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Epic comebacks and endless penalty kicks: The 5 best MLS playoff matches

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta-Columbus in front of a playoff record crowd of 67,221 in 2017 was an instant classic. These are five other postseason MLS encounters we won’t forget.

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5. New England Revolution vs. MetroStars: 2005 Eastern Conference semifinals

The New England Revolution looked all but finished late in the second leg of the 2005 Eastern Conference Semifinals, but the MetroStars went full Metro one final time.

The MetroStars took a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the series at Gillette Stadium, then doubled their aggregate advantage when Youri Djorkaeff scored on the counter in the 58th minute. They couldn’t see out the last half hour, as the Revolution scored three times in the final 22 minutes to win the series en route to their appearance at MLS Cup. The match was the last in the history of the MetroStars, who came back the next year as the New York Red Bulls.

4. Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City: 2015 Western Conference knockout round

he double-post game wasn’t the prettiest affair, but Portland’s knockout-round win over SKC in 2015 is one of the wildest MLS matches on record. The first half didn’t have any goals, but did feature plenty of physicality, setting the table for a bonkers final 75 minutes.

Portland scored in the 57th minute and held a 1-0 lead until very late, when Kevin Ellis – who easily could’ve been sent off earlier in the match – headed home a Graham Zusi corner kick to send the match into extra time. Krisztian Nemeth scored a brilliant goal early in the first period to give SKC the lead, but Portland substitute Maxi Urruti volleyed a low cross past substitute ‘keeper Jon Kempin – inserted for the injured Tim Melia, who took a nasty shot to the head in the 84th – in the 118th minute to force penalties.

You know what happened next: After Alvas Powell missed his spot kick in the ninth round, Saad-Abdul Salaam stepped up with a chance to win it for SKC. The rookie’s effort beat Adam Kwarasey, but somehow slammed off both posts without crossing the line. Portland had new life, and won the shootout in the 11th round when Kwarasey converted his PK and saved Kempin’s attempt. Portland went on to win MLS Cup.

3. D.C. United vs. New England Revolution: 2004 Eastern Conference final

The 2004 Eastern Conference final gave us huge names, huge stakes and a classic, back-and-forth match between D.C. and New England. The Black-and-Red and Revs traded goals throughout the first 90, with D.C. taking the lead three separate times only for New England to match goal for goal, culminating with Pat Noonan’s 85th-minute equalizer. That set the stage for an epic shootout that saw Nick Rimando make three saves on Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps and, finally, Clint Dempsey to push D.C. to MLS Cup. United would go on to win the title over Kansas City.

2. San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy: 2003 Western Conference semifinals

t’s the most famous comeback in MLS playoff history, and for good reason. San Jose were trailing the LA Galaxy 4-0 with fewer than 70 minutes to play in the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal second leg at Spartan Stadium, only to mount an incredible turnaround that still defies belief 13 years later.

A young Landon Donovan helped spark San Jose, scoring the Quakes’ second goal in the 35th minute before little-used rookie Jamil Walker cut the deficit to 4-3 in the 50th. They’d have to wait an agonizing 40 minutes for their equalizer, with Chris Roner heading home a Richard Mulrooney cross at the death to send the match to extra time. Another little-known player, Brazilian forward Rodrigo Faria, completed the comeback in the 96th minute, scoring a golden goal to move the eventual MLS Cup champions to the West final.

1. Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact: 2016 Eastern Conference final

It looked like the Montreal Impact might cruise to MLS Cup after taking a 3-0 lead over archrival Toronto FC in the first leg at Olympic Stadium, but, as we’d see time and time again, no lead was safe in this series.

Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley clawed back a pair of goals in Montreal to make it 3-2 on aggregate heading into the return leg at BMO Field. That match was absolutely wild, with Montreal taking an early lead through Dominic Oduro before Armando Cooper and Jozy Altidore pulled TFC level with goals before the break.

Impact star Ignacio Piatti re-took the lead for Montreal in the 53rd, but Nick Hagglund equalized in the 68th, setting the table for Benoit Cheyrou and Tosaint Ricketts to give Toronto a 7-5 aggregate win with extra-time strikes.

The defending wasn’t exactly textbook, but the high-octane attacking play, rivalry matchup and huge amount of interest (over 97,000 people attended the two legs) make this series one of the best in MLS history.  

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