MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2012, running Dec. 17 through Jan. 2. Each day we’ll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS and US international players, including Biggest Controversy, Breakout Player of the Year and, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 31, the Moment of the Year.
LA Galaxy beat writer Scott French breaks down the Fantastic Finish of the Year, given to the most dramatic close to an MLS match we saw this season. The San Jose Earthquakes played a part in at least matches that were worthy of votes in this category, but none was better than a win over the LA Galaxy in May that proved to be the runaway winner on our panel.
The LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes played five classic encounters this year, four of them absolute thrillers (with San Jose rallying from behind for two wins and a draw) followed by a stunning blowout in the playoffs.
But the best of the bunch — the Quakes’ 3-2 comeback triumph May 23 at the Home Depot Center — featured a finish for the ages.
It gets the nod for MLSsoccer.com’s Fantastic Finish of the Year, besting two other sensational endings thanks to a red card, brilliant substitutions, a late penalty kick (after an earlier would-be spot kick was denied) and, at the death, a dramatic header to send the Earthquakes atop the Western Conference standings while extending last-place LA’s winless streak to six games, their worst since 2009.
The Galaxy’s best performance of the season thus far, with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan away on international duty, provided a 2-0 lead by the 73rd minute. Hector Jimenez struck in the third minute and Mike Magee doubled the advantage after taking a feed on the counter from David Beckham, beating two players — goalkeeper Jon Busch included — and firing into the ceiling of the goal.
By then LA were down to 10 men — Jimenez dismissed on the hour after a studs-up challenge on Steven Beitashour — and when San Jose coach Frank Yallop brought on Marvin Chávez, it changed everything.
The Quakes, with Chávez spearheading the attack, struck three times in 20 minutes, halving the deficit when the Honduran winger’s corner kick was nodded home by a diving Steven Lenhart in the 76th minute and pulling even after Beckham, leaping to block a Jason Hernandez cross, got his arms in the way and Jair Marrufo, who in the first half let an Ike Opara hand ball in the box go unpunished, pointed to the spot. Khari Stephenson converted.
Leave it to Gordon, a halftime sub who spent all or parts of seven seasons with the Galaxy, for the heroics. He had scored equalizers in the 88th and 90th minutes of San Jose’s two previous games, then topped it here four minutes into stoppage. Hernandez again delivered the key ball, sending a cross into the box after an LA turnover.
Gordon slipped past Sean Franklin’s mark and in front of A.J. DeLaGarza to nod the ball off the bounce over goalkeeper Brian Perk and into the net. Cue the Goonies.
“I just was following up the play,” Gordon said. “I think there may have been a little bit of hesitation on their part, and I was just seeing the play through. They hesitated, I didn’t, I finished it. Forwards get lucky sometimes. I got lucky. Who cares? I put it in, end of story, period.”
2. Real Salt Lake beat Portland, March 31
RSL were on the verge of a second straight loss and a .500 record, hardly what it expected so early in the season, after Darlington Nagbe scored a pair of goals to give Portland a second-half lead. No problem. Jonny Steele slipped through traffic to pull RSL even in the 89th minute and Kyle Beckerman volleyed home the winner in the 93rd for a 3-2 decision in the Rose City.
3. Toronto FC beat Vancouver, July 11
The cross-Canada derby ended with a flurry, as TFC let a late lead slip away and then claimed a 3-2 triumph in the final seconds of a lengthy bit of stoppage. Rookie Darren Mattocks, with his second goal of the game, seemingly delivered a point to the visiting Whitecaps in the 91st minute, but Terry Dunfield got his head to Torsten Frings’ corner kick in the fifth minute of stoppage to sink his former club.