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Pele, Messi and World Cups: New York's (and New Jersey's) 14 iconic soccer moments

The Big Apple (and the nearby Garden State) is no stranger to spectacles. New York soccer expert Michael Lewis looks at the area's best moments in the sport through the years:

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Sunday will be a big moment for soccer in the Big Apple. The New York Red Bulls and New York City FC are playing in MLS Eastern Conference semifinal matches only miles apart on each side of the Hudson River in New Jersey and New York.

That got us thinking about some of the other big moments the sport has seen in New York. Let's look back at some of the most memorable matches in metropolitan area soccer history.

14. Just in the nick of time

Long Island Riders 2, Minnesota Thunder 1 (1996)

A year before anyone celebrated an MLS goal, the Long Island Rough Riders lauded a special one by Giovanni Savarese that allowed them to capture the U.S. Interregional Soccer League crown in 1995.

Since MLS took an extra year to get its act together, the USISL was used to provide some of the best competition for American players domestically. The Rough Riders were loaded with goalkeeper Tony Meola, already a two-time World Cup veteran, Chris Armas, who became the best American defensive midfielder of his generation, Jim Rooney, who captained the Miami Fusion in 2001, captain Paul Riley, who directed the Western New York Flash to the 2016 National Women's Soccer League title, and Savarese, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars' early scoring hero.

A capacity crowd of 4,118 fans certainly got their money's worth and witnessed a rare and unique timing situation at Mitchel Athletic Park in Uniondale, N.Y. Instead of the standard 90-minute running clock, a 60-minute stop clock was utilized. Armas scored for the hosts with 44 seconds left in the opening half. The Thunder, which included future U.S. international Tony Sanneh and MLS player Manny Lagos, equalized four minutes into the second half by Amos Magee.

With the game seemingly headed for extratime, Meola punted the ball down field to midfielder Danny Mueller. Mueller passed to Savarese, eho fed Armas on the right wing. Armas pulled goalkeeper John Swallen out of the net and crossed the ball to Savarese, who scored from six yards with six seconds left.

“That is the most important goal of my life,” Savarese said at the time. “It’s a great feeling to win the championship.”

On Saturday, Savarese will try to take a step toward winning his third championship in four years across the street in Hempstead, N.Y. -- as coach of the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League semifinals against Rayo OKC.

13. An historic hat-trick

New York Power 3, Boston Breakers 1 (2001)

She might have not received as much publicity as her higher-profile teammates, yet Tiffeny Milbrett set standards for pro soccer in the Women's United Soccer Association's first season in 2001.

Not only did she earn the scoring title and MVP honors, but she also connected for the first hat-trick in U.S. women's pro soccer history in the New York Power's 3-1 victory over the Boston Breakers at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale on June 22, 2001 in front of 5,056 fans.

"I know if I get chances, I'll make some and I'll miss some; and I know the ones I miss, I'll learn from," she said.

Milbrett eventually finished her U.S. international career with 100 goals in 204 appearances.

12. Now, that's entertainment

New York Red Bulls 5, LA Galaxy 4 (2007)

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Beckham brought the fans to the usually cavernous Giants Stadium.

The magic of David Beckham brought in a record MLS crowd to Giants Stadium and the brilliance of Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore sent a good portion of the 66,237 spectators home happy. The New York Red Bulls' wild, crazy and entertaining 5-4 victory over the LA Galaxy on August 18, 2007, had a little bit of everything, from momentum switches and lead swings, to spectacular goals and late-match heroics.

Beckham lived up to his end of the bargain, setting up three goals, including two within an amazing two-minute span early on.

But then again, so did Angel and Altidore. Angel started the scoring onslaught in the fourth minute and finished it with a spectacular score from a severe angle from the right side that goalkeeper Joe Cannon could not hold onto in the 88th minute to break a 4-4 deadlock.

“All those first-time watchers enjoyed a great show,” Angel said.

Clint Mathis, who at the time became the franchise’s all-time leading goal-scorer in all competitions, agreed.

“If you’re at this level and you don’t enjoy playing in front of that many people, then what are you playing the sport for?” he said. “You have to get pumped up for a game like this. But you hope that every game is like this one.”

Added Bruce Arena, then the Red Bulls coach: "I'm happy to walk away with the three points, but I'm certainly scratching my head a little bit."

Beckham was part of the reason for the high-scoring affair and the main reason why the crowd was six times the size of the team's season average of 11,573.

"I haven't been involved in a game like that since I was 9- or 10-years-old," Beckham said, "where there were so many goals and the change of play changes so much in 90 minutes.”

11. Smashing the ceiling

USA 5, South Korea 0 (2013)

Abby Wambach didn't just break Mia Hamm's all-time international scoring record at Red Bull Arena on June 20, 2013. She smashed it.

In less than a half an hour, Wambach eclipsed Hamm's scoring record at Red Bull Arena with a hat-trick before finishing with four goals in a 5-0 victory over South Korea in an international friendly.

Wambach broke Hamm's record of 158 goals in her 207th international match. Hamm, who retired in 2004, performed in 275 matches.

"It's fantastic, a fairy-tale night," U.S. coach Tom Sermanni said. "She could not have done it any better, just fantastic. She is a great professional. She is in great shape and she was really determined tonight to go out there and break that record, and she did it in great style."

No one could have predicted that Wambach would have accomplished her amazing achievement in less than a half hour before an enthusiastic, loud and appreciative crowd of 18,961.

"I can't say how much I look up to Mia and how amazing the record she set was," Wambach said. "It was a special night. It was surreal when it was happening. I felt when I missed the breakaway [after the first goal], hey maybe it's not going to happen. But my teammates were relentless putting me in those positions."

Wambach, who retired in 2015, finished with a record 184 goals in 255 matches.

NEXT: USMNT's epic Gold Cup comeback

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