The reasons why 2014 was the most entertaining MLS season for nine years

Fans of the game don’t need to be told how entertaining the most recent Major League Soccer campaign was in terms of the tension, adrenaline, jubilation and despair that it created.

Having been through the emotional roller coaster of supporting your club through a season, most will now be at peace with how their team performed in 2014 – whether they are pleased or disappointed is another question entirely.

In terms of entertainment value, MLS has come up trumps once again as the 2014 season saw 924 goals hitting the back of the net – the most ever scored in a regular season.

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Since 2012, MLS has seen more matches being played over the course of the season due to more teams being in the league and format adjustments, so it would be easy to say that the only reason we’ve seen the most goals is because there are more games.

While that is true, it’s important to bear in mind that 2014 managed to produce the highest average goals-per-game ratio since 2005 and that the standard of play in the league is now far higher than nine years ago.

MLS, year by year:

mls season stats

A closer look at the numbers will also tell you that the 2014 season saw the highest average attendance in the history of Major League Soccer.

The average attendance is up by 554 on last season and is 341 higher than the previous record of 18,807 that we saw in 2012.

With New York City and Orlando City joining in 2015, it’s clear for all to see the growth of MLS and if ever there was proof needed that the league was on the rise, then the attendance figures for this year just about confirm that fact.

Is Major League Soccer becoming one of the biggest leagues in the world?

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Can Jermaine Jones help New England Revolution dominate MLS in 2015?

New England Revolution will still be licking their wounds after an agonising defeat at the hands of LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final, but all isn’t lost and they have plenty to look forward to in next year’s campaign.

One of their key assets in the end of season run-in was USA international Jermaine Jones who joined the Revs from Turkish side Besiktas in August 2014 and went on to make 15 appearances combining the end of the regular season and New England’s MLS Cup run.

As well as his dominant midfield performances which further allowed playmaker Lee Nguyen to express himself, he also chipped in with three goals and four assists.

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With Jones in the side, New England won 11, tied two and lost two of the 15 games in which he featured – one of those being that painful 2-1 defeat after extra-time against LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final.

If they can continue that kind of form when the 2015 season gets underway then they will be a serious force and you would expect them to be the team to beat.

New England Revolution’s stats and projected points total with Jones on the pitch compared to without him makes for frightening reading for other MLS teams going in to the next campaign.

JJ Stats

[*Includes points that New England Revolution would have gained from MLS playoff fixtures]

The highest points tally in an MLS season came when LA Galaxy accrued a total of 68 in the 1998 season, which they did so at a rate of 2.13 points per game.

The stats show that if New England can continue to play the way they have been, then they could potentially blow that record out of the water.

Will New England Revolution break the record for the highest points tally next year?

2014 MLS Season Review: LA Galaxy

Western Conference Final Position: 2nd

Western Conference Playoffs: Winners

MLS Cup Winners 2014

Review

Putting it simply, 2014 has been an excellent season for LA Galaxy. They have won the MLS Cup, but not just that, they have made history by winning a record fifth title and now become the most successful club in the history of the competition. It has made for a fairytale ending for club legend Landon Donovan who has now retired.

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Best Moment

Many will look to Robbie Keane‘s 111th minute winner in the MLS Cup Final as the clear front-runner for the greatest moment of 2014 for LA Galaxy, and rightly so. However, without Juninho‘s strike in the second-leg of the Western Conference championship tie away at Seattle Sounders, they would never have had the opportunity to lift the title.

Worst Moment

The one low point of the season will be the 2-0 defeat at Seattle Sounders in the last game of the regular season which saw their Western Conference rivals win the Supporters’ Shield.

Player of the Year

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Robbie Keane was the Major League Soccer MVP and although the LA Galaxy team was filled with great performers in 2014 such as Landon Donovan, Gyasi Zardes and Marcelo Sarvas – to name just a few – he gets the nod for player of the year. His winning goal in the MLS Cup Final against New England Revolution was a priceless moment that only emphasised his importance to this Galaxy side.

Biggest Win

LA Galaxy 6-0 Colorado Rapids (September 6 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Columbus Crew 4-1 LA Galaxy (August 16 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

First and foremost, the Galaxy will need to try and find a suitable replacement for Landon Donovan. Finding a player to replace the aura that Donovan leaves behind is near impossible, but they will need to look for someone who possesses a similar level of ability – not an easy task.

