Top 10 Moments of 2014 in U.S. Soccer

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2014

Top 10 Moments of 2014 in U.S. Soccer

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Major League Soccer and the U.S. men's national team had a memorable 2014. The World Cup produced some magical memories and heartbreaking moments that no one will ever forget. An American legend also walked into the sunset after an incredible career.

    As the year comes to a close, this slideshow will highlight the top 10 moments in U.S. soccer in 2014. They will be graded on the historic and present-day impact on the sport in the United States.

    Here are the top 10 moments of 2014 in U.S. soccer.

Honorable Mentions

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    Dolores Ochoa/Associated Press

    John Anthony Brooks' winning goal vs. Ghana

    John Anthony Brooks, a 21-year-old German-born defender, made his World Cup debut for the U.S. men's national team against Ghana. It was the opening match for the United States in Brazil, but they were tied 1-1 late in the game.

    However, off a Graham Zusi corner, Brooks scored with a header to give the U.S. the eventual 2-1 victory. Those three points came in handy, because the USA eventually qualified out of the "Group of Death" as runners-up to Germany.

    It was a memorable moment, but the last two matches of the USMNT's group had a larger impact on their World Cup campaign than the opening game.

    Nick Rimando earning the MLS shutout record

    Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in MLS history. He has never won a Goalkeeper of the Year award, but he'll still be remembered as the all-time leader in clean sheets.

    Rimando passed Kevin Hartman and broke the record in August by earning his 113th clean sheet. The RSL shot-stopper earned two more shutouts to reach 115 in total by the end of the regular season.

    However, Rimando's achievement narrowly misses out because it wasn't as impactful in the moment it occurred.

10) U.S. Internationals Arrive in MLS

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    USA TODAY Sports

    A few U.S. internationals returned to MLS and immediately influenced their respective teams shortly after their arrivals.

    Michael Bradley joined Toronto FC this past January. Maurice Edu was acquired by the Philadelphia Union that same month. Jermaine Jones was signed by the New England Revolution and helped lead the Revs to the MLS Cup final. Brek Shea also inked a deal with Orlando City SC on December 19 of this year.

    Seven players from the league started a World Cup match for the USMNT against Germany. That helped advertise MLS to the casual observer. It also gave the teams' fans a player to support.

    The USMNT players' returns could also be the start of U.S. internationals staying in MLS and helping the league grow into a legitimate force—hence why it has a spot in this slideshow.

9) USA vs. Portugal

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    Martin Mejia/Associated Press

    The U.S. was on their way to back-to-back victories to begin their World Cup campaign when they faced Portugal. The Stars and Stripes were up 2-1 in second-half stoppage time—until Silvestre Varela capitalized on some horrid American defending and scored the equalizer.

    If the U.S. won that game, they would have squared off with Germany for the top spot in Group G. Even if the Germans emerged victorious in that encounter, the USMNT still would have broken a record.

    The highest amount of points the U.S. have ever recorded in the World Cup group stage is five. The last time the USMNT won two group games was in 1930. Winning the first two matches would have set the bar for future U.S. teams.

    On the bright side, that game against Portugal was the most-watched match in U.S. history at that time. That's why this particular fixture is No. 9. It would have been a groundbreaking result, and it still had a silver lining despite the dropped points.

8) Chivas USA Folding

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Chivas USA qualified for the playoffs for four straight seasons between 2006 and 2009 but never returned to the postseason. That was one of the factors that influenced their 2014 average attendance. It was just a measly 7,000 fans, via Empire of Soccer's Ryan Brister.

    The club was eventually shut down by MLS. Former owner Jorge Vergara made some poor decisions and was involved in an alleged racism scandal. It was not a good image for the league. 

    A new expansion team in Los Angeles FC was formed in their place.

    Chivas folding and LAFC joining the league in 2017 is the beginning of a new era in southern California.

    One of the co-owners has already insulted the Galaxy about their facilities. That rivalry has already started. It also indicates that every team is stable and has healthy ownership, which is essential for MLS' growth.

7) Landon Donovan Becoming MLS' All-Time Leading Scorer

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    USA TODAY Sports

    On May 25, 2014, Landon Donovan became the all-time leading scorer in Major League Soccer history. Donovan reached this feat just days after being left off of the U.S. World Cup roster by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. 

    Donovan is arguably the greatest American player ever, and most of his success was achieved in MLS. Becoming the league's all-time leading goalscorer is arguably the greatest individual accomplishment that one can achieve.

