Top 10 MLS Cup Finals
Soccer and nostalgia go well together. If you’re in the mood to reminisce about MLS Cups of yesteryear, you’ve come to the right place.
There’s nothing better than looking back at historic moments in sports. While MLS is not as old as other major sports leagues in the U.S., it still has its share of iconic moments—especially in the MLS Cup.
Since 1996, 15 teams have had the pleasure of calling themselves MLS Cup champions. With 75 goals, 102 yellow cards, and two red cards across 27 years, the MLS Cup is an annual source of soccer excitement.
Let’s take a look back at the top MLS Cup Final moments. Caution: some videos may contain frosted tips and baggy shorts.
#10: Cool story, bro—Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake (2013)
Hosts Sporting Kansas City played to a 1–1 draw against Real Salt Lake in the coldest MLS Cup Final ever. With the temperature dropping as low as 20°F, the game reached extra time and eventually went to a penalty shootout. Sporting came out on top after a lengthy 10 rounds of penalties to claim their second league title. Major props go to the supporters who stuck it out in those temps, though Sporting’s 2016 Night King tifo suggests they may actually enjoy the cold.
#9: Schelotto’s assist hat trick—Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls (2008)
It took 12 seasons for the Columbus Crew to reach the MLS Cup Final. Yet, when their time finally came, they rose to the occasion brilliantly. Just like during the regular season, Argentine forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto was in full control of the Crew’s attack. He assisted in all three of the team’s goals as they went on to dominate the New York Red Bulls with a 3–1 win. You must watch this match if only to see Schelotto’s outrageous chip assist that solidified his assist hat trick.
#8: Nice try, Stefan Frei—Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC (2016)
Sure, soccer is a team sport. But during the 2016 MLS Cup Final, Stefan Frei single-handedly showed us how important goalkeepers can be. In a game that went to extra time, the Seattle Sounders failed to register a single shot on target for all 120 minutes. Luckily Frei was between the sticks that night, so, when the game went to penalties, the goalkeeper came up big. We almost felt like becoming Sounders fans that night. But nice try, Stefan Frei.
#7: A fond Adu—D.C. United vs. Kansas City Wizards (2004)
During the start of the Freddy Adu craze, D.C. United reached their fifth MLS Cup Final. In what would be the team’s final championship appearance thus far, United took home the trophy after a dramatic 3–2 win over the Kansas City Wizards. The match is notable for then-15-year-old Adu’s substitute appearance and the first red card in MLS Cup Final history courtesy of Dema Kovalenko. There was also a seven-minute period that saw United score all three of their goals. It’s a lot to unload, making it such a prominent final.
#6: New kids on the block—Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United (1998)
The Chicago Fire got off to a hot start during their inaugural MLS season. Bob Bradley led the expansion team to the MLS Cup Final, where they defeated defending champions D.C. United. If it weren’t for Chicago’s triumph, United would’ve won every MLS Cup Final in the ‘90s. What’s even more wild is the fact that, just five days after the final, Chicago went on to complete a domestic double by winning the U.S. Open Cup.
#5: California Clásico—San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy (2001)
Just over a month after the September 11 attacks, interstate rivals San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy found themselves meeting for the first time in an MLS Cup Final. It was an emotional time for the country, but sporting events like the MLS Cup gave people a much-needed feeling of togetherness. Landon Donovan played a starring role in the game, which saw San Jose win 2–1 after securing a golden goal in extra time.
#4: Everyone loves an underdog—Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy (2009)
After David Beckham’s arrival at LA Galaxy in 2007, it seemed like only a matter of time until the English superstar would lead the team to its sixth MLS Cup Final appearance. It took two years, but the LA Galaxy got their chance in 2009, and, well, Real Salt Lake said no to that. Jason Kreis’s Royals held the Galaxy to a 1–1 draw before goalkeeper Nick Rimando stepped up and made three crucial saves in the ensuing penalty shootout. Sorry, Beckham. Better luck next time.
#3: First things first—D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy (1996)
The inaugural MLS season had everything from funky team names to odd rules and regulations. It was all an attempt to raise awareness and draw blockbuster crowds, so you can only imagine how flashy the first MLS Cup must’ve been even during a torrential downpour. Despite the rain, D.C. United came from behind and defeated LA Galaxy 3–2 with a golden goal in extra time.
#2: Goals galore—San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire (2003)
It’s no question that one of the highest-scoring MLS Cup Finals was action-packed. In a battle between the two natural-disaster-themed teams, the San Jose Earthquakes cruised to a 4–2 victory over the Chicago Fire. Landon Donovan was all the rage, scoring two goals and earning MVP honors. Besides the scoreline, the notable moment here was that it would be the final time Donovan reached an MLS Cup championship with San Jose.
#1: Gareth Bale’s Hollywood ending—LAFC vs. Philadelphia Union (2022)
The 2022 MLS Cup Final was a true Hollywood classic. When the final whistle sounded, LAFC and the Philadelphia Union found themselves tied at 2–2. LAFC received a red card in extra time, and the Union eventually clinched the go-ahead goal. But the game’s narrative took a thrilling turn in its final moments as LAFC’s Gareth Bale scored a spectacular equalizer. The goal forced a penalty shootout, and LAFC came out on top to claim their first MLS Cup trophy. Two months later, Bale retired from professional football. Fade to black.