From D.C. United’s win in the inaugural MLS Cup in 1996, to New York City FC’s victory in the 2021 title game, here’s a ranking of all 26 Major League Soccer championship games.
26. 2008: Columbus Crew over New York Red Bulls, 3-1
This is the only MLS Cup appearance ever for NYRB (previously the MetroStars), and they were no match for the Crew. League MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto assisted on all three goals in the rout.
25. 1998: Chicago Fire over D.C. United, 2-0
The Fire halted D.C. United’s quest to win the first three titles in league history with a comfortable dispatching of the league’s dominant team at the time. Chicago scored twice in the first half to cruise to the first (and still only) championship won by an MLS expansion team.
24. 1999: D.C. United over Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-0
After winning the first two MLS Cups, D.C. United fell to the expansion Chicago Fire in the championship game in 1998. The team was back in the title game in 1999, and cruised to a pedestrian win.
23. 2010: Colorado Rapids over FC Dallas, 2-1
The last of the neutral-site MLS Cups is a somewhat forgettable affair. Neither team was really expected to be there. Colorado prevailed on a game-winning own goal in extra time, set up by Rapids striker Macoumba Kandji, who injured himself on the play.
22. 2004: D.C. United over Kansas City Wizards, 3-2
Freddy Adu was a mega-hyped 15-year-old MLS rookie and came on as a second-half sub in the last of four MLS Cup wins for D.C. United. Despite being up a man for more than 30 minutes of play, KC found the equalizing goal to be particularly elusive.
21. 2000: Kansas City Wizards over Chicago Fire, 1-0
This was Tony Meola at his finest. The one-time U.S. national team goalkeeper had a season for the ages in 2000, earning goalkeeper of the year and MVP honors. That run of excellence carried over into MLS Cup, as he offered a clean sheet against the league’s highest-scoring team and was named game MVP.
20. 2016: Seattle Sounders over Toronto FC, 0-0 (Seattle won 5-4 on penalties)
The Sounders won the championship despite not registering a single shot on goal on a frigid evening at Toronto’s BMO Field. Stefan Frei’s save on a Jozy Altidore shot was tremendous, saved the Sounders’ title hopes and is arguably the greatest single play in MLS Cup history.
19. 1997: D.C. United over Colorado Rapids, 2-1
United won its second straight MLS Cup against a team that had no business even being in the championship game. But, such is often the nature of the MLS playoffs, which has featured more than its share of randomness over the years.
18. 2015: Portland Timbers over Columbus Crew, 2-1
This was a weird one. Diego Valeri scored the fastest goal in MLS Cup history 27 seconds into the game after Crew ‘keeper Steve Clark badly botched a back pass. In the seventh minute, Rodney Wallace scored the Timbers’ second goal and that held up as Portland claimed the city’s first major men’s sports championship since the Trail Blazers’ 1977 NBA title.
17. 2007: Houston Dynamo over New England Revolution, 2-1
As the Dynamo won back-to-back titles, the Revs lost MLS Cup for the third consecutive year. Taylor Twellman put the Revs on top in the 20th minute and for a while it appeared as if maybe this would finally be their day. Then, Houston scored twice in a 13-minute span in the second half — with Dwayne De Rosario netting the game-winner.
16. 2011: Los Angeles Galaxy over Houston Dynamo, 1-0
Entering 2011, no team with a “designated player” had won an MLS Cup. That changed in Carson, Calif., when David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan (L.A.’s three designated players) combined for the game’s lone goal.
15. 2005: Los Angeles Galaxy over New England Revolution, 1-0
“Pando” Ramirez was a disappointment all season for the Galaxy, but came through when it mattered most when he karate-kicked a shot into the back of the net in extra time for the game winner.
14. 2017: Toronto FC over Seattle Sounders, 2-0
Toronto FC completed the most impressive season in league history with a thoroughly dominant performance in an MLS Cup rematch against the Seattle Sounders. In doing so, TFC became the first MLS team to pull off the domestic treble, winning the Canadian Championship, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in the same season.
13. 2020: Columbus Crew over Seattle Sounders, 3-0
Nearly three years removed from possible extinction, the Crew pulled off a dramatic rise to glory with a dominant performance against the reigning league champions. Lucas Zelarayan — the most expensive signing in team history — saved his best performance for the Crew’s most crucial moment, scoring two goals and assisting on another.
