As we come to the close of a week spent saluting MLS postseason history, it only seems fitting to cap this brand of sentimentality by rehashing the most electrifying, magnificent finishes to playoff games or ties we've seen so far.
If you needed any proof that steel is forged by the fire, do note that six of the victors from our top 10 thrillers (plus another half dozen from the close-but-not-quite group) survived these white knuckle episodes on their way to the league title.
Before we get to the most spine-tingling thrills of all, let's give it up for that memorable horde of honorable mentions (all times tagged with an asterisk both here and in the list below won on penalties): Colorado* over Columbus (2010), Colorado* over FC Dallas (2005), Columbus over Montreal (2015), D.C. United over MetroStars (1996), D.C. United* over New England (2004), LA Galaxy over New England (2005 MLS Cup), LA Galaxy over New England (MLS Cup 2014), Portland over Sporting KC (2018) and Sporting KC over Real Salt Lake (2013 MLS Cup).
D.C. United 3, LA Galaxy 2 (1996 MLS Cup)
The inaugural MLS Cup also gave us the first high drama finish in playoff history. In weather better suited for a perfect storm at sea, the Galaxy quickly took the lead on an Edwin Hurtado header. They struck again 11 minutes after intermission when Chris Armas busted loose for a rare solo golazo. The Black-and-Red finally came alive in the 73rd minute with a Tony Sanneh restart header, and Shawn Medved poked home the rebound of another Marco Etcheverry free kick to knot the game with nine minutes to play. They didn't wait long into extra time to find the golden goal, as Eddie Pope bagged the title winner from another Etcheverry dead ball delivery.
Dallas Burn 3, Chicago Fire 2 (1999)
The Fire were defending champs heading into the best-of-three conference semis against Dallas, who'd finished three points above them in the regular season. The Burn took Game One at home, but then suffered a comprehensive 4-0 whooping in Chicago. Things looked even bleaker for Dallas when Ante Razov and Jesse Marsch each hit in the opening five minutes of the decider. It took a while, but Chad Deering eventually got the Burn on the board in the 55th minute. Just when it looked like the hosts would fail to take the rally any further, Chicago gave Jorge Rodriguez an 84th minute chance to equalize from the spot and he made no mistake. Barely two minutes later, Ariel Graziani finished off a Dallas move to finish off the champs.
San Jose Earthquakes 5, LA Galaxy 2 (2003)
Ordinarily, we could point to San Jose's double second half claw-back to set up Landon Donovan's 117th minute winner against Conference Championship foe Kansas City and be done with it. But as thrilling as that finish was, it still pales in comparison to what happened a round earlier. The Galaxy won 2-0 in the home leg, and then opened the Spartan Stadium return with a fast pair of goals inside 13 minutes. The Quakes looked headed straight for the out door, but as you may have heard before, Goonies never say die. Jeff Agoos, Donovan and Jamil Walker answered back to pull the Quakes within one on aggregate by the 50th minute. As it does, time ran down, and it appeared as though the Galaxy would escape with the win. However, Chris Roner rose high to bury the only headed goal of his MLS career in the 90th minute to send the game to extras. Six minutes into overtime, Rodrigo Faria slotted home to complete a stunning, and quite necessary, reversal of fortune for eventual champions San Jose.
New England Revolution 3, New York MetroStars 2 (2005)
It was a very fine year for playoff thrillers, and a very fine year for the Revs. Though they finished 12 points above the Big Apple bunch in the table, that fine year nearly got cut short. After the MetroStars had booked a 1-0 victory in the Giants Stadium leg, Youri Djorkaeff got loose on the break to put them up two on aggregate in the 59th minute of the decider. Time seemed to not be on the Revs' side, but it turned out they had more than enough to fashion a rally. Jose Cancela got it started with 22 minutes to play and Pat Noonan nodded home a corner kick moments later to even matters. With seven minutes remaining, Khano Smith raced down the left, fought off a shoulder bump and fired home to fully flip the tie.
Colorado Rapids* 3, FC Dallas 2 (2006)
The aughts were a rather middling decade for the Rapids, but they definitely stood out one October night in Dallas. The Texans opened the tie with a rude 2-1 win in Denver, but courted trouble when Chris Gbandi was sent off near the half hour mark of their home leg. Despite being shorthanded, FC Dallas doubled their aggregate lead in the 48th minute through Carlos Ruiz. Niko Hernandez then replied with a brace, with his second goal pulling Colorado level with seven minutes to play. Clarence Goodson put the 10-man hosts back in front with a free kick header two minutes into extras, only to have Clint Mathis bring the Rapids back from the dead again with six minutes to go. Colorado made five of their six tries, edging out Dallas on Pablo Mastroeni's clincher.
