Another Major League Soccer season is in the books, with the next one quickly approaching! The 2021 MLS season proved to be one of the most memorable yet with so many twists and turns as well as some pretty good matches. Soccer 360 Magazine’s Sean Maslin has the top ten moments from the 2021 campaign!
10.) Mendez Melts Montreal
One of the best parts of the MLS season is Decision Day, where sides on the cusp of making the MLS Cup Playoffs are all playing at the same time. It creates some amazing drama and some awesome moments. Take the Orlando City versus CF Montreal match in the frozen tundra of Saputo Stadium. With both sides neck-and-neck for the final playoff spot and a charged Montreal crowd, the atmosphere was electric with each attacking chance bringing the crowd to their feet. After 53 nervy minutes, Sebastian Mendez of Orlando earned his side the advantage with a thunderous strike from distance. The goal proved to be the difference as Orlando earned the number six spot in the Eastern Conference.
9.) Kreilach Lifts RSL Over Sporting
After a tumultuous 2020 season, no one expected much of Real Salt Lake in 2021. While the side certainly had some bumps along the way, Pablo Mastroeni’s side continued to stay in the playoff race getting results in a very difficult Western Conference. Their dogged pursuit of MLS’ second season paid off when Damir Kreilach scored the go-ahead goal in the 95th minute in their Decision Day match against Sporting Kansas City.
8.) Undermanned Union Unite
If there is one thing that is certain about American sports it is that the city of Philadelphia and its sports fans love an underdog. The sports-crazed city who counts Rocky as one of its heroes, had another underdog story that nearly paid off with the Philadelphia Union. While the Union were one of the top sides in the Eastern Conference, they were dealt a huge blow before the MLS Cup Conference Finals with the news that eleven of their players would be out due to the league’s COVID-19 Protocols. Without six starters and being forced to dip into their academy for depth, the Union surprised NYCFC taking the early lead. Although NYCFC would end up with the 2-1 win, the Union earned the respect of their supporters and their opponents showing their grit and determination in a very difficult situation.
7.) MLS All-Stars Upend Liga MX
MLS All-Star games are usually devoid of any sort of memorable moments, given that the speed and pace of the match is generally pedestrian. But this year’s match against the Liga MX All-Stars seemed to have a bit more spice to it. In front of an electric crowd in Los Angeles the two sides fought for 90 minutes to a 1-1 draw. In penalties, a big goal from Ricardo Pepi and two saves from Matt Turner pushed the home side over the top.
6.) The King Of The Emerald City
It didn’t take long for Freddy Montero to make an impact in 2021. The 34 year old striker returned to Seattle after nine years away from the Sounders and there were some questions as to what he still had left in the tank. He answered that question rather quickly, blasting a volley in the club’s season opener over Minnesota United FC. With his goal, Montero became the club’s all-time leading goalscorer with 48 goals in league play.
5.) No Shots, No Problem-It is kind of hard to win a match when you don’t get a shot on target. Yet, that is just what happened with Real Salt Lake in their playoff match against the Seattle Sounders. Despite being outshot 21-0, RSL shocked the Sounders, winning 6-5 in penalties with defender Justen Glad (who has just five goals in 157 MLS appearances) sealing the result.
4.) Timbers Take Turkey Day-From the day that the MLS Cup Playoff Schedule was announced there was one game that every American supporter had circled on their calendar: Thanksgiving Day. 2021 saw the first-ever MLS match to be played on Thanksgiving, with the Timbers traveling to Colorado to take on the Rapids. The game didn’t disappoint with the two sides trading attacking chances for the full 90 minutes. Just before extratime though the Timbers would take the Turkey Day tussle, with Larrys Mabiala stuffing a shot past the Rapids defense to give his side the win. The match itself was a huge success with the game averaging close to two million viewers, becoming the second-highest rated MLS match ever.
3.) Austin Stuns MLS-
When Austin FC was announced as the next MLS expansion side, there were a ton of questions as to what a team in Austin, Texas would look like. The footballing world received their answer in the club’s first home match, with over 20,000 packing the Q2 stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes. With the Anthem, Los Verde, Burnt Orange Brigade, and New Braunfels in the stands and owner Matthew McConaughey wearing a green jacket the expansion side pulled off a 0-0 draw. Although it was a tough first season, the young group clearly fed off the energy of their home supporters with seven of their nine wins coming at the Q2.
2.) The Wondo Walk-Off-
2021 saw the end of the career of Chris Wondolowski, the league’s all-time leading goalscorer. While most goalscorers of Wondo’s pedigree would turn the situation into a full show, the longtime San Jose Earthquake chose to zag. In the lead-up to the team’s match of the season against FC Dallas, no announcement had been made. In the 34th minute, he scored his fifth goal of the season and 171st of all-time with a curling shot that brought the supporters behind the net to their feet. At the end of the match, he spoke to the supporters announcing his retirement after 14 seasons with the side.
1.) The Revs Claim The Shield-
Despite being an MLS original, the New England Revolution do not have the deepest trophy case. Aside from a 2009 U.S. Open Cup, the Boston side entering the 2021 season did not have any major titles in their C/V. The team led by MLS MVP Carles Gil broke that streak with a record-breaking 73 points, earning the Supporters Shield.