12. 2019: Seattle Sounders over Toronto FC, 3-1
In the third championship showdown between these two teams, Seattle prevailed in the so-called “rubber match.” After a scoreless first half, the Sounders lit up the scoreboard in the second half, building a 3-0 lead before Jozy Altidore finally put TFC on the board with a stoppage-time goal. Attendance at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field was 69,274, making this the second-biggest crowd — behind the 2018 MLS Cup in Atlanta —- in league championship history.
11. 2014: Los Angeles Galaxy over New England Revolution, 2-1
This was the “first to five” for both teams. While the Galaxy won their fifth MLS Cup, the Revolution lost their fifth. The game went to extra time after a 79th minute goal by the Revs’ Chris Tierney, but league MVP Robbie Keane scored the winner in the second period of extra time.
10. 2012: Los Angeles Galaxy over Houston Dynamo, 3-1
The Galaxy made sure David Beckham ended his MLS career as a winner. L.A. scored three second-half goals after Houston had taken a 1-0 first-half lead to win back-to-back MLS Cups.
9. 2009: Real Salt Lake over Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-1 (RSL won 5-4 on penalties)
RSL became the last MLS team to win the Cup after posting a losing record in the regular season, and did so against a Galaxy team that reached its first title game since David Beckham’s much-ballyhooed arrival. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando helped RSL prevail in the penalty shootout, which included an uncharacteristic Landon Donovan miss. The RSL title, it turned out, wasn’t an anomaly. The team emerged as one of the league’s finest, returning to MLS Cup in 2013, only to lose in a penalty shootout.
8. 2021: New York City FC over Portland Timbers, 1-1 (NYCFC won 4-2 on penalties)
NYCFC, playing in its first MLS Cup, won New York’s first major club soccer championship since the Cosmos won Soccer Bowl ‘82. NYCFC prevailed thanks to its veteran goalkeeper, Sean Johnson, who stopped two penalty kicks in the shootout to secure the win. 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner Valentin “Taty” Castellanos opened the scoring late in the first half, and it took until second-half stoppage time for Portland’s Felipe Mora to equalize and send the Providence Park crowd into euphoria.
7. 2006: Houston Dynamo over New England Revolution, 1-1 (Houston won 4-3 on penalties)
For a brief (very brief) moment, it seemed New England would finally claim its long-elusive MLS Cup. Taylor Twellman scored in the 113th minute, only to have Houston’s Brian Ching answer a minute later. That set up a penalty shootout in which Ching netted the clincher.
6. 2001: San Jose Earthquakes over Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1
Landon Donovan was just a 19-year-old bleached-blond soccer football wunderkind when he helped lead San Jose to its first MLS Cup title (fun fact: the highlights reveal a lot of bleached-blondness going on in this one). Donovan didn’t disappoint, scoring a game-tying goal. Six minutes into sudden-death overtime, Dwayne De Rosario scored the “golden goal” winner.
5. 2002: Los Angeles Galaxy over New England Revolution, 1-0
More than 60,000 fans (then an MLS Cup record) packed brand-new Gillette Stadium to witness the final league championship decided by a “golden goal” (starting in 2004, MLS Cups were decided with 30-minute extra-time periods, and if necessary penalty shootouts). Carlos Ruiz scored the winner in the 113th minute, disappointing the large partisan crowd and putting the Revs on a path toward unenviable recognition as MLS’s version of the Buffalo Bills.
4. Atlanta United FC 2, Portland Timbers 0
It’s tempting to look back at this game as a possible seismic shift for MLS. A team as ambitious as any in the Western Hemisphere won a title in just its second season in front of a MLS Cup-record crowd of 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was an absolute spectacule, and Atlanta has shown the immense potential of MLS.
3. 2003: San Jose Earthquakes over Chicago Fire, 4-2
Having already won the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield, the Fire were going for the treble against the Earthquakes. Pregame hype centered around Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, and rightfully so, because the two provided three goals (two by Donovan) in the highest-scoring MLS Cup in the game’s 23-year history.
2. 2013: Sporting Kansas City over Real Salt Lake, 1-1 (SKC won 7-6 on penalties)
A wildly entertaining championship clash ended in an epic 10-round penalty-kick shootout. Watch Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, just watch him. Somehow, Nielsen managed to get the better of his goalkeeping counterpart Nick Rimando in that crazy shootout. This was just a really fun game to watch.
1. 1996: D.C. United over Los Angeles Galaxy, 3-2
A classic Nor’easter at Foxboro helped set a memorable and dramatic backdrop for the league’s inaugural championship game. While at first the team from sunny L.A. thrived, United pulled off a late-game rally from two goals down to force overtime, during which Eddie Pope’s header cemented D.C. as MLS’s first title winners.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS Cup: Ranking all 26 championship games