Another pointer would be to try and hit the ground running in 2015. They came out of the traps slowly at the beginning of the 2014 campaign, picking up just two wins from their first eight games, which handed the initiative to their rivals immediately. They need to set the benchmark early on next time around.

2014 MLS Season Review: Seattle Sounders

Western Conference Final Position: 1st

Western Conference Playoffs: Final

Review

Seattle Sounders had a really strong regular season campaign, finishing with the highest points tally across both conferences. Although they couldn’t quite make it as far as they’d have liked in the playoffs, their overall performances cannot really to be questioned. Sealing the Supporters’ Shield gives them a great building block for the new season when even more will be expected of them.

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Best Moment

Beating their closest Western Conference competitors LA Galaxy in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. The 2-0 result shows that even though the Sounders struggled to find their way to the playoff final, they still have what it takes to win trophies, having also lifted the U.S. Open Cup.

Worst Moment

Conceding the all-important goal of the playoff tie with LA. Seattle had done enough to qualify for the final after turning around the 1-0 first leg loss and will still be ruing their inability to see that second-leg through.

Player of the Year

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Clint Dempsey – the forward had the best strike rate for the Sounders this season and showed again what he can do in the big games. His impressive tally of 16, joined by Obafemi Martins‘ 17 shows what a great partnership they have together.

Biggest Win

Seattle Sounders 4-0 Real Salt Lake (May 31 2014)

Biggest Defeat

New England Revolution 5-0 Seattle Sounders (May 11 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

There isn’t much that they need to improve for the next campaign, as they were so close to the near perfect season. They do however have to be able to shut teams out – a key example being the 4-4 draw with Portland Timbers. Having to chase games late on like this isn’t ideal for the best side across the conferences based on points total.

The only real disappointment of the season was the playoffs. With knockout football being the completely different style of game that it is, you can’t really have too many complaints with Seattle’s performance. On another day they may have been able to hold out for a place in the final, which they have to feel their season deserved.

2014 MLS Season Review: New York Red Bulls

Eastern Conference final Position: 4th

Eastern Conference Playoffs: Conference Final

Review

The New York Red Bulls had a successful campaign in many respects. Their regular season form was far from consistent but they reached the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and went further than in any of the previous four by reaching the Eastern Conference Championship game in which they lost to the New England Revolution.

The fans witnessed French legend Thierry Henry play in Red Bull colours for the final season and a new era is on the horizon for New York in 2015. Bradley Wright-Phillips was in electrifying form in front of goal in 2014 and the Red Bulls have a new hero to call on in front of goal now.

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Best Moment

Overcoming top seeded DC United to reach the Eastern Conference Final in the MLS Playoffs. The Red Bulls progressed by winning 3-2 on aggregate.

Worst Moment

After the completion of their season, Thierry Henry announced he would not be returning to play for the Red Bulls for the 2015 season. A huge loss both on the field and off of it as well.

Player of the Year

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Bradley Wright-Phillips – BWP has been the catalyst to this formidable Red Bulls attack and has an incredible goal tally of 31 goals over the course of the entire season. A great year for the Englishman and he will hope to replicate that form in 2015. He tied the all-time single-season MLS goalscoring record with 27 in the regular season and has been simply sensational.

Biggest Win

New York Red Bulls 4-0 Houston Dynamo (April 23 2014)

Biggest Defeat

LA Galaxy 4-0 New York Red Bulls (September 29 2014)

What to improve on for 2015 season

The Red Bulls first and foremost need to replace Thierry Henry. The versatile forward has been sensational once again this season and has been the main provider for BWP.

Strengthening defensively will help to decrease the amount of goals they concede and possibly a strong defensive midfield addition will support their frail defence. It will be a crucial offseason for the club and they will need to make sure the squad is filled with quality before the start of the 2015 campaign.

Why didn’t it work for Charlie Davies in the MLS Cup Final?

The MLS Cup Final was a strange game for the New England Revolution, as we didn’t really see them get out of first gear too often. As a result, they lost in extra-time to the LA Galaxy for the third time in three finals between the clubs.

Charlie Davies was in fine form after good displays in the previous playoff rounds, scoring four, including that crucial brace against the New York Red Bulls.

