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10 Standout Moments from the 2020 MLS Season

| December 17, 2020 5:22 am PDT
Walker Zimmerman (Nashville), Sergio Santos (Philadelphia), Diego Rossi (LAFC), and Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls)

I think we can all agree that the 2020 MLS season will go down as one of the most memorable campaigns in the competition’s history.

I mean, who would have thought that the MLS is Back Tournament would even be a thing? Who could have predicted that Atlanta would fail to qualify for the playoffs? Or that Nashville would do so well in their debut season?

Following a crazy few months, Philadelphia ended up winning the Supporters’ Shield before Columbus beat Seattle to secure the 2020 MLS Cup.

Join me as I take a look back at 10 standout moments from the 2020 MLS season.

Portland Wins the MLS is Back Tournament

Most teams had only played one or two games before the pandemic shut down the league in March. The 2020 MLS season was in danger of getting scrapped altogether, but four months later, soccer returned.

The MLS is Back Tournament saw 24 of the 26 MLS teams compete in a knockout competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Florida. Dallas and Nashville withdrew due to health and safety concerns, yet the tournament still went ahead.

Portland eventually triumphed in Florida, beating Orlando in the final. The Timbers went unbeaten in their group before seeing off Cincinnati, New York City, and Philadelphia in the knockout stages.

Of course, Giovanni Savarese’s men weren’t expecting to get their hands on a trophy so early in the year. But they weren’t complaining!

Darlington Nagbe Scores Goal of the Year

There were so many great goals scored during the 2020 MLS season. Carlos Vela’s solo run and chip springs to mind, while Erik Hurtado’s volley definitely deserves mention.

But you cannot argue that Darlington Nagbe’s effort against the Fire back in August doesn’t deserve to win the 2020 MLS Goal of the Year award.

The Columbus midfielder received the ball from Gyasi Zardes before chipping it up and unleashing a spectacular long-range strike. The ball flew past helpless Chicago goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and rocketed into the net off the inside of the post.

Funnily enough, that turned out to be Nagbe’s only goal of the season. It’s got to be worth another watch, right?

The Sounders Crush San Jose 7-1

Records tumbled as Seattle thrashed the Quakes 7-1 in September. Yes, that’s right – 7-1!

Not only did the Sounders score seven goals in a single game for the very first time, but they also became the quickest team to score five goals in an MLS match, racing into a 5-0 lead within 33 minutes.

Rail Ruidiaz and Joevin Jones each bagged two goals and two assists, with Jordan Morris, Kelvin Leerdam, and Joao Paulo also getting on the scoresheet.

There have only ever been four matches in MLS history with a bigger winning margin than Seattle’s demolition of San Jose.

Inter Miami Signs Matuidi and Higuain

David Beckham’s franchise was always expected to attract big-name players, but I think everyone was shocked when Inter Miami signed two superstars in the space of a month.

Following a poor start to the season, the August arrival of Blaise Matuidi gave the Herons a much-needed lift. The midfielder has won multiple Serie A and Ligue 1 titles with Juventus and PSG, as well as clinching a World Cup winner’s medal with France.

A few weeks later, Gonzalo Higuain arrived in Miami. The Argentine forward was a teammate of Matuidi’s at Juventus and has also enjoyed huge success with Real Madrid.

Higuain wasted no time in announcing himself on the MLS scene, netting a stunning free-kick against the Red Bulls in October. The star duo even helped the Herons to qualify for the postseason, although they were swiftly eliminated by Nashville.

Caden Clark Bursts Onto the Season

On October 10, Caden Clark signed his first professional contract with the Red Bulls. Later that day, he scored the winning goal against Atlanta on debut.

His debut goal wasn’t just any old goal. Following a cleared corner, the 17-year-old fired in a volley from the edge of the penalty area, leaving veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan stranded.

But the youngster clearly didn’t think that he made a big enough impact in his first-ever MLS match. In his very next appearance, Clark scored another long-range screamer, this time earning the Red Bulls a draw against Toronto.

Few players have burst onto the scene like Clark. Needless to say, the teenager will be one to watch in 2021.

