Best In Show

Every once in a while, MLSnet posts something for no other reason than to piss me off.

Oh, well. Onto what I wanted to talk about.

Nothing says offseason/killing time in the tense weeks before the Mexico game like ten best lists. We just had what I consider to be a hugely disappointing countdown on one of my fellow bloggers'...er, blogs. Allow me to approach the matter differently.

There have been nine MLS double winners of various stripes over our long and glorious history. They are:

1996 DC United (MLS Cup, Open Cup)
1997 DC United (MLS Cup, Supporters Shield)
1998 Chicago Fire (MLS Cup, Open Cup)
1999 DC United (MLS Cup, Supporters Shield)
2000 Kansas City Wizards (MLS Cup, Supporters Shield)
2002 Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS Cup, Supporters Shield)
2003 Chicago Fire (Open Cup, Supporters Shield) (the only time this particular double has been accomplished, oddly enough)
2005 Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS Cup, Open Cup)
2008 Columbus Crew (MLS Cup, Supporters Shield)

To this list, I'll add four teams that, although only single trophy winners, particularly stand out - Commissioner's Picks, if you will:
1998 Los Angeles Galaxy
2000 Chicago Fire
2003 San Jose Earthquakes
2005 San Jose Earthquakes

Total of thirteen, for a Top Ten list.

"Hey, what about CONCACAF Champions Cup winners DC in 1998 and LA in 2001?" Meh. , It was a little easier to win CONCACAF back then than it is now. Okay, a lot easier. DC didn't win anything else that year, except a Boca Juniors ERRRR Vasco da Gama home-and-"home". Very pretty titles, but as far as I'm concerned those were won by the 1997 team. LA won the Open Cup in 2001 as well, making it technically a double year, but they lost to the Quakes in the MLS Cup final and the Fusion in the Shield race. I mean...c'mon, the Fusion. The whole league should feel silly about that one.

"Hey, what about this that and the other?" How about not being able to win the division, let alone the Shield or the Cup, the same year you win MLS Cup, huh, Dynamo? Great teams there in Houston, but you finished behind Dallas and Chivas USA, and neither of them even won the Shield. If we're only counting games played in November, awesome, last year's Dynamo gets in the top three. We're not.

No one else has as good a complaint as Houston, so if you want to talk about how great the 2000 Metrostars were, start your own blog.

Now, here's where it gets difficult. I'm probably giving away my number one already with this, but, I decided to list the teams by how close they came to an as-yet-unprecedented MLS triple.

Triple. This is the United States. Treble is on your stereo.

1996 DC United: missed it by stinking up the regular season.
1997 DC United: missed it by a penalty kick shootout in the Open Cup. That's pretty close.
1998 Fire: missed it by twelve points in the Shield race, finished behind LA and DC.
1998 Galaxy: missed it by gagging in the playoffs to the Fire and by not entering the Open Cup, the last year MLS teams were allowed to skip the tournament.
1999 DC United: lost in the third round of the Open Cup to Charleston. C'mon.
2000 Fire: Oh, boy. Lost MLS Cup 1-0, and lost the Shield on freaking goal differential. That's really cruel.
2000 Wizards: Lost the Open Cup on penalties. In the second round. To a PDL team. That the Fire beat in the next round. This team took a lot of abuse for not being pretty, but not nearly enough for losing to the Chicago Sockers.
2002 Galaxy: 1-0 loss in the Open Cup final.
2003 Fire: Lost MLS Cup to the Quakes, probably their only really crummy performance of that year. To be fair, they were pretty well handled by San Jose.
2003 Quakes: Only two points behind the Fire in the Shield race, but they stumbled badly in the last month to blow it. Knocked out in the Open Cup in the third round by Seattle.
2005 Earthquakes: knocked out of the Open Cup and MLS playoff first round by:
2005 Galaxy: who were positively unwatchable for huge swathes of the regular season. The Galaxy totally don't deserve to be on this list, and the Quakes don't deserve it for losing to the Galaxy. Okay, cool, we're back to eleven.
2008 Crew: missed the Open Cup proper...in fairness, because of an extra-time loss to an actual MLS team, the Fire, which they would avenge.

Honorable mention: 1996 DC United

In fairness, these guys are tied with the 1998 Fire, maybe ranked ahead of them. But pretty much everything you can say about this team you can say, in more glowing terms, about the 1997 outfit. Unless you're a HUGE Mark Simpson fan. (Besides, if Calichman plays the final, DC loses this game. I know, I know. Ifs, buts, candy, nuts. What do you want, I'm still bitter.)

