We'll have time for the Crew and this godawful USSF election soon enough. But tragedy tomorrow! Congratulations to Those Footballing Canadians, best team in Major League Soccer history!
It’s such a relief to talk about on-field action, especially on-field action as wonderful as Toronto provided this year. It was a great story that I wish I had covered more closely. The Seattle Sounders have nothing at all to be ashamed of – it was a season where the best team won.
And congratulations also on Toronto FC being the first MLS team to accomplish their domestic triple. Others may scoff at what I will always think of as the Nutrilite Cup, but you play the teams in front of you in the competition you enter. It certainly isn’t as if Montreal or Vancouver were going to lay down for TFC no matter how minor the tournament. And, well, real talk here. With as many MLS teams over the years treating the US Open Cup like a Reserve Cup, I think it’s fair to declare the two equivalent for triple purposes. No, MLS teams don’t get a bye into the semifinals, or even the quarterfinals, the way Canadian MLS teams do. But we’re mostly grownups here, and we can admit that the US Open Cup just isn’t a boss level. You can’t assume Toronto would have won it, but you also can’t assume they would not have.
Besides, if other MLS fans going to be short about a Canadian team declaring a triple, well – and admittedly I’m late with this suggestion – maybe DON’T LET A CANADIAN TEAM WALTZ THROUGH THE OTHER TWO TROPHIES?
It wasn’t like they squeaked their way to the other two, you know. When did Toronto clinch the Shield, anyway, 1867? They were the best team in the league by a considerable margin.
One argument against Toronto – and it’s not a great one – is that you can’t assume that all MLS teams are equal across time and space. No one really believes the 19whateveritwas Mariners were better than the 1927 Yankees. (Ooh, horrible example. The Yanks won the World Series, but, um, how to put this delicately – the M’s were allowed to have non-white players.)
So could Toronto really have beaten every other team in league history, at least most of the time?
I don’t THINK they were the best ever, but I can’t prove it. I’m too much of a mark for various Galaxy teams, and I don’t really think man for man, position for position Toronto was better than the 2008 Crew or DC United of the 1990’s. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
What evidence is that? Judge for yourself!
LET’S RANK THE TROPHY WINNERS!
Real talk for a second. I expected this particular entry to be one half congratulating Toronto and their long-suffering fans (length of suffering may not impress those in Frisco or Harrison), and then gracefully segue into the MLS expansion announcement. As of this writing, MLS is taking its own damn sweet.
So we had time to reduce the Trophies Won argument to an absurd conclusion. Here is every domestic trophy winner, ranked in order of trophies won and how far they fell short of adding the others. Toronto is obviously first, the double winners are ranked by how close they were to a triple.
Just to be crazy, let’s also list the one-trophy winners. We have to rate them behind every double winner, though.
And to be insane, let’s treat the Canadian Championships as a domestic trophy.
WHO'S THE BEST?
1. 2017 TFC. Well, that was easy. Defeated all that stood before them. May also top the Most Hated Trophy Winners list, despite objectively being not all that evil. Jozy Altidore did a hell of a lot of charity work when Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, for one thing. And…I gotta think Michael Bradley has some good points.
2. 1997 DC United. Fell short by: penalty kicks in the Open Cup. Not just any Open Cup, but an Open Cup at Indianapolis, on turf that was lousy even by 1990’s MLS standards, in what is an underrated contender for worst game ever played. The accomplishment of a near-triple wasn’t regarded at the time, because the Supporters Shield was a mere concept, and it looked like DC United was going to win everything every year anyway. The reputation of the 1997 team has taken a hit over the years thanks to Bruce Arena saying the 1998 team – CONCACAF winners as a sequel to 1997, but in their own right winners of the domestic donut – was the better team. Bruce Arena’s standing as adjudicator of all things American soccer has taken a slight murdering over the past few months, though.