DC United Sacks Ben Olsen

One of the biggest shocks of the 2020 MLS season happened off the pitch when DC United and Ben Olsen parted ways in October.

The 43-year-old led the Black & Red for an entire decade, winning the Open Cup back in 2013. But following a dreadful start to the season, the club’s hierarchy was left with little choice but to fire the long-standing head coach.

DC had been languishing at the bottom of the standings for weeks, with a four-game losing streak ultimately spelling the end for Olsen.

Chad Aston was appointed as interim head coach, and he eventually managed to lift the team off the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But I’m sure many DC supporters will still be getting used to the fact that Olsen is no longer at the club.

Philly Clinches the Supporters’ Shield

The Union clinched their very first Supporters’ Shield by finishing three points clear of Toronto at the top of the Eastern Conference.

A battling run of six wins in their final eight regular-season games saw Jim Curtin’s men get their hands on the silverware, finishing with the most goals and the best defensive record in the division.

Goalkeeper Andre Blake, defender Mark McKenzie, and midfielder Brenden Aaronson were all recognized for their efforts with a spot in the 2020 MLS Best XI, while forwards Sergio Santos (11 goals, 3 assists) and Kacper Przybylko (8 goals, 6 assists) shone throughout the campaign.

The U went on to fall to the Revs in the playoffs, but Curtin’s men will view 2020 as a major success.

The Craziest Penalty Shootout Ever?

To say that Orlando City booked their place in the Eastern Conference semi-final in dramatic fashion would probably be a bit of an understatement.

With the score level after 120 minutes, penalties were required to decide the outcome of the Lions’ playoff match against New York City. Nobody could have predicted what would happen next.

With Orlando leading 4-3 in the shootout, goalkeeper Pedro Gallese thought he had won the game for his side by saving Valentin Castellanos’ spot-kick. However, VAR noticed that Gallese was off his line, so the shot-stopper was sent off after receiving a second yellow card.

Oscar Pareja tried to bring on sub ‘keeper Brain Rowe, but defender Rodrigo Schlegel eventually ended up between the sticks. Schlegel saved Gudmundur Thorarinsson’s penalty, with the Lions thinking they had won. But Benji Michel still had to score to seal the victory.

This is undoubtedly the craziest MLS penalty shootout of all time – and it is arguably the most bizarre shoutout in the history of soccer.

Seattle’s Late Comeback Against Minnesota

When Bakaye Dibassy scored to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference final, Seattle looked dead and buried.

With just over 20 minutes remaining, the Sounders had a mountain to climb. But in true Seattle style, Brian Schmetzer’s men produced one of the greatest comebacks in MLS history.

Will Bruin sparked the revival on 75 minutes before Raul Ruidiaz leveled the score with one minute of normal time left to play. Then, deep into stoppage-time, Gustav Svensson headed home from a corner to complete the turnaround.

At the end of the day, Schmetzer’s men confirmed what we already knew – you can never write off the Sounders.

Columbus Wins the 2020 MLS Cup

Seattle’s dreams of winning back-to-back MLS Cups were shattered by Columbus, as Caleb Porter’s side crushed the Sounders 3-0 in the final.

Lucas Zelarayan opened the scoring on 25 minutes, and Derrick Etienne doubled the Crew’s lead six minutes later. Zelarayan then grabbed his second goal of the game to cap off a famous win for Columbus.

The Ohio outfit is now one of only seven teams to win multiple MLS titles, joining an elite group that contains DC United, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, San Jose, Sporting KC, and Seattle.

After suffering some serious troubles in recent years, it’s hard not to be happy for the Crew.

More of the Same Next Year, Please

Well, if the 2021 MLS season produces anywhere near as much drama as the previous campaign, we will be in for another hugely entertaining year.

Following a standout maiden season, I think Nashville SC deserves a mention for reaching the conference semi-finals. The Lions also established themselves as a genuine force in Major League Soccer in 2020.

Atlanta, Real Salt Lake, and the Galaxy all endured below-par campaigns, but with expansion team Austin FC joining MLS next year, the competition will only be tougher.

The 2021 MLS season is scheduled to kick off in March 2021. In the meantime, you can keep up to date with all the offseason action in our soccer blog.

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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