Philadelphia, PA – A lot can happen over the course of a year.
At this time in 2012, the Los Angeles Galaxy had just claimed their second straight MLS Cup title and David Beckham called time on a successful five-and- a-half-year stint in the United States to join French side PSG.
The end of the Beckham era raised plenty of questions as to how MLS would cope without one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. Would commissioner Don Garber be able to build upon the marketing success that the English superstar afforded the league?
But with the 2013 MLS season in the books, it's safe to say the league continues to occupy a favorable position in the American sports landscape, which should allow for continued growth and success for many years to come.
A major contributor to the successful 2013 campaign has been the plethora of talking points throughout the season, capturing the attention of pundits and supporters alike for nine months.
So, without further adieu, here are the top stories from a memorable 2013 MLS season:
10. Notable departures
The 2013 MLS campaign marked the end of a few eras as a host of key moves transpired over the course of the season. Schellas Hyndman announced late in the season that he would leave his post as FC Dallas head coach while two longtime MLS veterans in Kevin Hartman and Pablo Mastroeni decided to step away from the game and into retirement. The beginning of the campaign also saw one of the most lopsided trades in MLS history as the Los Angeles Galaxy shipped Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire in exchange for Robbie Rogers. Rogers was practically anonymous with the Galaxy while Magee went on to claim MVP honors, leaving L.A. to rue the departure of such an influential player.
9. Rivalries continue to flourish
MLS is structured in a way that allows the league to highlight local rivalries. Clubs are clumped together in geographic regions to foster heightened scrutiny when two nearby teams do battle. That was evident this season as local derbies continued to flourish. The Cascadia Cup was more relevant than ever as the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps finished the season separated by just nine points in the Western Conference. Vancouver, the only team of the three to miss out on the postseason, took home the Cascadia Cup honors. The postseason also accentuated a few long-standing rivalries as Real Salt Lake advanced to the MLS Cup at Portland's expense while Sporting Kansas City met with the Houston Dynamo in the playoffs for the third successive season.
8. Donovan's hiatus
The Los Angeles Galaxy got off to a slow start in their bid to claim a third successive MLS Cup title, largely due to the absence of Landon Donovan. The Galaxy talisman took a brief hiatus during the club's preseason tour as a chance to recharge the batteries, a decision that was quite polarizing depending on who was asked. Donovan ultimately returned to help guide the Galaxy to the postseason, but it ultimately cost him the captaincy to Robbie Keane as well as his place on the U.S. national team, which he eventually earned back at the Gold Cup in the summer. It was an unorthodox decision, but if a rejuvenated Donovan shows up at next summer's World Cup in Brazil, it'd be hard to argue it wasn't a worthwhile break.
7. Soccer-specific stadium growth
There was a time not long ago when only a handful of MLS teams had permanent homes in soccer-specific stadiums. Now, there are only a handful of teams that do not. Finding a home for D.C. United has been a major goal for MLS over the years, and it appears to have finally come to fruition when a tentative deal was announced in July to build a soccer-specific stadium in the Buzzard Point area of Washington, D.C. On the West Coast, the San Jose Earthquakes continued their construction of a permanent home despite a handful of setbacks, but they are on track to open the venue for the start of the 2015 season.
6. Dempsey's return
Clint Dempsey made a momentous return to MLS in August, opting to sign with Seattle Sounders FC as a Designated Player rather than stay in the English Premier League. It had the appearance of a move that would put Seattle over the top and make the club MLS Cup favorites, but the Sounders crumbled down the stretch, going 0-4-3 in their final seven regular-season contests before being bounced from the playoffs by the Portland Timbers. A transitional period for Dempsey was always to be expected, and a string of injuries did not help the former Tottenham attacker, but the Sounders have a great piece of talent they can build around for years to come. The move also served as a major headline-grabber, one that displays the strength of MLS in the sense that a player would leave Europe in his prime to return to his native country.
5. Sporting claims MLS Cup crown
The 2013 MLS playoffs wrapped up with the No. 2 seeds from the Eastern and Western conferences meeting in the MLS Cup as Sporting Kansas City hosted Real Salt Lake in the title match. It was a contest between two of the most well- run and well-coached sides in MLS over the past few seasons, and the finale did not disappoint. Alvaro Saborio gave RSL a second-half lead only to see Aurelien Collin equalize for Kansas City 24 minutes later. Neither side managed to find a winner through extra time, and there was little between the two clubs in penalties as the shootout went down to the wire. Sporting's Jimmy Nielsen managed to stop Sebastian Velasquez deep into the shootout, which allowed Collin to smash home the winner with the club's ninth attempt from the spot and hand SKC its second MLS Cup title in franchise history with a 7-6 win on penalties.
4. New York, Orlando City named expansion cities
MLS continued its steady growth by expanding to not one, but two new cities for future campaigns. New York City FC and Orlando City SC were revealed to be the 20th and 21st MLS franchises, respectively, both slated to take the pitch in 2015. The announcement of New York's second MLS franchise stole headlines in May due to the club's ownership groups. Manchester City and the New York Yankees combined efforts to build the club, indicating the amount of faith that outside entities have in the league's future potential. And with how MLS loves to accentuate local rivalries, the Orlando City revelation signals that another southern franchise, either in Florida or Atlanta, could be on the way.
3. Kreis tabbed as first NYCFC coach
Real Salt Lake thrived under Jason Kreis, who led the Claret and Cobalt to an MLS Cup triumph in 2009 and another appearance in the final this year. But being touted as one of the most promising American coaches always meant that Kreis' departure from Salt Lake was eminent. Speculation of Kreis joining NYCFC began to mount when the club was announced as the 20th MLS franchise back in May, and the potential move was perpetuated throughout the year when it was reported that he met with Manchester City officials about the prospect of moving to the expansion side. Three days after RSL tasted defeat in MLS Cup, Kreis was unveiled as the NYCFC's first coach, marking a new chapter in what is sure to be a long and successful coaching career.
After finishing the 2012 season second from the bottom in the Western Conference, there was nowhere for the Portland Timbers to go but up. But no one could have envisioned such a quick turnaround. Caleb Porter was identified as the club's new manager at the end of last season, and the former University of Akron boss repaid the faith by guiding the Timbers to a first-place finish in the West this term. The Timbers lost just five matches in 2013, and the club's high-pressure, attacking style of play endeared Porter to the Timbers Army, marking the beginning of the "Porterland" era at Jeld-Wen Field.
1. Petke ends RBNY's silverware drought
Red Bull New York endured the first 17 MLS seasons without a single major piece of silverware, and that run looked set to continue when the club appointed former defender Mike Petke as its new head coach despite having no coaching experience. There were some bumps in the road, highlighted by a four- game winless run to start the season and a training ground bust-up between head coach and star player in Thierry Henry, but Petke galvanized his troops and instilled an identity that had been absent from the club since its inception. The final result was a 6-0-2 record to close the season, helping the club finish the campaign on 59 points to clinch the MLS Supporters' Shield.