Houston Dynamo* 1, New England Revolution 1 (2006 MLS Cup)
The Revs lived by the late sword in 2005, but would eventually die by it in MLS Cup the following year. Each side had a few chances during a hard-fought regulation time, but Dynamo backstop Pat Onstad and New England counterpart Matt Reis were up to each task. The scoreless deadlock was finally broken by Taylor Twellman in the 113th minute, and it seemed as though the Revs might finally get their hands on the championship trophy. That dream cruelly died mere seconds later when Brian Ching nodded the leveler. The US striker soon added the winning penalty conversion to give Houston its first pro champ since the '95 Rockets ruled the NBA.
Portland Timbers* 2, Sporting KC 2 (2015)
Yes, it's the famous "Double post game" again, but this Knockout Round affair was so much more than that. Portland were three minutes and change from punching their first MLS Cup ticket when Sporting defender Kevin Ellis surged forward to nod a gut punch equalizer. Krisztian Nemeth then scored early in extra time to put the visitors ahead, but they'd soon feel a a similar belly sting. With two minutes left in overtime, Maxi Urruti fired home to take the game to penalties. The Timbers fell behind no less than four times and twice were one KC conversion from defeat. But they just kept leaping out of the grave, the last time thanks to Saad Abdul-Salaam's aforementioned geometric oddity. A couple rounds later, Timbers netminder Adam Kwarasey took care of both sorts of shootout business to give the home side a 7-6 triumph.
FC Dallas 2, Seattle Sounders 1 (2015)
The Frisco crew had comfortably topped the West in the regular season, but were made to feel quite uneasy by Seattle in the Conference Semifinals. The Sounders conjured some late magic in the CenturyLink leg, with Clint Dempsey's 86th minute free kick stunner earning them a 2-1 rally win. The second leg was tense, but remained scoreless until Tesho Akindele gave FC Dallas an away goals advantage in the 84th minute. They were on the edge of victory when Chad Marshall put Seattle back in front with a last-gasp corner kick header. The Sounders soon felt a similar deflation when Walker Zimmerman glanced home near the end of stoppage time to send the tie to penalties. From there, FC Dallas made all four of their attempts to come out on top.
Toronto FC 5, Montreal Impact 2 (2016)
We probably don't even need to recount how this second leg unfolded for anyone living in either of these cities, and not because this happened less than four years ago. With the bragging rights of being the first Canadian team to reach an MLS Cup on the line, these two teams took everyone for a ride that will live long in the memory. The Impact jumped out to a three-goal lead in the home opener, but Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley grabbed Toronto FC a late pair of goals to set up the return. Montreal struck first at BMO field to stretch the lead, but Armando Cooper and Altidore each hit shortly before the break to give the Reds their first aggregate edge. The Impact were unbowed, as Nacho Piatti struck early in the second half to regain the lead. Nick Hagglund rammed home a header midway through the frame to level the tie. In extras, veteran sub Benoit Cheyrou nodded home in the 98th minute to put Toronto FC up to stay and Tosaint Ricketts made sure of that about a minute later.
Seattle Sounders 3, Portland Timbers* 2 (2018)
Variety is the spice of life, and that goes double for stories. In this young nostalgia tale, things did not actually turn out well for the team that pulled off the amazing double-rally. In the Providence Park opener, Portland fought back from an early deficit to win 2-1, setting us all up for a wild, winding ride of a deciding leg. Raul Ruidiaz hit on 68 minutes to give Seattle back the tie lead, but Sebastian Blanco returned fire 10 minutes later and the Timbers were ahead again. In the third minute of stoppage time, Ruidiaz accounted for Seattle's first heart-stopping rescue with a wicked volley. The second came in extras, with a Nico Lodeiro spot kick cancelling Dairon Asprilla's 93rd minute strike to take the tie to a shootout. Just when it looked like fate was only smiling on Seattle, Portland rolled to a 4-2 spot kicks victory in their arch rivals' home.
Seattle Sounders 4, FC Dallas 3 (2019)
The revenge in this one must have been tasty, because the Sounders definitely served it cold. Four years after suffering a wild, unceremonious ouster against FC Dallas, Seattle got them back in a first round one-off. Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris put the Sounders up two early, but the visitors had the score knotted by the 64th minute. Seattle reclaimed the lead through Morris with 16 minutes to play, and would have doubled it shortly thereafter if not for a huge Jesse Gonzalez save backed by a breathtaking Ryan Hollingshead line clearance. Instead, FC Dallas leveled again from a Bryan Acosta corner kick header with eight minutes left in regulation. They could have easily won it extra time, but Stefan Frei came up with two huge saves on Brandon Servania to keep the game tied. Finally, seven minutes from spot kicks, Morris completed his hat trick to dispose of FC Dallas and start Seattle on their way to the crown.