Slow Friday? Scroll through the MLS Highlights of the Decade

What was the biggest story of the decade? Let's see here, give us a sec...

Before the first full week of 2010 slips away, let’s take a look back at the decade that was in MLS. The aughts (zeros? 00s?) were obviously a massive ten years for the league, with significant growth both on and off the field. Here’s a glance at the most notable moments, in and out of competition, of each year in MLS from 2000 to 2009.

2000

Off-the-Field Highlights: The league scraps the shootout, puts timekeeping in the hands of the referee on the field (with the scoreboard counting minutes up, from 0 to 90, in the traditional fashion), and locks down the most legit TV package to date. Games appear on ESPN and ESPN2, while ABC does “Soccer Saturdays.” ESPN2 also airs a weekly highlights show. Decade off to a rousing start.

On-Field Highlight: Clint Mathis scores 16 goals and adds 14 assists to lead the MetroStars to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference, and Tampa Bay’s Mamadou Diallo scores 26 goals in 28 games. But it is official policy of this blog that whenever a player buries a full bicycle kick in the back of the net, as Marcelo Balboa does in the clip below from the 2000 season, it shall automatically qualify for on-field highlight of the year. Sorry, regulations:

Honorable mention: Mexican international Luis Hernandez signs with MLS, joining the Los Angeles Galaxy.

2001

Off-Field Highlight: Landon Donovan, 19, signs a four-year loan deal with MLS, moving from Bayer Leverkusen to the San Jose Earthquakes. (He scores seven goals and adds ten assists in 22 games for the Quakes.)

On-Field Highlight: Dwayne DeRosario wins MLS Cup 2001 for those same Earthquakes, pinging one in off the post in sudden-death OT to give San Jose a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy. Here’s an in-depth video recap of that final, but be warned, it contains shocking images of Lando’s bleached-out ’do:

Honorable mention: Mamas, if you name your son Clint, chances are he’ll grow up to be a gunslinger, or a soccer player. Or both:

2002

Off-Field Highlight: MLS’s single-entity structure is preserved when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upholds verdict in favor of the league in Fraser vs Major League Soccer. Players’ rights take a (necessary) backseat to financial well-being of the league.

On-Field Highlight: MLS star Landon Donovan seals win over Mexico in the knockout stage of the 2002 World Cup, heading home a cross from MLS alum Eddie Lewis. There are 12 MLS players on the national team, and it’s the first time the U.S. has ever won a game in the World Cup knockout stage. Dos a cero:

Honorable mention: The league contracts, pulling the plug on the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny franchises. While these moves seem like negatives at the time, they turn out to be fiscal positives in the longer term.

2003

Off-Field Highlight: MetroStars goalkeeper Tim Howard moves to legendary English Premier League club Manchester United, netting a $4-million transfer fee for MLS.

On-Field Highlight: The greatest game in MLS history? We say yes: After losing 2-0 in the opener of their home-and-home Western Conference semifinal with L.A., San Jose goes down 2-0 in the first 13 minutes of the second leg, putting itself in a 4-0 hole on aggregate. So what happens? The Quakes reel off four unanswered goals, and then win the series in sudden-death OT (and go on to win the championship). Here ya go (first six minutes):

Honorable mentions: Kroenke Sports Enterprises, owners of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, purchases the Rapids; 14-year-old wunderkind Freddy Adu signs with MLS, though few thought at the time that it would only merit an honorable mention by decade’s end.

2004

Off-Field Highlights: MLS ditches overtime, confirms the addition of two expansion franchises, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, and announces a $160-million dollar sponsorship deal with adidas.

On-Field Highlight: D.C. United wins MLS Cup 2004, scoring three goals—two by Man of the Match Alecko Eskandarian—in a seven-minute span in the first half to down Kansas City 3-2. It is D.C.’s fourth league title.

Honorable mention: Two words: De. Ro.:

2005

Off-Field Highlights: The Generation adidas player-development program debuts, as does the first Reserve League in MLS history; MetroStars sign French World Cup star Youri Djorkaeff; and, at season’s end, the San Jose Earthquakes pull a Cleveland Browns and relocate to Houston, leaving the team name and history in San Jose for a potential Quakes rebirth there.

