Pope's extra-time winner. He also dished out several dimes en route to the club's third championship in 1999.
Everybody knows "The Save" from Seattle's MLS Cup road win in 2016, but Frei's playoff CV runs a lot deeper than that. Since joining the Sounders six years ago, he's allowed less than a goal per game in 23 postseason contests. From November 2016 to December 2017, he posted 624 consecutive shutout minutes, and emerged victorious from a famous MLS Cup shootout that "The Save" made possible.
The Irishman did plenty of playoff tumbling in a Galaxy shirt. As an integral part of three MLS Cup-winning sides, Keane chalked up nine goals and six helpers. He set up a late title winner in 2011 and scored one of his own in extra time during the 2014 championship game to down the New England Revolution. Renowned internationally, Keane proved every bit deserving of LA’s captain’s armband.
The Seattle midfield general is now playing his fifth MLS campaign. Through the first four, Lodeiro & co. have won 10 of 12 playoff rounds en route to three MLS Cups and two titles. Not only has Lodeiro led the Rave Green charge, but he's also provided plenty of timely offense. He scored four goals during their 2016 crown, and then scored twice and dished out four helpers during last year's title journey.
Defenders can often get overlooked in these sorts of nostalgic ruminations, but not this time. Marshall started 30 times in the playoffs for Columbus and Seattle. Opposing teams managed to score multiple goals in just six of those games. And lest we forget, he also netted the MLS Cup winner in 2008.
The former D.C. United star’s well-rounded striker play helped form the original MLS dynasty. Moreno pitched in 12 goals and 10 assists as the Black-and-Red celebrated four titles in the league's first nine seasons. He scored in two MLS Cups, striking the winner for D.C. in 1999.
The little fish that could, Ruiz found the net 16 times in 19 playoff contests. His 2002 stampede through MLS featured eight tallies in six playoff games, including the golden goal that secured the Galaxy's first MLS Cup triumph. The Guatemala legend never equalled that monster run again, but did score in six straight postseasons.