3. 2002 LA Galaxy: By a one-goal loss in Columbus in the Open Cup final, which back then was held after MLS Cup. If you think Galaxy fans used that as an excuse for a lack of motivation to win the triple, you’re absolutely right. Not the last time Los Angeles would field a team of arrogant villains, this team does not get enough all-time love. Had Carlos Ruiz played every season like his first MLS season, he would have been in Europe, and Guatemala would have gone to a World Cup or two. It sounds patronizing to say Ruiz’s career was a disappointment, and I’d hesitate to say it to his face, but he was never THIS good again. Also by far the best season Alexi Lalas had in MLS.
4. 2003 Chicago Fire. By two goals in MLS Cup. For my money, this was the peak of that great run of Chicago Fire teams from back in the Carboniferous. If you had told Fire fans that Chicago would not return to MLS Cup for a minimum of fourteen years, they would have said “Wow, we really will have trouble replacing Nowak, Bocanegra, Beasley and Damani Ralph, won’t we?”
5. 2014 Seattle Sounders. By away goals in the Western Conference final. Seattle ended up living more or less happily ever after, but between this and their dear friends the Timbers beating them to MLS Cup the next year? Sometimes you just have to ragequit and fire Sigi Schmid. They are now no longer upstaged by rivals down the Pacific shoreline, but if we’re measuring which fan base was most irritated after a season with two trophies? This is probably your winner.
6. 2016 FC Dallas. By a series of injuries that derailed their playoff run in the Western semifinal, giving a clear path to Seattle, damn them. It’s early yet, but those injuries may have changed the course of the franchise. A triple (and Dallas was easily good enough to win MLS Cup that year) would have kept morale nice and high, brought in a few more season ticket holders, maybe kept some of the guys who were dying to get out this year. Dallas has a bunch of entries in a future list, Best MLS Teams That Didn’t Win a Damn Thing, and that might have stunted their fan base development even worse than their seasons at Southlake.
7. 2011 LA Galaxy. Beaten by Seattle in the Open Cup quarterfinals. Amazingly, this was not one of the years the Galaxy lost to the Carolina Railhawks. One could easily argue that gagging in the Open Cup gave the Galaxy the space they needed to win the other two trophies. Dynamo fans can also easily argue that had Brad Davis been healthy for this game, this list would be Beckham-less. Which is a long path for me to say this is who I think is the best team ever, and I think it was because of the best single-season defense in league history. From that point on, the world knew that when Bruce Arena and Omar Gonzalez were on the scene, no one was going to score on them.
8. 1999 DC United. Beaten by Charleston in extra time in the Open Cup third round. Another team that gets less all-time love than it probably should. The gang was all there, and they absolutely destroyed whatever competition MLS put in front of them. The final was as one-sided as any in MLS Cup history. All that and rookie Ben Olsen, too. But Bruce Arena by this point had made the life-altering decision to try international soccer coaching. Whatever happened to that guy? Anyway, people were reluctant to give Thomas Rongen credit for the greatest team in MLS history, which is probably why the 1998 team gets more historical affection.
9. 2008 Columbus Crew. Their old pals the Fire beat them in the MLS play-in round before the US Open Cup proper. Another popular choice for all-time best MLS team, and one that may continue to get votes even after this season. It wasn’t all Barros Schelotto, a bunch of guys on that team had career years as well. I don’t know who Sigi Schmid believes was his best team ever, but none of his Sounders teams should be in the top three. (Go back and look at that 1991 UCLA team. Brad Friedel, Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones. Sigi could recruit.)
10. 2000 Kansas City Wizards. Out in the second round of the US Open Cup, at the hands of Chicago. Not the Fire, the Sockers. While disgraceful, the Sockers were PDL champs that year, so measure that how you will. Not the worst double-winners, but the least-loved and least watchable. Connoisseurs of the arts of defense will point out just how damn good Vermes and Meola were, and the brief flash in the sky that was Miklos Molnar. But this was a Bob Gansler team doing Bob Gansler things to perfection. Interestingly, the team they beat in MLS Cup was arguably closer to a triple crown than Kansas City. Chicago won the Open Cup, lost MLS Cup by that one Molnar goal, and lost the Shield to Kansas City on goal differential.
