5 Best Moments from the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 14, 2020

5 Best Moments from the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The 2020 Major League Soccer playoffs started at a breakneck pace with three first-round shootouts and ended as one of the league's original franchises won the title in the league's 25th season.

    In typical MLS fashion, three lower seeds won opening-round contests, and the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference was one step away from MLS Cup.

    The Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders benefited from upsets in their respective brackets to win the conference finals at home before moving on to MLS Cup at Mapfre Stadium.

    Columbus experienced the least dramatic buildup to the championship match, and it did not allow any drama to rear its head in its 3-0 win over Seattle.

    The Crew's hoisting of MLS Cup concluded a wild three weeks and a season that started all the way back in February before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the United States.

5. Nashville SC and New England Upset East's Top 2 Seeds

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    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    It did not take long for the rampant unpredictability that MLS thrives on to show up in the playoffs.

    Seventh-seeded Nashville SC and the No. 8 seed New England Revolution went on the road and knocked out two of the top MLS Cup contenders in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs

    Nashville used a measured defensive game plan to shut down three-time MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC on a neutral field in East Hartford, Connecticut. Toronto played home games in Connecticut because of border restrictions between the United States and Canada.

    The Revolution finally got the best of the Philadelphia Union in their sixth meeting of 2020. Carles Gil ran the show for the Revs in their 2-0 win over the Supporters' Shield winner.

    A case could be made that Nashville and New England entered those matchups in better shape because they won play-in games four days prior over Inter Miami and the Montreal Impact, respectively.

    Philadelphia and Toronto came into the postseason with over two weeks off as the November international break impacted the schedule.

    Regardless of what the main factor was in each upset, Nashville and New England were the better teams in their first-round victories.

    New England advanced to the Eastern Conference Final through a win over Orlando City, and Nashville was eliminated in the second round by the Crew in extra time.

4. Tim Melia's Penalty Heroics

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Sporting Kansas City was on the verge of facing the same fate as Philadelphia and Toronto, but goalkeeper Tim Melia bailed it out in a first-round shootout win over the San Jose Earthquakes.

    Melia, who is regarded as the premier penalty stopper in MLS, saved three shots in a row from Oswaldo Alanis, Jackson Yueill and Cristian Espinoza to shut out the Quakes in penalties.

    The game went to penalties after a wild end to regulation in which Gianluca Busio and Chris Wondolowski exchanged goals in second-half stoppage time.

    Busio appeared to complete Sporting KC's comeback from 2-1 down, but the league's all-time leading scorer struck at the death to force extra time.

    The six-goal thriller failed to produce any extra-time fireworks, which set the stage for Melia to showcase one of his most remarkable strengths.

3. Wild End to Orlando City-NYCFC Shootout

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    It has been three weeks since Orlando City topped New York City FC in penalties, and we are still trying to process what happened Nov. 21 at Exploria Stadium.

    The madness started when Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was sent off for a second yellow card in the middle of the shootout.

    Gallese received the booking for stepping off his line before a penalty was taken. In the set of IFAB laws that MLS used for the 2020 season, that infraction requires a yellow card. The rules changed for the 2020-21 European season, but MLS was still using the old set of rules.

    The Peruvian netminder previously earned a yellow card for time-wasting in extra time, so referee Allen Chapman sent him off.

    After that decision, full chaos ensued. The referees initially allowed Brian Rowe to come off the bench to replace Gallese, but then they ruled correctly that a substitution could not happen in PKs.

    Orlando then handed defender Rodrigo Schlegel the goalkeeper jersey to finish penalties, and he ended up saving a shot from Gudmundur Thorarinsson.

    Amid the madness of a defender making a PK save, some people thought the game was over, including Lions manager Oscar Pareja, who rushed into the locker room in celebration.

    Since Orlando kicked second in the shootout, it still had to take a kick to win the game. Benji Michel converted to send the Lions into another wave of celebrations.

    The wild victory was the first for Orlando in the postseason, but it could not continue its playoff run as it fell to New England in the second round.

2. Seattle's Thrilling Western Conference Final Comeback

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Seattle and Toronto faced off in three of the previous four MLS Cups, but it appeared neither would make it this year when Minnesota United's Bakaye Dibassy put his team ahead 2-0 in the 67th minute of the Western Conference Final.

    Eight minutes later, Seattle forward Will Bruin scored to spark one of the most improbable comebacks in MLS history.

    Raul Ruidiaz scored an 89th-minute equalizer that ensured the game would at least go to extra time, but that was avoided when Gustav Svensson knocked in a 93rd-minute game-winning goal.

    Seattle's frantic attacking pace began when Bruin scored, and it showed no let-up in the same game in which it looked lifeless for stretches against the Loons back line.

    The remarkable come-from-behind win placed Seattle in its fourth MLS Cup in five years, but that was the last celebration the team and its fans would experience in 2020.

1. Columbus Closes Mapfre Stadium with MLS Cup Victory

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    A moment like Saturday's MLS Cup celebration may not have happened without the efforts of Columbus fans and business leaders to keep the franchise in Ohio.

    The Crew were threatened by relocation to Austin, Texas, but survived an arduous process in which former owner Anthony Precourt got an expansion team in the Texas capital instead.

    As part of staying in Columbus, the new Crew ownership committed to building a new stadium, which is set to open for the 2021 MLS season.

    Saturday's MLS Cup Final was likely the last game at a venue that has become the mecca for American soccer.

    Mapfre Stadium, originally known as Columbus Crew Stadium, was the United States' first soccer-specific stadium and hosted the U.S. men's national team's famed "Dos a Cero" wins over Mexico in 2005, 2009 and 2013.

    It was only fitting that the final memory created in the stadium was a trophy celebration by one of MLS' charter clubs.

    The Crew reinvented themselves through the hiring of general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Caleb Porter, who shaped the roster from one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference in 2019 to 2020 MLS Cup champion.

    With Newcomer of the Year Lucas Zelarayan, Gyasi Zardes and plenty of other important roster pieces in place, Columbus is set up to create title-winning memories in its new ground in the years to come.