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Five highlights from MLS' two decades of July 4 soccer

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Two decades of Independence Day festivities have made MLS on July 4 weekend a league tradition. Steve Davis picks five games that stood out. 

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Longtime U.S. international Tim Howard made his Colorado Rapids debut on July 4 of 2016, so the day becomes the red letter date as one of this country’s most decorated national teamers makes his high-profile return to Major League Soccer.

That means this Independence Day already has a marker; it’s already a memorable day for 21-year-old league.

But previous July 4 dates have become memorable in MLS, too. Here’s a quick run-down of the some of the more noteworthy matches through the years, the eventful nights that have made July 4 and those post-game fireworks displays a staple of the annual soccer calendar.

1996: Testing turnstiles in L.A.

Bigger stadiums (and a greater number of clubs that are available to play in big venues) mean crowds in excess of 50,000 or 60,000 are hardly a rarity now. But back in the day …

A crowd of 62,703 helped the LA Galaxy establish July 4 as one of its’ heavyweight dates. That attendance mark stood for more than a decade and a half as one of Major League Soccer’s top single-game figures. That day, a Galaxy team that would go on to play in MLS Cup final lost to New England inside the Rose Bowl, where Major League Soccer’s original glamour team played until 2002. Then again, in a very different MLS, only eight teams did not make the MLS Cup final in 1996.

2001: Fire hammer Kansas City

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Bradley, coaching against the Fire here, had no reason to yell at his Chicago players 15 years ago. (USA TODAY Sports)

The 2001 season was memorable for its abbreviated conclusion; league officials canceled the final two weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks. But in Chicago, supporters may also recall a hell of a team in 2001. Bob Bradley presided over a bunch that included U.S. internationals Josh Wolff, Carlos Bocanegra and Eric Wynalda along with MLS long-timers Zach Thornton, C.J. Brown and Diego Gutierrez. And don’t forget Bulgarian tough guy Hristo Stoitchkov.

The former Barcelona star’s best days may have been behind him, but he still had a little something. And get this: he may have been only the second toughest man on roster; Peter Nowak also prowled with a menace. Finally, they had a fine young rookie defender in Jim Curtin, who is now managing successfully in Philadelphia.

So, when it all came together, it could be spectacular. All the evidence you needed was a 7-0 hammering Bradley’s men put on Kansas City on July 4 that year. Nowak, Stoitchkov, Wynalda, Jamar Beasley (DaMarcus Beasley’s brother) and Sergi Daniv all scored at Arrowhead Stadium, a record-setting road win for the Fire.

2003: Colorado rallies at home

Colorado is one of the teams that has successfully connected Independence Day with an annual high-impact date for the club; the Rapids got massive crowds in the early years performing inside larger grounds, and once they set up shop at DSG Park in 2007, the date became a predictable, annual sell-out. The Rapids’ success quotient extends to the match itself, too; they are 13-3-4 on July 4.

Several times the home team has rallied from deficits to record a holiday “W.” One of them was 2003 against Kansas City, when teams exchanged goals before intermission, Preki for the visitors and John Spencer for Colorado (both of them would go on to be MLS head coaches.)

The crowd of 60,000-plus saw Mark Chung score in the 77th minute, then saw home team goalkeeper Scott Garlick flap at a 91st minute cross, leaving the Rapids with a likely split of the points, level at 2-2. But wait! Mark Chung almost immediately put the Rapids back into the lead with a dramatic 92nd-minute game-winner.

2008: Beckham’s Independence Day debut

Beckham moved to MLS in 2007 but didn’t really fully arrive until 2008. The 2007 season under Frank Yallop, one where the Galaxy schedule was all sorts of wacky, back-loaded to better exploit the Beckham boondoggle, went sideways in a hurry.

In 2008, though, the Galaxy had another big July 4 sellout at the (then-named) Home Depot Center. But the New England Revolution, a frequent pre-fireworks opponent in Carson, came and went as 2-1 winners. Bonus, though: Beckham scored in his first July 4 contest for the club.

2014: Galaxy-Timbers match comes alive

All the goals came in the final 25 minutes in Carson as the Galaxy and Portland split the points in a 2-2 draw. The Timbers led late, but Landon Donovan was marching toward his league all-time assist leadership; he had one on the night officially, but also had paw prints all over an 86th minute own goal that got past Portland ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts. The Galaxy was pressing for that equalizer when a delicate chipped pass from Donovan started the telling sequence.

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Donovan supplied the fireworks inside, the team set them from the parking lot. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

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Steve Davis writes a weekly column for FourFourTwo USA. Follow him on Twitter @SteveDavis90.

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