Golazos, post PKs, controversy: Top 15 moments in 2015 MLS playoffs
The 2015 MLS Cup playoffs are in the books, with the Portland Timbers capturing the league's 20th championship with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium in Ohio. The frenzied final capped a memorable, nerve-wracking, entertaining postseason, one filled with quick goals, stylish golazos, penalty-kick theater and one curious leg lock.
In order from the first round to MLS Cup, here are the 15 most memorable moments of the 2015 MLS playoffs:
Agudelo's bicycle kick
Agudelo's goal was the first of the MLS playoffs, and it may well have been the best. When his New England Revolution teammate Kevin Alston served in a looping ball from the right at RFK Stadium, Agudelo didn't hesitate at all, showing his penchant for the incredible with a spectacular bicycle kick that left D.C. United's MLS Goalkeeper of the Year finalist Bill Hamid with no chance.
Jones goes berserk
After D.C. United scored twice to take a 2-1 lead on the the Revs, Jermaine Jones thought he had won a penalty in stoppage time when his pass in the D.C. box hit off the hand of United defender Sean Franklin. Referee Mark Geiger didn't see it that way, and Jones let him know, emphatically. We're still awaiting word on the length of Jones's impending suspension.
Sounders finally get by Galaxy
After having their playoffs ended by the LA Galaxy three times in five seasons, the Seattle Sounders finally got over the LA hump, winning their first-round matchup 3-2. Erik Friberg's wondrous solo effort broke a 2-2 draw–with all four previous goals being scored in a break-neck 22-minute span to open the game at CenturyLink Field. The LA Galaxy's title defense, despite the signings of Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos, came to a screeching halt.
Montreal's blitz on Toronto
It took Toronto FC nine long years to make the MLS playoffs. And it took all of 39 minutes for the Reds' maiden voyage to fall apart. The Montreal Impact went wild on their Canadian rival, scoring three times between the 18th and 39th minutes at Stade Saputo to take all the drama out of their first-round clash. Quebec native Patrice Bernier appropriately scored the opener, followed by Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba.
The double-post PK
It's still hard to believe it happened. With a chance to send Sporting Kansas City to the Western Conference semifinals and end eventual champion Portland's run before it got started, Saad Abdul-Salaam stepped to the spot in sudden death PKs...and missed his chance after hitting both posts (and this, of course, happened after Kevin Ellis had hit just a solitary post on another chance to send SKC through).
The 7-10 split had jaws dropping and heads shaking, and perhaps it foretold the fortune Portland would have in the playoffs. Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey hit the deciding penalty (in the 11th round!) and then saved back-up goalkeeper Jon Kempin's attempt to secure the win (2-2, 7-6 in PKs) in what could arguably be considered the most incredible ending in league playoff history.
Portland manager Caleb Porter ("I've seen it all, but I've never seen that") reacted to the moment on our podcast (his response starts at the 54:15 mark):
The Drogba leg lock
In the most bizarre moment of the playoffs, Drogba grabbed a hold of Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark's leg and held on for dear life after missing a slide tackle. Drogba explained on our podcast that, "Everybody is showing me grabbing his leg, but nobody came back to the fact that he stepped on my leg. I did a bad tackle and missed, but he stood on my leg, so that's why I was grabbing his leg and stopping him. But they were showing only the end of the situation. But it's O.K., you know, it can happen."
Fair enough. It was still baffling.
Kamara, from goat to hero
Kei Kamara scored early and late in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, keeping the Crew's run going and eliminating Montreal. His 111th-minute header capped the 4-3 aggregate win and also made his story go from goat to hero after having a penalty kick–one that he pleaded with Federico Higuain to take–saved by Evan Bush when Montreal was leading by a goal at the time.
Meram scores nine seconds in
The Crew-New York Red Bulls series was supposed to be an evenly matched affair, but Columbus's Justin Meram scored the fastest goal in MLS playoff history, tallying nine seconds in off the opening kick to set the tone for the 2-0 aggregate win in the Eastern Conference finals. Jesse Marsch may have been MLS Coach of the Year, but even the best-coached team had to have been shellshocked by the sheer magnitude of the moment.
Dempsey's free-kick winner
With Seattle and FC Dallas tied 1-1 in the opening leg of the Western Conference semifinals, Clint Dempsey did what big players do in big moments. His 86th-minute free-kick golazo sent CenturyLink Field into a frenzy and sent the Sounders into the second leg with a lead over the West's top seed.
Seattle-FC Dallas, from 84' to PKs
The FCD-Seattle conference semifinal second leg was going straightforward enough, with the Sounders clinging to their 2-1 edge in the final minutes in Frisco, Texas. Then, insanity.
Tesho Akindele's 84th-minute goal put Dallas ahead and through, via the away-goal tiebreaker. Then Chad Marshall scored off a corner kick in the 90th, silencing the home crowd and putting Seattle back in the Western Conference final, surely. Right? Wrong. Walker Zimmerman's answer a minute later off an FC Dallas corner kick forced extra time, and after a dramatic 30 bonus minutes, the heavyweights went to penalties.
There, 20-year-old Jesse Gonzalez became the hero, saving two Seattle attempts. Zimmerman's kick iced the match, and his cold-as-ice-stare celebration was one of epic proportions.
Wright-Phillips hits the post
Even though Columbus dominated the series, the Red Bulls nearly forced extra time. After Anatole Abang scored three minutes in extra time, Bradley Wright-Phillips was inches away from equalizing, but his last-second header glanced off the post in cruel fashion, as fans in the South Ward at Red Bull Arena watched in horror as their Supporters' Shield winners went out in yet another heartbreaking way.
If not Agudelo's, Dairon Asprilla's goal against FC Dallas was the prettiest of the MLS playoffs. Seconds after calling for the referee to stop play after a foul, Asprilla found the ball at his feet some 30 yards from goal. He unleashed curling blast that found the upper left-hand corner of the net and gave Portland a 2-0 lead in the first leg of the Western Conference final.
The Borchers Block
Portland's run to the trophy was all about key moments, and it doesn't get more key than Nat Borchers's block in the dying moments of the second leg vs. FC Dallas. With Portland nursing a one-goal aggregate edge in stoppage time, Dallas's Blas Perez found himself with a golden chance inside the Portland box to force extra time. Enter Borchers, who proved to be Portland's key off-season acquisition and defensive rock. He extended his leg in front of the chance and blocked it from reaching its destination, preserving the lead.
Melano ices it
Lucas Melano hadn't done a whole lot to validate the $5 million transfer fee Portland paid to sign him, but he clinched victory in the Western Conference final with a sensational solo effort. Portland won 5-3 on aggregate and was on its way to its first MLS Cup.
Seven minutes in [Timbers] heaven
Portland. Columbus. Two mirroring teams that would go blow for blow until the final whistle. Well, that's how it figured to be, anyway. Some 27 seconds in, Portland held a stunning lead at MAPFRE Stadium after Diego Valeri pressured Clark after a backpass. Clark's clearance attempt went off Valeri's leg and into the Columbus goal, setting the table for Portland's triumph in MLS Cup-record time.
About six minutes later, after assistant referee Corey Parker missed a ball that clearly went out of bounds, Portland played on, while Columbus waited for the whistle that never came. The result: Darlington Nagbe finding Melano on the wing, and the Argentine playing a perfect cross for Rodney Wallace to head by Clark.
The goal wound up being the trophy-winning tally.