    This was one of many moments in Donovan's crazy 2014, but this one deserves a spot on this list. Scoring more goals than Jeff Cunningham, Jaime Moreno and Ante Razov, who were all terrific in their prime, is a huge milestone.

6) MLS Expansion

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The aforementioned Los Angeles FC is just one of a few expansion teams that will enter the league over the next couple of years. Orlando City and New York City FC will begin play in 2015, but even more clubs will be members of MLS in the near future.

    Atlanta will have a franchise, owned by Falcons owner Arthur Blank. David Beckham invoked his ownership clause to start a team in Miami, but the stadium situation has stalled operations. Beckham did say that "exciting news" will be coming, though.

    Regardless, there will be even more expansion beginning next year, according to MLS commissioner Don Garber. Orlando has been active in the offseason, which indicates that new clubs are ambitious and want to succeed right away. This could lead to an ultra-competitive MLS.

5) Thierry Henry Playing His Final Professional Game as a New York Red Bull

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Thierry Henry announced his retirement on December 15 just weeks after playing his last game with the New York Red Bulls

    New York was eliminated by the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference final in November. This is significant to U.S. soccer because Henry, one of the best players of the last decade, retired as a member of the Red Bulls.

    Henry was still playing at a high level by the end of the campaign. He finished his MLS career with 51 goals and 42 assists in 122 appearances over five seasons. The Frenchman arrived in America to compete, and he did that in every one of his matches with the Red Bulls.

    American fans can take solace in the fact that one of the greatest players of this generation retired in MLS. Anyone who watched Henry play on this side of the Atlantic will never forget what he did in this league. That's why he deserves a spot in the top five.

4) LA Galaxy Winning a Record 5th MLS Cup

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The LA Galaxy and D.C. United were the most successful teams in MLS. Each team had four championships to their name, but the Galaxy broke the deadlock on December 7.

    LA's fifth MLS Cup win in franchise history was also their third in the last four years. It was also Landon Donovan's sixth, more than any other individual player.

    The Galaxy has been labeled as a dynasty. It's a fair assessment due to their achievements since 2011. Becoming the most successful team in MLS history is a memorable story. It also helps that Donovan now has more championships than any other player. 

3) USA vs. Belgium

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The U.S. men's national team qualified for the round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. However, they were eliminated after a heartbreaking defeat in extra time against Belgium. 

    Chris Wondolowski's mind-blowing miss could have given the U.S. the lead late in the second half. Belgium scored twice in extra time before Julian Green cut the deficit in half. Tim Howard even set a record with 16 saves, but it wasn't enough to help the USMNT advance.

    The fallout from that match sparked several debates. They included whether the USA's campaign in Brazil was a success and what the elimination meant for MLS.

    Despite some negative reaction, thousands of fans still flocked to public viewing areas to watch the team. As for the TV numbers, another ratings record was broken.

    Even if the U.S.'s performance was a failure, it still generated tons of interest, and the match itself will be remembered for a variety of reasons.

2) Landon Donovan's Omission from the USMNT World Cup Squad

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Landon Donovan's omission from the U.S. World Cup squad shocked the American soccer world. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Donovan didn't have the best relationship, but it was assumed that the German tactician would have called his best player. 

    Well, they say to never assume. The aftermath of Klinsmann's decision is still being felt to this day. MLS commissioner Don Garber says that Donovan should have gone to Brazil. The player himself was clearly angry with the decision as well.

    Donovan was also battling depression prior to the snub. He even criticized Klinsmann's approach at the World Cup. There's no doubting that the 32-year-old would have been influential for the USMNT, which is another reason why this story was so huge.

    If it wasn't for the No. 1 storyline in this slideshow, this would be top of the list. All of the fallout shows just how incredible this news was back in May.

1) Landon Donovan's Retirement

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    The calendar year of 2014 was dominated by Landon Donovan and rightfully so. The memories he's given U.S. fans will last forever. 

    Donovan's retirement had the perfect fairy-tale ending. He concluded his final season as a champion with the LA Galaxy. He also left the sport in a blaze of glory and not as a has-been.

    The biggest question since his retirement is who will be the next Donovan, but no one knows. He was such a unique person. He was reserved but brutally honest and didn't have an egotistical personality. The ex-U.S. international was also a star in MLS, which is incredibly distinctive.

    It's hard to imagine a player ticking off all of those criteria. That's why Donovan's retirement is the biggest story of 2014. Fans will be talking about him for many years to come, and it may be a while until the heir to his throne is crowned.

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