Heroes to zeroes: The 7 worst year-to-year collapses in MLS history
7. New York Red Bulls, 2009
The Red Bulls were the surprise side of the 2008 playoffs after falling to fifth in the East with a 1-4-1 finish to the regular season. They got into the knockout phase with a better record than Colorado, the West's No. 4 team, and were placed into the Western bracket. They promptly dismissed two-time defending champion Houston before edging Real Salt Lake, a .500 team, in the conference final. Columbus would complete its Shield/Cup double with a 3-1 MLS Cup victory in L.A. This was the final season for Claudio Reyna, who retired in July with a back injury, and 19-year-old Jozy Altidore left in midseason for Villarreal.
Things went wholly wrong the following year, after the departures of several veterans, including Mike Magee, Jeff Parke and Dave van den Bergh. New York was 2-16-4 when Juan Carlos Osorio was dismissed as coach in August and finished 5-19-6, last in the league by nine points. Only 27 goals were scored, a dozen by Juan Pablo Angel.
6. Miami Fusion, 2002
The Ray Hudson-coached Fusion enjoyed a terrific fourth season, winning the Supporters' Shield and finishing 11 points ahead in the Eastern Division behind MVP/Golden Boot winner Alex Pineda Chacon, Diego Serna, captain Jim Rooney, and a supporting cast that featured Preki, Nick Rimando, Carlos Llamosa, Chris Henderson, Pablo Mastroeni, Kyle Beckerman and Tyrone Marshall. The team scored 57 goals in 26 games and was kept from MLS Cup by Troy Dayak's extra-time goal in the third game of the semifinal series with San Jose, which would win the title.
There’s no telling what Miami might have achieved in 2002. Its collapse was more profound than any other here: Financial problems, within the club and in the league, led MLS to contract back to eight clubs following the 2001 season, with the Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny folding. The Earthquakes had a similar outcome after romping to the 2005 Supporters' Shield; the club moved to Houston after that season, officially starting anew, and won the next two MLS Cups.
5. Los Angeles Galaxy, 2006
The campaign started nicely and then took a swift downward turn under Steve Sampson, who had controversially replaced Sigi Schmid the year before. Then Landon Donovan put on his cape and carried the team past Shield winners San Jose (scoring twice in the 3-1 home-leg victory) and Colorado, getting both goals in the conference final, and Pando Ramirez's extra-time strike beat New England in the final. The Galaxy won the U.S. Open Cup crown, too.
The playoff form turned out to be an anomaly. LA started 2006 horribly and was 2-8-1 when Sampson was replaced by Frank Yallop in early June. Within weeks, the Galaxy was off on a 7-2-3 run but was never able to climb above fifth place, which is where it finished, two points out of a playoff spot. It was the first time the club had missed MLS' postseason, and it would come up short again (with David Beckham on hand) in 2007 and 2008. Then Bruce Arena arrived, and we all know what happened then.
4. Portland Timbers, 2016
The 2015 Timbers followed the hot-team-at-the-finish recipe to perfection, winning four of their last five regular-season games en route to an unforeseen MLS Cup triumph.
A late-season tactical switch, with Darlington Nagbe moving centrally, aligned everything for Portland, which beat Sporting Kansas City on penalties in the knockout round. Portland then shut out Vancouver twice and used a 3-1 home victory over top-seeded FC Dallas to reach the title game in Columbus. Two goals in the first seven minutes, and the Timbers had their championship.
That 2-1 victory was the last road game Portland would win until this year. Caleb Porter's side went 0-11-6 on the road in 2016 and missed the playoffs by two points after a 4-1 debacle in Vancouver in the finale. The loss to the Whitecaps also cost them their grip on the Cascadia Cup, and they were eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League just days before.