By: Clemente Lisi
Grit triumphed over glamour this season as Real Salt Lake defeated the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy on penalty kicks to win the MLS Cup. With half the playoff berths decided on the last weekend of the regular season, the postseason was even more spectacular following the early exit of the reigning champion Columbus Crew. The playoffs were highlighted by the clutch performance of Real’s goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who denied the league the “dream final” between David Beckham and the Fire’s Cuauhtémoc Blanco. In the end, Rimando and his teammates were worthy champions despite finishing the regular season with a sub-.500 record.
Here is a team-by-team recap:
Real Salt Lake (11-12-7; MLS Cup winners)
RSL made the playoffs as a No. 8 seed and did the unexpected by winning it all. The team made the most of its home turf, tallying 23 more goals than its opponents did during the regular season. That stat worked wonders in the playoffs as the team landed in the final and Rimando was stellar, making the difference in PK shootout victories over the Fire and Galaxy.
Los Angeles Galaxy (12-6-12; lost in MLS Cup final)
The team vastly improved this season thanks to coach Bruce Arena’s leadership and Landon Donovan’s skills. In the end, it was Donovan’s choke in the shootout cost L.A. the trophy.
Chicago Fire (11-7-12; eliminated Eastern Conference finals)
This veteran squad featuring the offensive duo of McBride and Blanco showed that being over 30 is no handicap. The Fire got red hot in the playoffs and eliminated New England, before losing to RSL.
Houston Dynamo (13-8-9; eliminated Western Conference finals)
The Dynamo were just a win short of finishing the regular season with the most points thanks to the high-caliber play of midfielder Stuart Holden. Even when those two were playing with the U.S., Houston’s bench was deep enough to sustain the absences. In the end, L.A. was too much for them to handle in the conference finals.
Columbus Crew (13-7-10; eliminated in Eastern Conference semifinals)
The defending champs dominated the Eastern Conference were this year’s biggest disappointment. A powerhouse during the regular season, thanks to Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s 12 goals, the squad wilted in the playoffs.
New England Revolution (11-10-9; eliminated in Eastern Conference semifinals)
If there was ever a team that was carried on the shoulders of a single player, it was the Revs. Midfielder Shalrie Joseph did all the heavy lifting. The lack of firepower upfront cost them in the playoffs against the Chicago Fire.
Seattle Sounders FC (12-7-11; eliminated in Western Conference semifinals)
This expansion team had it all — from talented players to energetic fans. Seattle cruised into the postseason and posted 16 straight sellouts and 22,000 season-ticket holders. In the playoffs, they didn’t have the stuff to outlast the Houston Dynamo. Wait ‘till next year!
Chivas USA (13-11-6; eliminated in Western Conference semifinals)
It was no fluke that Chivas did so well during the regular season. Despite winning 13 games during the regular season thanks to veteran goalkeeper Zach Thornton and striker Maykel Galindo, Chivas couldn’t overcome rivals L.A. in the playoff edition of the Super Clasico.
D.C. United (9-8-13)
Too many draws hurt the team. United’s 13 ties – the most of any other team – hampered its chances of making the playoffs.
Colorado Rapids (10-10-10)
For the second straight season, the Rapids’ fate came down to the final day of the season and it failed to get the result it needed to reach the postseason.
Toronto FC (10-11-9)
Despite its enthusiastic fans, it was a series of second half breakdowns cost the team 16 points and a first-ever playoff berth.
FC Dallas (11-13-6)
The team lost too many games (13) to make the playoffs. Jeff Cunningham finished with 17 goals in 28 games to become the league’s top scorer, but had no supporting cast.
Kansas City Wizards (8-13-9)
The scrappy Wizards went winless in its last five games (0-2-3) and were eliminated a week before the end of the regular season. The team struggled under coach Curt Onolfo, but didn’t do much better under Peter Vermes.
San Jose Earthquakes (7-14-9)
The Quakes endured a disappointing season where they recorded 14 loses and only one road win.
New York Red Bulls (5-19-6)
After reaching last year’s championship game, New York had a disastrous season. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio resigned in August and under interim Richie Williams the team came to life and ended the season with a 5-0 victory over Toronto.
Clemente Lisi is a freelance writer based in New York. He is the author of “A History of the World Cup: 1930-2006.”