On-Field Highlight: Per official policy stated above, see Carlos Ruiz’s bike strike vs D.C. United from May 2005. It was voted top goal of MLS’s first decade.

Honorable mention: The Los Angeles Galaxy does the double, knocking off New England 1-0 in overtime to win MLS Cup 2005 several weeks after downing FC Dallas in the U.S. Open Cup final.

2006

Off-Field Highlights: Austrian energy-drink juggernaut Red Bull purchases the MetroStars, renames the team New York Red Bulls; MLS announces new TV deals with Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol, ABC, ESPN, and the Univision family of networks; and the league unveils its 13th team, Toronto FC, which will begin play the following season.

On-Field Highlights: MLS All-Stars knock off Premier League powerhouse Chelsea, 1-0, at mid-season; MLS Cup, despite being decided on penalties for the first time ever, is a cracker. Both goals come in extra time, as Taylor Twellman scores for the Revs, and Brian Ching answers for Houston, which goes on to win the shootout. Video below (with current Fulham star Clint Dempsey in Revs blue):

In Memoriam: U.S. Soccer loses two key figures: Colorado Rapids coach and U.S. national team assistant Glenn Myernick passes away, as does Lamar Hunt, a founding investor of the league and a stalwart supporter of the game in the U.S. since the 1960s.

2007

Off-Field Highlights: Let’s see here, what was it, some sort of player acquisition … give us a sec, oh right—The L.A. Galaxy signs David Beckham to a five-year contract, using the league’s new Designated Player rule, which allows teams to sign a player without concern for the salary cap. Other D.P.s follow—Cuauhtemoc Blanco joins the Chicago Fire, and Claudio Reyna and Juan Pablo Angel sign with Red Bull New York.

On-Field Highlights: Beckham and the Galaxy visit the Red Bulls, drawing 66,000 fans to Giants Stadium and staging a wild, 5-4 goal-fest. Beckham has two assists, while New York’s Juan Pablo Angel scores two goals, including the game winner.

Honorable mentions: Seattle is awarded an MLS franchise, to begin play in 2009; the Earthquakes announce their return to San Jose, due in 2008. Houston repeats as MLS champs and New England drops its third straight final, losing 2-1 in a rematch of the previous year’s title tilt.

2008

Off-Field Highlights: MLS announces a 16th team, based in Philadelphia, to begin play in 2010. Red Bulls striker Jozy Altidore, 18, is sold to Spanish club Villareal for an MLS-record $10-million; Beckham goes on loan to Italian superclub AC Milan, plays well enough to extend loan to end of season.

On-Field Highlights: Among the candidates for goal of the year is a fluke tally from Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero—a sign of things to come as the historically underachieving New York franchise (10-11-9 for the season), somehow reaches MLS Cup, falling to the Columbus Crew, 3-1. The goal-of-the-year nominees:

Honorable mention: MLS deputy commish Ivan Gazidis becomes chief executive of English superpower Arsenal.

2009

Off-Field Highlights: Expansion franchises go to Portland and Vancouver, both to begin play in 2011. Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl publishes The Beckham Experiment, his account of a year spent with the L.A. Galaxy. The book contains sharp criticisms by Landon Donovan of Beckham’s commitment to the MLS club.

On-Field Highlights: Beckham returns to MLS in July following his extended loan stay at Milan. In the face of some pretty negative crowd reactions, he jells with the Galaxy, and the team plays well and reaches the MLS Cup final. Real Salt Lake qualifies for the playoffs on the final day of the season, then makes an improbable run to the championship game, which it wins on penalties:

Honorable mention: Red Bull Arena nears completion in Harrison, N.J., and will be ready for the team’s 2010 opener, when it’s expected to be the premier stadium in the league. The new park is at the crest of a wave of nine soccer-specific stadiums built for MLS teams since 1999. Here, let Mike, Don G and JPA walk you through it.

Not a bad decade, eh? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let us know if we missed any big moments.