Super saves, teammate spats and blowouts: Top 10 MLS moments in 2016
MLS' 2016 campaign started with a disappointing sweep, with all four clubs toppled by Mexican powers as the start of the CONCACAF Champions League's knockout stage. It ended with the greatest save American soccer has witnessed, putting aside, of course, Kasey Keller's heroics against Brazil and Tony Meola's against England.
It was a most memorable season, capped by an MLS Cup that failed to come close to living up to its hype but provided the league an iconic moment that will live on forever. You'll find it atop our list of the year's 10 most indelible moments:
10. 'WORST' LAMPARD SHOWS HIS WORTH
New York City FC, June 18-Sept 10
There was a ton of talk about how English icon Frank Lampard was the worst signing in MLS history, and there was enough evidence -- from the Manchester City shenanigans and his indifferent play once he arrived to the calf ailment that kept him off the field this year until the end of May -- to, at the very least, include him in that conversation.
Once he was healthy and fit, there was no stopping Lampard. He scored in his first start, a win over Philadelphia in the return from the Copa America Centenario recess; had a goal or assist in the next five games, four of them victories; and followed that with a hat trick in a 5-1 rout of Colorado.
He put away a dozen goals and assisted a 13th over 15 starts, invigorating what was already a pretty dynamic attack as NYCFC went 8-4-3 to challenge for the Eastern title. Then, after missing three games with another calf injury, he came off the bench to assist two goals in the season-ending win over Columbus.
9. 16 IN A ROW
New York Red Bulls, July 10-Oct. 23
The New York Red Bulls’ only defeat in six meetings with archrival NYCFC cam on July 3. After that, they stood fourth in the East and 11th overall with a 7-9-2 record, seven points off NYCFC’s pace and 14 behind Supporters’ Shield leader FC Dallas.
The Red Bulls didn't lose again in the regular season, building a 16-game league unbeaten streak -- 21 matches in all -- to march to the Eastern Conference title. And they should have won the Shield, too, but five times they let a two-goal lead disappear late, costing them 10 points.
New York went 9-0-7 in MLS play, averaging 2.06 goals per game, won its group in the CONCACAF Champions League with a 2-0-2 mark, and started the streak with a 2-0 triumph in a friendly with Club America. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored 16 goals in the final 13 MLS games of that stretch to win the Golden Boot with 24, and Sacha Kljestan contributed 20 assists to become the first MLS player to reach 20 under the post-2002 rules.
8. ORLANDO UNITES
San Jose Earthquakes at Orlando City SC, June 18
For once, the result was secondary. Orlando City's moving tribute to the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre was much bigger than the game itself, serving to unite a city in mourning and honor its devastated community.
It made for a memorable evening at Camping World Stadium, where the rainbow theme held sway, most notably with rainbow flags at the corners and a section of the stands closed off, with balloons in a rainbow pattern marking 49 seats. The emotional climax arrived in the 49th minute, when -- an MLS first -- action was halted for a moment of silence.
It was a beautiful display, and the club continues to honor the victims, unveiling for next season a section of seats -- eight across four rows -- in a rainbow-colored pattern.
7. LANDON'S BACK
LA Galaxy, Sept. 11-Nov. 6
When Donovan retired at 32 following the Galaxy's MLS Cup triumph in 2014, most considered him the finest American field player the game has seen, and many were stunned to see him walking away with so much still to give.
He came back this year, providing LA a boost through a lengthy injury crisis that sapped its attacking depth and chemistry, and by playoff time he was reminding everyone why he was so special. He played in the final six regular-season games, starting the last two, and three postseason matches, scoring a fine goal in a mid-September draw at Sporting Kansas City, assisting Alan Gordon's opener in the knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake, and quickly building a nice partnership with Giovani Dos Santos.
He had such a blast that he briefly considered extending the comeback to 2017 before Bruce Arena left for the national team.
6. HOOPS CLAIM THE SHIELD
FC Dallas, Oct. 16 and Oct. 23
Dallas had gone the longest without a genuine prize in MLS, some 19 years, before beating New England in the U.S. Open Cup final in September, and the Hoops were on target for a potential “treble,” the first MLS would see, after snaring their first Supporters' Shield with a scoreless draw at LA in the regular-season finale.
The real drama occurred a week earlier, after Colorado had wrested away command of a race the Texans had owned since the Fourth of July. Carlos Ruiz's 89th-minute volley to beat Seattle as the Rapids fell in Portland restored Dallas' lead, but the key moment arrived a few minutes later, when playmaker Mauro Diaz's right Achilles' tendon was snapped. It didn't cost the Hoops against a second-choice Galaxy side, and they did just enough to win the regular-season title, but Diaz's absence was pivotal in the playoff defeat to Seattle.