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Top 5 game-changing moments from the 2023 MLS season

Every season in Major League Soccer brings us more iconic moments than the previous season, and 2023 was no exception.

Throughout the regular season and the postseason, players across both Western and Eastern Conferences helped their team to victory with clutch goals and individual brilliance, while others had games to forget at the season wore on.

Here are the top five game-changing moments from the 2023 MLS season.

Sartini was not happy the the refereeing against LAFC

Sartini was not happy the the refereeing against LAFC / Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports

In the first round of the postseason, 2022 MLS Cup winners LAFC were up 1-0 in the series vs Vancouver Whitecaps and were also 1-0 up in extra time, looking to seal a sweep to gain passage to the next round.

The Whitecaps earned a late corner kick, and the ball found its way to midfielder Alessandro Schopf but before he could line up a strike, referee Timothy Ford got in between the 29-year-old and the ball. LAFC raced forward on a counter-attack and Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga scored on an open goal, and it was eventually chalked off due to offside.

For that entire sequence, Whitecaps boss Vanni Sartini was irate on the touchline before running out of his technical area to give the officials a piece of his mind. However, the only thing that came from the game was a postseason exit for Vancouver as well as Sartini receiving a six-game suspension for violating league policy.

Lionel Messi

Messi captured the world’s gaze upon signing for Miami / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Lionel Messi’s arrival in south Florida brought back the memories of David Beckham when he joined LA Galaxy.

Soon after the 36-year-old’s arrival, the world began to pay more attention to Messi and how he was getting on with the Herons. While Messi willed them to their first trophy via Leagues Cup, they were unable to secure qualification to the playoffs. However, Messi still registered a solid one goal with two assists in just four starts (372 minutes) in MLS.

Miami will hope for more league success in 2024 with Messi and the likes of Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba, but his arrival in North American soccer will hopefully be a game-changer for years to come.

Aaron Boupendza #9 (R) of FC Cincinnati and Sigurd Rosted #...

Boupendza’s strike sealed the Supporters’ Shield for FCC / SOPA Images/GettyImages

FC Cincinnati summer singing Aaron Boupendza played his part in the club winning its first-ever trophy by finding the back of the net in the 72nd minute on the road against Toronto FC.

Prior to the 2022 season, Pat Noonan’s first as head coach, Cincinnati were unable to even consider lifting a trophy anytime soon. But thanks to everyone pulling in the right direction with the leadership of Noonan, Boupendza’s late goal at BMO Field saw the Orange and Blue clinch the 2023 Supporters’ Shield title.

Although FCC weren’t able to lift MLS Cup, they still have plenty to be proud after picking up their first-ever piece of silverware with MLS MVP Lucho Acosta leading the charge.

Thiago Almada, Brad Guzan

Almada stunned the world with some last minute magic vs San Jose / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Atlanta United were staring down the barrel of a 1-0 defeat to San Jose Earthquakes on Opening Day in late February before star midfielder Thiago Almada stepped up to save the day.

Brooks Lennon squared it to Almada on the edge of San Jose’s penalty area on a corner kick, and the 22-year-old smashed it home off the crossbar to level things in the 93rd minute. But it gets better.

The Five Stripes had a free kick in a dangerous area and had a chance to win on just about the final kick of the contest. Almada lined up a picture-perfect strike in the 99th minute that Earthquakes’ goalkeeper Daniel was unable to reach, sending the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium into a frenzy.

Victor Rivas, Matt Miazga

Miazga’s second yellow card changed everything for the Orange and Blue / Howard Smith/ISI Photos/GettyImages

We didn’t know it at the time, but this was a huge moment in MLS postseason history as well as Cincinnati’s chances for winning MLS Cup.

In the first round of the playoffs against New York Red Bulls (up 1-0 in the series), Cincinnati 2023 Defender of the Year Matt Miazga slotted home his penalty attempt during the shootout as his side went on to sweep RBNY to advance to the conference semifinals.

But there was a catch: Miazga was already booked during regulation, and he was shown a second yellow card after riling up the RBNY supporters (his former club) and was eventually suspended for three games ahead of his team’s clash with Columbus Crew.

As we know, Cincinnati came up short in extra time vs the Crew despite having a 2-0 lead at halftime. If they had Miazga on the field with their comfortable lead, who knows what could’ve potentially happened not only in the clash vs Columbus but even in MLS Cup.

Roman Celentano, Ian Murphy, Alvas Powell, Yerson Mosquera

Powell’s own goal kick-started Cincinnati’s downfall / Jeff Dean/GettyImages

The 2023 Eastern Conference final between FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew was definitely one for the ages.

However, it took until after the first half for the game to finally get interesting. FCC were in cruise control in the first half with a 2-0 lead on their bitter in-state rivals.

That all changed when super-sub Christian Ramirez’s shot bounced off Cincinnati defender Alvas Powell into the Orange and Blue’s goal, providing Columbus with a lifeline. From then on, the rest was history, as they say.

Cincinnati bowed out of the playoffs after Ramirez’s 115th minute winner before the Black and Gold took down LAFC in the final to win their third MLS Cup.


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