His regular season form wasn’t much to go on (3 goals in 18 games), with Lee Nguyen the main outlet of goals for the Revs, which is why he was a surprise package in the playoffs.

As we predicted in our MLS Cup Final preview, he was a player who LA Galaxy would need to keep an eye on, but it wasn’t too difficult a task in the end. The Revs didn’t really have an outlet up top until Patrick Mullins replaced Davies, so Galaxy defenders Leonardo and Omar Gonzalez had little to worry about.

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A major factor of his poor performance has to be the low-key display in general from the Revs, but more importantly Lee Nguyen. Without Nguyen pulling the strings and having the Galaxy defence committing to him, Davies was unable to find any free space in behind.

Davies showed in the previous ties he was reacting well to half chances and thrived on the counter-attack – something else we didn’t see too much of from New England in the final.

Davies had one good chance on the break in the first-half but his lack of pace cost him as AJ DeLaGarza raced back in time to make a key tackle, and they may have unsettled the Revs forward.

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It has to be said that the Galaxy defence put in a really strong performance. Leonardo and Gonzalez led by example and did not give Davies an inch.

Anytime he was successful in a duel, the result of the hold up play ended up with the Galaxy quickly regaining possession.

The substitution of Patrick Mullins came at the perfect time for the Revs as the game was beginning to be stretched as they pushed for the equaliser. This in turn created more space in the final third, something Davies couldn’t utilise due to the game being tight before he was brought off.

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Mullins wasn’t afraid to run the channels, and that is what earned the goal for New England as the rookie then found Chris Tierney, who fired in the precious equaliser.

Despite a difficult performance, the Revs will be happy with Davies’s progression and they have protected him ahead of the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft.

We can expect to see New England challenging on all fronts next campaign and more from Davies will be expected throughout the 2015 season.

Why did Charlie Davies struggle against the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final?

2014 MLS Season Review: FC Dallas

Western Conference Final Position: 4th

Western Conference Playoffs: Semi-Final

Review

FC Dallas had a steady season and winning almost half their games gave them the right to be in one of the playoff positions. Their performance in the playoff semi-final against Sounders showed many of the same issues they had in the regular season. They failed to create enough in the final third and ultimately were punished by the new MLS away goals rule. Given the Sounders impressive season though, they do have positives to take from two tough ties.

Losing the most games out of the top five in the Western Conference proved to be the difference between them and the ‘elite’ sides such as LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.

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Best Moment

A ten-game unbeaten run through the middle of the season saw the team move up the Western Conference as they picked up 24 points from a possible 30 in a remarkable run of form.

Worst Moment

Failing to score in the second-leg of the semi-final game against Seattle. Although Dallas didn’t lose either of the two games going out on goal difference is agonising. In a game that many expected Dallas to lose, they had chances but by not ‘throwing the kitchen sink’ at Seattle they ultimately suffered. That said getting that far and still not losing either game does give them positives to take into 2015.

Player of the Year

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Fabian Castillo – the 22-year-old is a real gem for Dallas and one they have to keep and build upon in the coming season. Scoring 10 in 27 is a great return and he found the net in big games, including the late winner against LA Galaxy in October. The Colombian also added four assists in a fine campaign. Expect more from him next year.

Biggest Win

San Jose 0-5 FC Dallas (August 16 2014)

Biggest Defeat

DC United 4-1 FC Dallas (April 26 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

Shutting out games is a main area to improve on. If Dallas could have turned around just half of their losses into draws they’d have finished the season in an even stronger position with 60 points. Overall it was a great season for Dallas but they must push on next term to prove they can be one of the biggest sides in MLS. Winning games they would be expected to do is another area they must improve on. Losing at San Jose and Chicago were poor results. Luckily it didn’t cost them but consistency is a must.

2014 MLS Season Review: DC United

Eastern Conference final position: 1st

Eastern Conference playoffs: Semi-Final

Best Moment

3-0 win against the reigning MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park in August, in which they were 3-0 up at halftime.

Worst Moment

Easily the recent 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in their Eastern Conference semi-final first-leg. DC failed to score and left themselves with just a little too much to do against their rivals.