11. 1998 Chicago Fire. By being the best expansion team ever, and not beating up on helpless opposition as much as the Galaxy, who won the Shield that year. The Fire ended up with an extremely impressive 56 points, but that was still twelve points behind the maniacal Galaxy. DC United and LA Galaxy fans are steadfastly unwilling to give this team a scintilla of credit to Chicago for this double. Among other things, neither DC nor LA entered the Open Cup in 1998, leaving Chicago more or less a clear field. (The Crew would disagree, but then Crew fans of that time weren’t any too pleased that a year after a neutral site Open Cup, Chicago would host the final.)
12. 1996 DC United. By getting off to a really slow start, eventually finishing twelve points behind Tampa Bay, 58 to 46. At 15-16-1, TECHNICALLY the only double winner to finish below .500, but shootout losses had a great deal to do with that anomaly. From 1996 to 1999, DC United won over half the trophies is was possible for an American team to win. No one really got excited about this double, because no one knew how common or uncommon it would be. Also, in the inaugural season Roy Lassiter was tearing it up for the Mutiny, so this team tends to get ranked behind those that followed in its path.
13. 2005 LA Galaxy: Those 45 points and that 13-13-6 in the MLS regular season is very misleading. One the one hand, it’s misleading because of the other two trophies. On the other hand, 2005 featured two godawful expansion teams that handed out 22 wins to the rest of the league – each. The Galaxy finished fourth in the West – only ahead of those expansion teams – and ninth overall. Fairness compels one to point out the favorable Open Cup schedule (the final was in Carson, of course) and the insanely improbably lucky MLS Cup, won extremely unconvincingly in extra time. A quick glance at the roster of this team, though – Landon, Cobi, Herculez Gomez, Kevin Hartman – might lead one to argue that Steve Sampson was holding them back from their potential.
That’s a singles bar. Heh. I’m amusing. From here on in, it's bonus silliness! Below are the single trophy winners, ranked, as above, by how many games the team in question fell short of beating Toronto to a triple. Oh, come on, it’ll be fun!
In fact, for maximum aggravation....let’s treat all the trophies as equal! INCLUDING THE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP!
14. 1999 Rochester Ragin’ Rhinos. Technically undefeated in MLS that year. I either have to put them at the top or the bottom, and I’m feeling generous.
15. 2008 Montreal Impact. Also technically undefeated in MLS, since this was the USL Impact.
16. 2004 Kansas City Wizards. Oh, I forgot this team completely, and they were nearly legendary. Needed two goals in MLS Cup and ONE MORE GOAL IN THE ENTIRE MLS REGULAR SEASON to win the triple. Disappointed in not getting more trophies, went in for an extreme makeover.
17. 2000 Chicago Fire (needed three goals during MLS season and two in MLS Cup to win the triple)
18. 2007 New England Revolution (two regular season wins or a second MLS Cup goal to win a double. The history of the Revs is so much ouch)
19. 1996 Tampa Bay Mutiny (two playoff wins and two Open Cup wins)
20. 2001 LA Galaxy (three regular season wins and another goal in MLS Cup before extra time to win a double)
21. 2006 DC United (two playoff wins and two Open Cup wins) (Boy, were these good DC United teams in the mid-aughts forgettable, or what)
22. 2009 Seattle Sounders (three playoff wins and one regular season win) (That’s how close this expansion team came to winning the Shield, they were two points back. No wonder Seattle and Chicago fans got annoyed at all the “best expansion team ever” talk about Atlanta, who ended up winning the domestic bagel)
23. 2003 San Jose Earthquakes (one regular season win and four Open Cup wins)
24. 2011 Seattle Sounders (two regular season wins and three playoff wins)
25. 2012 Sporting Kansas City (two regular season wins and three playoff wins)
26. 2013 Sporting Kansas City (one regular season win and four Open Cup wins)