10. 2003 Earthquakes

The definitive San Jose Earthquakes team. Would be ranked much higher if they hadn't coasted into the playoffs, costing them the Shield, or if they hadn't phoned in the Open Cup. Frank Yallop coached a masterpiece in the playoffs that year. This was the team that came back against LA in the playoffs, overcoming a four goal deficit. The Quakes laugh at Liverpool, in other words. On the other hand, who told San Jose to spot the Galaxy four goals to begin with?

9: 1998 Galaxy

My favorite team ever. Most goals scored, most wins, most points, led MLS in offense and defense in the same year. But it wasn't a fluke they lost to Chicago, the Fire were far better coached. Besides, they lost in the regular season series to DC and Columbus, the other playoff semifinalists this year. I'll always love these guys, but they beat the snot out of weak teams and didn't do as well against good ones. (Had Hermosillo not brought this team to a screeching halt, this would be a very different paragraph. Ifs, buts, candy, nuts.)

8. 2000 Wizards

Usually among the first teams jettisoned from consideration from lists like these - the 2000 Mutiny is more fondly remembered, let alone the 1996 Mutiny. They weren't pretty by any means, but they were certainly talented. League MVP Tony Meola, Defender of the Year Peter Vermes, Chris Klein, Nick Garcia, Kerry Zavagnin, Chris Henderson, Mo Johnston, Preki, Miklos Molnar, stalwarts Prideaux and McKeon - that was a solid lineup. They might have even won without Bunker Bob Gansler's turtle tactics.

7. 1998 Fire

Usually the first team I jettison from consideration from lists like these. DC United and the Galaxy didn't even ENTER the Open Cup this year...although, the Fire beat both in the MLS playoffs. Nowhere near as talented as DC or LA...although, the Fire beat both in the MLS playoffs. I've come to terms with this team over the years - Bradley did a wonderful job forging this team, and if they were a tad defensive, well, what were they supposed to do? Let Moreno and Etcheverry just have the field to themselves?

6. 1999 DC United

At the time it looked like DC United would roll on forever, but in retrospect this was an appendage to the dynasty. No Arena? No Harkes? No RDA? No Sanneh? Had Ben Olsen not broken his leg in Nottingham, maybe this would have been the start of another chapter. Ifs, buts, candy, nuts. Still, in 1999 DC absolutely massacred everyone else in the league - you can't hold 2000 against this team, can you? Hand-wringing over whether to rank this team higher ameliorated greatly by Open Cup loss to Charleston.

4. (tie) 2000 Fire, 2003 Fire

These were fairly different teams, but I'll lump them together as the best of the non-MLS Cup winners. The 2000 team was the definitive Bob Bradley Fire team, of course. Even though they only won a measly, pathetic little Open Cup - and against Miami, for God's sake, what was even the point? - they came as close to a triple as a one-trophy winner is every likely to. Seriously, goal differential in the Shield race? Catching the best defending team in MLS history on their golden day? If only Miklos Molnar had retired a year before.

The fate of the '03 Fire was even more cruel. They were handled pretty effectively in the MLS Cup final, but that was their very worst day. (And I still wonder if Bocanegra and Beasley weren't looking ahead to European careers.) That was the only day they weren't the best team in the league, almost by acclamation. It took a really special team to take away their crown. So why haven't I ranked the '03 Quakes ahead of them? Um, yeah, these lists are tough.

3. 2008 Crew

Presumably you remember these guys.

2. 2002 Galaxy

Bitter, blinkered LA partisans - and there are no other kind any more - will point out that the Open Cup this year was scheduled three days after MLS Cup, in Columbus. Therefore, an emotional and motivational breakdown was inevitable. And they still only lost to the Crew 1-0. Well, just because you don't care about a loss very much doesn't mean it didn't happen. Still, this was a pretty dominant team, even if led by supervillains Carlos Ruiz and Alexi Lalas.

1. 1997 DC United

Scott Garlick, David Vaudreuil, Eddie Pope, Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos, Richie Williams, Tony Sanneh, John Harkes, Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Raul Diaz Arce

Yeah, that'll do. Only a PK loss in one of the worst games ever played, the 1997 Open Cup Final, blots the record. Another way to pick a list like this is by future Hall of Fame reps...and I think this team also would top that list.

...but that's not what I wanted to talk about.

Back after DC won their first title, a friend of mine snarled that DC United wouldn't be in the top ten of American-based teams of all-time. He was talking about the New York Cosmos in particular, but now that MLS is nearly growed up, and now that we know more about the history of the original American Soccer League...how do the best MLS teams stack up?

Well, the top ten US teams of all time are....

....going to have to wait for a future post.