Player of the Year

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Bill Hamid – it was tough to decide between him and Fabian Espindola. However, the DC keeper has more than earned this title. Superb all season and he looks set for a bright future with DC and the USMNT.

Biggest Win

DC United 4-1 FC Dallas (April 26 2014)

Biggest Defeat

LA Galaxy 4-1 DC United (August 28 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

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DC United‘s remarkable improvement from the 2013 season saw them cruise into the playoffs and that deserves great credit. They will expect to be challenging at the top of the Eastern Conference once again next season but need to play much the same style. They must follow up a solid season defensively and will look to add a few more goals to their tally. Eddie Johnson must start firing (if he remains in DC) if they are to challenge for the MLS Cup.

2014 MLS Season Review: Sporting Kansas City

Eastern Conference Final Position: 5th

Eastern Conference Playoffs: Knockout Round

Best Moment

Coming back from 1-0 down at halftime to beat Toronto away from home on July 26. It showed that the reigning champs still knew how to get the job done, in what was a good run of form.

Worst Moment

It seems obvious but their exit from the MLS playoffs. The defeat in the Eastern Conference knockout round to New York Red Bulls was a major disappointment, especially as they led until the 77th minute. Poor defensive communication saw them concede a last minute Bradley Wright-Phillips winner which sealed their fate. Devastating for the MLS Cup holders.

Player of the Year

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Dom Dwyer has been the standout performer in a tough year for SKC. Losing Graham Zusi and Matt Besler for the World Cup hindered their season, but with Dwyer’s finishing ability, SKC always looked threatening going forward, and he ended the season with an impressive 23 goal tally.

Biggest Win

Sporting Kansas City 4-0 Montreal Impact (April 26 2014)

Chivas USA 0-4 Sporting Kansas City (September 13 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Sporting Kansas City 0-3 D.C United (August 24 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season… 

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They had the highest possession percentage in MLS this year and converting that dominance on the field into more wins will be key. They should aim to be more clinical going forward, and look to get more names on the score-sheet as they became a little over reliant on Dwyer. SKC should come back stronger for the 2015 season and will look to be fighting at the top of the Western Conference after being moved from the Eastern.

2014 MLS Season Review: Vancouver Whitecaps

Western Conference Final Position: 5th

Western Conference Playoffs: Knockout Round

Review

Despite their agonising exit from the playoffs via a 2-1 defeat at the hands of FC Dallas, the 2014 season will go down as the best so far for the Vancouver Whitecaps since they began competing in Major League Soccer in 2011. It saw them record their highest points tally (50) – their previous best was the 48 points they accumulated last season (2013).

Best Moment

Their five-game unbeaten run at the end of the season is the biggest highlight as they charged towards the playoff positions and nipped in ahead of Portland Timbers by just one point.

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Worst Moment

The 84th minute penalty conceded by Kendall Watson after he was controversially adjudged to have handled the ball intentionally against FC Dallas in the playoff knockout game. Some will argue that it was the right call to award the spot kick, while many will say very much the opposite. Whatever way you dress it up, it’s a gut wrenching way to lose any game of soccer, let alone bow out of the playoffs. You have to sympathise for the Whitecaps who had worked ever so hard to be in such a great position this season.

Player of the Year

Pedro Morales is a name that has rightly popped up frequently when discussing the Vancouver team. The Chilean has been an inspiration in midfield and to finish the 2014 season as the top goalscorer and assist-maker at the club shows how crucial he is and will continue to be. Keeping hold of him is essential to their future.

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Biggest Win

Vancouver Whitecaps 4-1 New York Red Bulls (March 9 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-3 Portland Timbers (August 31 2014)

Portland Timbers 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (September 20 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

There are numerous positives to take from their performance this year. They have shown a gradual improvement for every season that they have been in MLS and this should fill them with confidence that they can continue to grow.

Vancouver Whitecaps points tally since participation in Major League Soccer:

Whitecaps points tallies

One area they could look to improve is up-front. They have lacked a prolific goalscorer and have relied heavily on Pedro Morales to do the business from midfield. The man with the most goals for the Whitecaps other than Morales is Darren Mattocks with six.

The news of Erick Torres becoming a free agent in the close season is interesting and he could be someone that’s on their radar as they look to fill that void.

Vancouver Whitecaps have the potential to be one of the strongest teams for the 2015 season.