27. 2014 New York Red Bulls (two playoff wins and three Open Cup wins)
28. 2014 LA Galaxy (one regular season win and four Open Cup wins. At least they made an attempt at the Shield this season)
29. 2016 Toronto FC (four regular season wins and one playoff win, viz., MLS Cup)
30. 2001 Miami Fusion (two playoff wins and four Open Cup wins)
31. 2001 San Jose Earthquakes (three regular season wins and three Open Cup wins)
32. 2005 San Jose Earthquakes (three playoff wins and three Open Cup wins)
33. 2006 Chicago Fire (three regular season wins and three playoff wins)
34. 2006 Houston Dynamo (four regular season wins and two Open Cup wins)
35. 2007 Houston Dynamo (two regular season wins and four Open Cup wins)
36. 2009 LA Galaxy (five Open Cup wins and another goal in MLS Cup)
37. 2012 San Jose Earthquakes (three playoff wins and three Open Cup wins. By the way, no iteration of the Quakes or the Dynamo have ever won more than one trophy in a single season. Isn't that weird? That strikes me as weird)
38. 2015 Vancouver Whitecaps (three regular season wins and three playoff wins)
39. 2002 Columbus Crew (five regular season wins and two playoff wins)
40. 1997 Dallas Burn (five regular season wins and two playoff wins)
41. 2004 Columbus Crew (three playoff wins and four Open Cup wins) (I completely forgot the Crew won the Shield this year)
42. 2009 Columbus Crew (three playoff wins and four Open Cup wins) (see above note)
43. 2010 Seattle Sounders (four regular season wins and three playoff wins)
44. 2013 New York Red Bulls (three playoff wins and four Open Cup wins)
45. 2015 Portland Timbers (three regular season wins and four Open Cup wins)
46. 1998 LA Galaxy (two playoff wins; and snubbed the Open Cup this year. So we’re sending them farther down the list for their arrogance)
47. 2013 Montreal Impact (four regular season wins and four playoff wins)
48. 2015 Sporting Kansas City (four regular season wins and four playoff wins)
49. 2004 DC United (three regular season wins and – hm. They were bumped before the Open Cup proper, so let’s call it five Open Cup wins)
50. 2016 Seattle Sounders (five regular season wins and three Open Cup wins)
51. 2009 Real Salt Lake (four regular season wins and, like DC United in 2004, bumped before the Open Cup proper, so call it five games)
52. 2010 Colorado Rapids (five regular season wins and, again, the Open Cup proper)
53. 2012 LA Galaxy (five regular season wins and five Open Cup wins) (It’s POSSIBLE that this team was only focused on one trophy this season)
54. 2017 Sporting Kansas City (finish 20 points behind the Shield winners and get bounced in the play-in round, and this is where you end up. Nowhere CLOSE to the worst Open Cup winners, though)
55. 2009 Toronto FC (missed the playoffs, but finished only ten points behind Columbus, the Shield winners! MLS was TIGHT in 2009!)
56. 2008 DC United (20 points behind the Shield winners, and missed MLS Cup playoffs – not the last time they would do this while winning the Open Cup)
57. 2010 Toronto FC (24 points behind the Shield winners. Did not make the playoffs. A photo-finish compared to the teams below, though)
58. 2011 Toronto FC (34 points off the Shield pace. Amazingly enough, did not make the playoffs. It got worse)
59. 2014 Montreal Impact (36 points behind Seattle, dead last in MLS. In case you were wondering why people tended to diminish the Canadian Championship)
60. 2012 Toronto FC (43 points behind. The Canadian Championship was clearly a joke, imagine an Open Cup winner finishing 43 points out of first place)
61. 2013 DC United (finished 43 points out of first place)
Six teams currently in MLS have never won a gosh-darn thing: Atlanta, Minnesota, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, and the Chivas USA/LAFC industrial complex.
So Toronto is the best ever, but they are also among the worst ever, so they meet in the middle some place.
Also, go ahead and boo Bradley and Altidore. You have my permission.
EDITED because, well, you deserve the very best, gentle reader. Mm-wah!